PG&E, SCE Abandon Big Microgrid Plans for Temporary Emergency Measures as Wildfire Season Nears

By Microgrid Resources Coalition posted 03-23-2020 00:00


Herman K. Trabish, Utility Dive


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 "for powering the communities behind them," 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 "maximize the local benefit" and "protect California's climate goals."

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 2018's Senate Bill (SB) 1339 requirement to drive microgrid commercialization. But that will take time and money, even with leveraging customers' DER, the IOUs told Utility Dive. 

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.

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