The mayor of San Jose, California wants more microgrids in his city following Pacific Gas & Electric’s (PG&E) recent power shutoff — and he’s willing to break ties with the utility to do it.
Mayor Sam Liccardo late last week petitioned the city council to create a municipal utility “for the purposes of strategic development of microgrids.”
In an October 17 memo to the council, Liccardo detailed his concerns about electric reliability after PG&E instituted a ‘public safety power shutoff (PSPS)’ October 9-12 to avert wildfires. In all 738,000 customers in 35 California counties lost power, including 60,000 in San Jose, California’s third largest city. The outage has been linked to the death of a 67-year-old North California man who relied on an oxygen tank.
Liccardo said the outage made “all too apparent” the limitations of California’s investor-owned-utility model. And the shutoff, he said, was likely the “first of many.”
PG&E’s CEO Bill Johnson echoed the likelihood of more intentional outages during an emergency meeting called Friday by the California Public Utilities Commission. Johnson said that the shutoffs could go on for a decade. (See related Microgrid Knowledge story.)
Microgrids most feasible solution
Liccardo’s memo found problems with PG&E’s communications as it prepared for the blackout. For example, the memo cited inaccuracies in a utility list of San Jose residents who depend on medical equipment that runs on electricity.
While communications need to be improved, the most feasible long-term solution, Liccardo said, “lies in distributed, off-grid electricity generation, and storage, which can take several forms. Enabling residents with solar arrays to create islands of resiliency within neighborhoods can help, as can investing in larger microgrids in strategic parts of the city.”
But to expand microgrids beyond a single home or block, either the state legislature will need to change law that constrains microgrid development or San Jose will need to create its own public utility, Liccardo said.
“It’s time to move on and to take bolder action to protect our residents.” — Mayor Liccardo
Plan for San Jose
In addition, Liccardo wants to explore the role the city and partners can play in helping residents “get off the grid” by installing infrastructure for hybrid off-grid solar systems with backup utility power. He also wants the city to look at:
- Developing islands of energy resiliency within residential neighborhoods that can provide support to neighbors during PSPS events
- Supporting efforts of low-income residents to purchase solar panels and storage subsidized by the California’s Self-Generation Incentive Program
- Forming partnerships to help residents engage in group purchases of off-grid inverters, solar charge controllers and battery storage at a bulk discount
- Creating an information campaign to encourage homeowners to open their homes to neighbors in the event of a power shut-down
San Jose, which last month announced plans to make buildings in the city all electric, was already quietly looking at forming a municipal utility, he said. Now Liccardo wants the city to conduct polling to gauge voter support for bonds that would pay for microgrids at critical facilities and for the purchase of PG&E’s electrical infrastructure in the city, a precursor to creating a municipal utility.
“It’s time to explore a San Jose without PG&E. It’s time to move on, and to take bolder action to protect our residents,” Liccardo said.
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