Pacific Gas & Electric Co. leading new microgrid projects for mission-critical, vulnerable customers

Redwood Coast — Humboldt County Airport also known as Arcata—Eureka Airport and Arcata Airport. Credit: Yelp.

Pacific Gas & Electric Co. has launched its community microgrid program and already started work on the first major project in the effort.

The California Public Utilities Commission approved PG&E’s Community Microgrid Enablement Program (CMEP) last month. The utility will provide technical and financial support for qualifying projects in areas with the greatest resiliency needs, according to the release.

This will include dedicated funding to help meet the resilience needs of disadvantaged and vulnerable communities, PG&E said.

“We know how much our customers need reliable energy. Community microgrids will play a key role in PG&E’s ongoing efforts to harden our electrical system and enhance local grid resilience for customers throughout our service area in Northern and Central California,” said Fong Wan, the company’s senior vice president, energy policy and procurement. “We look forward to partnering with our customers, especially those in disadvantaged and vulnerable communities, to build customized resilience solutions that address local electric reliability needs for the long term.”

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Microgrids are electric systems, often with multiple generation resources, which can operate independently from the central energy grid. A community microgrid is designed to serve specific needs, whether it be mission-critical facilities such as hospitals, police and fire, as well as gas stations and grocery stores.

The first community microgrid in PG&E’s plan is the Redwood Coast Airport Renewable Energy Microgrid already under construction. The multi-customer microgrid will feature solar power paired with battery storage and is a collaboration with the utility, Redwood Coast Energy Authority, Schatz Energy Research Center at the Humboldt State University, Humboldt County and Schweitzer Engineering Laboratories, among others.

The Redwood Coast Airport Microgrid will provide renewable energy for 18 customer meters, including the Arcata-Eureka Airport (pictured) and a U.S. Coast Guard Air Station, and serve as a lifeline for Humboldt County in a natural disaster or other emergency. The microgrid will be capable of disconnecting from the broader grid (going into island mode) and operating as an independent, PG&E-operated grid segment during a planned or unplanned power outage.

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PG&E has already heard from additional communities interested in deploying multi-customer microgrids through CMEP, including the Yurok Tribe, located along the Klamath River on California’s North Coast. PG&E supports the Yurok Tribe’s goal of building a multi-customer microgrid in Tulley Creek.

“The Tulley Creek microgrid is a key piece of infrastructure that will dramatically increase the energy resilience and disaster preparedness of the Yurok Tribe on the upper half of the Reservation. We appreciate the critical technical support and capital that CMEP offers to help make this project a reality,” said Michael Gerace, planning director for the Yurok Tribe Department of Planning and Community Development.

With weather volatility and climate impacts to the utility grids, microgrids are growing increasingly in favor, despite costs and technical concerns. Some market research predicts 10 percent annual growth to more than $1 billion in microgrid-as-a-service projects annually by 2025.

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