New California Bill Would Fund Critical Microgrids for Vulnerable Populations

March 3, 2020
The program would support government efforts to set up critical microgrids to keep the power running in California facilities that are needed for public safety and to protect vulnerable populations.

California lawmakers are considering a bill that would fund critical microgrids to help municipalities and others deal with power outages.

S.B. 1215 was recently introduced by Sen. Henry Stern, a Democrat and the lead sponsor of S.B. 1339, which launched a current effort by the California Public Utilities Commission to take steps to support microgrid development in the state.

Stern’s new bill was in response to a series of planned power outages last year instituted by California’s investor-owned utilities. The “public power safety shutoffs” aimed to reduce wildfire risks, but caused millions of customers to lose power. The state’s largest utility has warned that it may be necessary to continue the precautionary shutoffs for a decade.

Support aimed at government projects

The bill would create the Local Government Deenergization Event Resiliency Program administered by the Office of Emergency Services in the governor’s office.

The program would support state and local government efforts to set up microgrids to keep the power running in facilities that are needed for public safety and to protect vulnerable populations, such as people who have health issues requiring electrical equipment.

The fund would be available to local governments, joint power authorities and special districts that are developing microgrid projects. If the bill becomes law, the Office of Emergency Services would have to offer planning grants and technical assistance to local governments to help identify microgrid projects in their jurisdictions.

All microgrids developed through the fund would be powered by renewable distributed energy resources.

Identifying where to build critical microgrids

Under the bill, the California Public Utilities Commission would create a statewide database of critical facilities, infrastructure and grid circuits, and identify whether they serve a high fire-threat or vulnerable transmission area. 

The bill directs large utilities to work with local governments to identify critical circuits and microgrid projects that are eligible for grant funding.

The utilities are required to get PUC approval for distribution system improvements that are needed to allow microgrid projects to operate when islanded off from the distribution system, or to allow a key circuit to disconnect from the distribution system. 

In addition, the bill requires the PUC and the California Independent System Operator to develop a methodology to account for the resource adequacy value of distributed storage by March 31, 2021.

Also, under the bill, cities and others would be able to tap into the fund to buy renewable backup generators for vulnerable customers and customers with medical needs

In non-emergency situations, microgrids can improve the reliability of the distribution, the bill noted, while helping California meet its clean energy and greenhouse gas emissions reduction goals.

The bill doesn’t say how much money should be appropriated to the program.

California microgrid market escalating

This would not be the first time California has funded microgrids. The California Energy Commission has offered rounds of grants to support and commercialize microgrids, most recently $51 million in 2018, which resulted in several new projects.

Among those that won state funding is the Blue Lake Rancheria microgrid, which received national recognition last year after opening its doors to the medically vulnerable during power shutoffs .

Last year’s power shutoffs that dramatically escalated microgrid activity in the state by both utilities, microgrid developers and energy customers. Pacific Gas & Electricc, alone, could boost the global microgrid market by 10% this year should it develop all of the microgrids proposed in a recent solicitation.

About the Author

Ethan Howland

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