Colby Bermel, Politico
The Public Utilities Commission on Thursday unanimously approved policies to boost microgrids and other grid resiliency measures ahead of wildfire season this fall.
Impact: Regulators hope the programs will not only help California better weather preemptive power shutoffs, but also promote a more decentralized, locally reliable grid throughout the year.
Background: The agency's vote came the same day as its Safety and Enforcement Division released a report on utilities' forced blackouts last October, which includes criticism that will inform a PUC investigation into possible safety violations.
What happened: Regulators directed utilities to accelerate the connection of resiliency projects, prioritizing those serving critical facilities and vulnerable customers. That interconnection process should be standardized and transparent, the PUC said — characteristics similar to those unsuccessfully sought last year by a bipartisan pair of lawmakers for solar and storage interconnections.
The agency's Thursday decision also directed utilities to allow storage-owning customers to manually charge their systems ahead of a power shutoff, in addition to scrapping the size limit for those charging systems. This is an exception to the PUC's net metering regime, which automatically sends excess electricity to and from solar and storage systems depending on individual and broader usage.
Regulators additionally directed utilities to meet with local and tribal governments on the health of their grids and assist those governments on deploying resiliency projects. The PUC also greenlit specific projects proposed by Pacific Gas & Electric and San Diego Gas & Electric.
Despite concerns from environmentalists about some of those projects being fueled by polluting diesel, regulators emphasized that it's a temporary solution needed ahead of fire season and that cleaner options should be pursued going forward.
What's next: Utilities are ordered to implement the policies in the PUC's Thursday decision, in addition to following new rules for forced blackouts approved last month. The public phase of the agency's investigation into utilities' 2019 shutoffs starts June 22 with a prehearing conference. The PUC also approved utilities' 2020 wildfire mitigation plans Thursday, a wider encompassing of strategies that include microgrids, shutoffs and other tools like tree trimming and grid hardening. The agency's new Wildfire Safety Division scored those plans, mostly negatively, on a quantitative scale for the first time last month.