Surprise, Confusion and Now a Closer Look at the Carson Microgrid

Aug. 9, 2018
The city council of Carson, California has opted to take a closer look at a community microgrid proposed by Charge Bliss although the city manager had recommended that the project be nixed.

The city council of Carson, California has opted to take a closer look at a community microgrid proposed by Charge Bliss, although the city manager recommended that the project be nixed.

With a September deadline looming for a potential $10 million state grant, the council scheduled a workshop on the microgrid for Tuesday, August 14. The full council will then take up the issue at its next meeting August 21.

The decision to keep the project on the table came after council members expressed surprise and confusion after hearing – seemingly for the first time – that the project required no upfront capital from the city, includes performance guarantees, would save the city $8 million in net present value, and is in the running for a $10 million grant from the California Energy Commission.

“This is more or less as if I were handing you a $20 million lottery ticket, and the city is now about to walk away…” — Bliss

During a city council meeting Tuesday night, Charge Bliss CEO David Bliss urged the city council not to accept the city manager’s recommendation to kill the project.

“This is more or less as if I were handing you a $20 million lottery ticket, and the city is now about to walk away from it,” said Bliss. “Yes, it is your legal right to forego this, but I would suggest it is your fiduciary duty and ethical responsibility to your community to consider the objective, verifiable value of this project.”

See related story: Will this California City Become a Shining Example for Microgrids or a Cautionary Tale?

Council members complained that they had not seen anything in writing about the microgrid and its finances. However, Bliss said his company had provided a detailed 600-page plan six different times to city staff and its designees. Charge Bliss and the city had agreed to work together on the microgrid after the CEC provided an initial $1.5 million for planning.

“We’ve provided spreadsheets, analyses in multiple and myriad ways to the city to demonstrate these numbers,” Bliss said. “To be very direct with the council, we are shadow boxing because we have provided information to parties who then do not provide it with you.”

Kenneth Farfsing, city manager, argued against the city signing a power purchase agreement for the microgrid, saying that the project would cost the cash-strapped city $3.8 million upfront for chillers. Bliss, however, said that the plan put forward by his company required no capital contribution from the city. Farfsing acknowledged that the city, itself, added the $3.8 million into the plan in an attempt to reduce the per kWh price of energy in the 20-year power purchase contract.

With the city paying no capital cost – as Charge Bliss recommended — the microgrid would provide solar power at 14 cents/kWh for the 15 properties it serves under a 20-year power purchase agreement. The city now pays 15.6 cents/kWh.

“…there will be whiplash from this. It’s going to be called the Carson effect.” — Craig Wooster

The community microgrid would include 40 Level 2 EV chargers and four ultra-fast DC chargers, a 2.3-MW distributed solar system and about 4 MWh of battery energy storage. It is vying against two other projects for a $10 million CEC grant to demonstrate an advanced energy community.

Craig Wooster, project manager and general contractor for the Stone Edge Farm Microgrid Project in Sonoma, California, also testified in favor of the community microgrid. Wooster said that Charge Bliss competes with his company, but he felt compelled to speak on behalf of the project because a ‘no’ vote by the council would have industry-wide ramifications.

“A no vote on this is going to impact money going to disadvantaged communities in the state, particularly around energy projects,” Wooster said. “Everyone on this council needs to realize there will be a whiplash from this. I’m going to name it. It’s going to be called the Carson effect.”

State money would cease to flow to disadvantaged communities for clean energy projects, and instead will go to higher income areas that embrace them, he said.

Wooster said he studied the Charge Bliss microgrid plan, which he praised as a well written foundational design that is likely to be used as a model by others.

The zero-net energy project serves a civic center, city hall and several parks. Equipment providers include Dynapower, PlugShare, Sunpower, Tesla and Trane, with financing by 127 Energy. Charge Bliss plans to use its own microgrid controller, which it also installed at a microgrid it developed at the Kaiser Permanente’s Richmond Medical Center

A replay of the council meeting is available at the City of Carson website.

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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.

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