California Sen. Stern Opens Up about What’s Working and What’s Not in California’s Microgrid Rulings

May 17, 2023
Stern discusses his landmark microgrid legislation, what’s worked so far, why he thinks microgrids are so important and how microgridders can make sure they have a voice at the table in California.

California State Sen. Henry Stern, D-Calabasas, today addressed attendees of Microgrid 2023 in Anaheim, California. In a prerecorded video interview with Elisa Wood, editor-in-chief of Microgrid Knowledge, he explained that his passion for microgrids is driven by real-life experience.

Stern cited a wildfire that destroyed his home and community, critical infrastructure failures, a succession of public safety power shutoffs and the resulting loss of life as his motivation for advancing microgrids.

Inspired in part by a fire station that created its own microgrid, Stern introduced SB 1339 into the state legislature in 2018, which resulted in a multiyear proceeding before the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) that, according to Wood, was arguably the most extensive government review of microgrids anywhere in the world.  

“I spent time throughout my career wrestling with distributed generation issues,” Stern said. But he added that his personal experiences, and those of his constituents, “actually gave me good fuel to make some progress.”

You’ve got to have chutzpah

Stern noted that SB 1339 was something of a slog. “Frankly you need a lot of what we call chutzpah” to push bills like this through, he said.

Stern told Wood that SB 1339 has driven some market growth in the state but added, “I don't think it's been as revolutionary as I had hoped in terms of a whole new regime for how we manage power on the grid and how we adjust our rates and our billing systems accordingly.”

The state is getting more strategic and targeted when it comes to microgrids, Stern said, but he noted that while there’s now a toehold for entrepreneurial communities or developers, there are still bottlenecks when it comes to funding.

It’s time to keep the pressure on

“I feel the time ticking,” Stern said, adding, “We don't want to let this work languish.”

Stern explained that some of the pieces of SB 1339 he wants to push include getting the $200 million equity fund spent down.

He’s also working on a Self-Generation Incentive Program reform bill that could potentially involve microgrid deployment.

Stern also discussed SB 833, which is the Community Energy Resilience Act that he introduced with Sen. Bill Dodd, D-Napa.

Bond proposals on deck

Stern cited bonding as a big topic in the California legislature now. He’s currently working on two large-scale bond proposals that would see non-rate-based money going toward resilience and climate infrastructure.

“I've been pushing to get energy into the bonding conversation,” Stern said. “What we want this climate bond to be is something that has that energy component built into it to take a little pressure off the rate base.”

He said that whether it winds up being one big bond proposal, or a multibond package, the goal is to help deal with big infrastructure needs.

Regulatory advocacy is needed

Stern is committed to advocating for microgrids but is also looking for help in telling the story. He urged the microgrid community to keep the pressure on the CPUC. “We need to institutionalize capacity building, and I get the sense just from communicating with the CPUC about it that they're capable and open to doing so,” Stern said.

He also encouraged the audience to get the public involved by engaging their imaginations, saying that microgrids “intuitively do make sense to them.”

Finally, Stern urged microgridders to keep his office informed of what’s going on so it can get involved. “That's a really nice advocacy model where we can actually get some good work done,” he said.

“I go to sleep thinking about this stuff, and I know you guys do, too,” Stern said, while also acknowledging that this is a tough period. But, he concluded, “I think we're going to make some remarkable progress here, so thanks for letting me be part of the conversation.”

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About the Author

Kathy Hitchens | Special Projects Editor

I work as a writer and special projects editor for Microgrid Knowledge. I have over 30 years of writing experience, working with a variety of companies in the renewable energy, electric vehicle and utility sector, as well as those in the entertainment, education, and financial industries. I have a BFA in Media Arts from the University of Arizona and a MBA from the University of Denver.

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