ORIGINAL REPORTING: PG&E, SCE abandon big microgrid plans for temporary emergency measures as wildfire season nears
PG&E, SCE abandon big microgrid plans for temporary emergency measures as wildfire season nears; Regulators’ push to implement a law requiring microgrid rollouts is being frustrated by the costs of traditional generation and clean energy complexities.
Herman K. Trabish, March 23, 2020 (Utility Dive)
Editor’s note: CalFire reports this year’s dryness is 10% greater than last year’s. But little has been done to deploy microgrids.
California's plans to use microgrids to limit the 2020 impacts of preventive power outages will be delayed after utility solicitations revealed cost and deployment complexities.
The top priority of a California microgrid proceeding is to reduce impacts on customers of the public safety power shutoffs (PSPS), implemented by the utilities to reduce wildfire risks. But bids in response to solicitations by the state's two biggest investor-owned utilities (IOUs) found only temporary microgrid deployments are financially viable and none will meet clean energy advocates' call for including customer-owned distributed energy resources (DER).
The utilities want to place fossil fuel generators at priority substations, Senior Public Policy Director and Deputy General Counsel Melissa Brandt of community choice aggregator (CCA) East Bay Community Energy (EBCE) told Utility Dive. The other approach, from clean energy advocates, would use local distributed resources. In 2018 and 2019, Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E) and Southern California Edison (SCE) encountered customer backlash when they shut off power to customers to prevent wildfires. In response, California regulators have focused on implementing microgrids, but that will take time and money, even with leveraging customers' DER.
For 2020, PG&E and SCE's high costs and the urgency of the approaching wildfire season make it necessary to focus on microgrids that rely on temporary fossil fuel-powered solutions, they said. In 2021, stakeholders expect to return to the debate about their differing approaches to permanent microgrids. In October 2018, PG&E, faced with a wildfire threat, shut off high risk area power lines that might spark fires. Medical emergencies, business losses, and customer protests followed, but not fires. That November, facing another wildfire threat, PG&E chose not to impose shutoffs. The Camp Fire followed, killing 86 people and destroying 18,661 structures.
Microgrids can make PSPS more palatable by keeping some power available. To implement SB 1339, the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) opened the microgrid proceeding last September. A microgrid is any "interconnected system of loads and energy resources," that can "act as a single, controllable entity," according to SB 1339. It must "connect to, disconnect from, or run in parallel with, larger portions of the electrical grid" and use DER and other power system tools… click here for more