PG&E Sees Rise in Utility-Led Community Microgrids with Tariff Change

Nov. 30, 2021
PG&E sees more opportunity for community microgrids with the update last month by California regulators to a utility tariff.

Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E) sees more opportunity for community microgrids in its service territory with the approval last month by California regulators of an update to a utility tariff.

The California Public Utilities Commission expanded where microgrids that are connected to the utility’s electric distribution system can be built.

Before the tariff change, the community microgrids could be built only in areas designated by the commission as high fire threat districts. Now communities anywhere in PG&E’s service area can pursue a microgrid, according to the utility.

“Microgrids are a critical part of the sustainability and climate-resilience goals of many of our customers and hometowns. By expanding the rules around where these microgrids can be built, we’re able to remove barriers that would have prevented projects from moving forward and instead work collaboratively to make these projects a reality,” said Quinn Nakayama, PG&E’s director of grid planning and innovation.

PG&E launched its Community Microgrid Enablement Program in April. Now, the utility said, it is talking to more than three dozen communities and customers about developing microgrids and resilience solutions through the program.

One example is Oakland EcoBlock, a project the utility is working on with the University of California, Berkeley, which retrofits a neighborhood into a net-zero energy, block-level microgrid. EcoBlock brings to the neighborhood energy efficiency, a solar-powered microgrid, shared electric vehicles and a new approach for coordinating energy resources among neighbors.

PG&E’s movement on microgrids won praise from Google, which operates within the utility’s service territory and has been pursuing microgrids.

“We strongly support PG&E’s leadership around microgrids and the innovative ways they are meeting the needs of customers. More microgrids, whether they’re in Silicon Valley or the Central Valley, mean a more sustainable and resilient energy future for all. It is our hope that other utilities will follow PG&E’s lead and seek to partner with customers and communities to build the consumer-driven resilient grid of the future,” said Alexa Arena, senior director of large-scale developments at Google.

At the same time, California regulators are coming under criticism for focusing too much on utility microgrids and not giving enough attention to independent or municipally driven microgrids. Several parties are questioning why only utilities made the cut to build microgrids in a key recommendation before California regulators on how to meet the state’s capacity shortfall. The commission also has come under criticism for not lending support to a proposal by the County of Los Angeles for a regional microgrid agency.

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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.

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