San Jose Looks to Exit PG&E to Develop Microgrids Following California’s Power Shutoff

Oct. 21, 2019
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.

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.

Track news about California’s power shutoffs and efforts to develop microgrids. Subscribe to the free Microgrid Knowledge newsletter.

About the Author

Elisa Wood | Editor-in-Chief

Elisa Wood is an award-winning writer and editor who specializes in the energy industry. She is chief editor and co-founder of Microgrid Knowledge and serves as co-host of the publication’s popular conference series. She also co-founded RealEnergyWriters.com, where she continues to lead a team of energy writers who produce content for energy companies and advocacy organizations.

She has been writing about energy for more than two decades and is published widely. Her work can be found in prominent energy business journals as well as mainstream publications. She has been quoted by NPR, the Wall Street Journal and other notable media outlets.

“For an especially readable voice in the industry, the most consistent interpreter across these years has been the energy journalist Elisa Wood, whose Microgrid Knowledge (and conference) has aggregated more stories better than any other feed of its time,” wrote Malcolm McCullough, in the book, Downtime on the Microgrid, published by MIT Press in 2020.

Twitter: @ElisaWood

LinkedIn: Elisa Wood

Facebook:  Microgrids

microgridelectricaldesign

Designing Microgrids: Evaluating Parameters for Reliable, Cost-Effective and Optimized Power Solutions

Dec. 7, 2023
Shawn Dalke electrical engineer at Mesa Solutions discusses load profiles and power sources for microgrids.

MGK_MGControllersWPCover_2022-01-27_13-40-49

Microgrid Controllers: Rapid Relief for Today’s Dynamic Grid

This white paper explores six ways in which microgrid controllers can solve common challenges that the modern grid faces, including improving resiliency.