Deadly California Wildfires Give Life to the Microgrid Movement

by | Apr 9, 2019

(Photo: Paradise, California, after the November 2018 Camp Fire. Credit: Cal OES, Flickr Creative Commons)

California regulators are contemplating the thought of more microgrids for the fire-prone state.

In recent proceedings before the California Public Utilities Commission, several parties recommended microgrids as a way to keep electricity flowing locally when fires — or the threat of them — lead to service loss.

In March, PG&E admitted it was “probable” that its equipment will be found to have caused the 2018 Camp Fire in California, the deadliest and most destructive in the state’s history. In a financial statement released last month, the utility acknowledged that, though the cause of the fire is still under investigation, the information previously reported to the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) indicates that its own equipment was at fault. Its newly announced Wildfire Safety Plan suggests that customers can expect power to be shut off more frequently due to “extreme weather events.”

Though the utility accepts its equipment was likely to blame for the fire, PG&E disputes a Wall Street Journal allegation that the company repeatedly delayed maintenance on the transmission line linked to the disaster.

Increasingly intense wildfires prompted the California Legislature to pass Senate Bill 901 last September. Signed by Gov. Jerry Brown, the bill increased government fire-protection efforts by $1 billion over the next five years and made changes to determining how much utilities must pay.

But microgrids may play a more important role than other fire-protection efforts. According to Microgrid Knowledge, Peninsula Clean Energy, a California electricity provider, expects last year’s passage of SB 1339 to spur more microgrids by making clear that “customer development of microgrids is a legislative priority.” The new law requires state regulators to consider a tariff or other mechanism to support microgrid development.

The 4th Annual Environmental Leader & Energy Manager Conference takes place May 13 – 15, 2019 in Denver. Learn more here.


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