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PG&E Transmission Woes Force Attention Onto Microgrids

image credit: ID 129493177 © Lovelyday12 |

Brace yourself for more PG&E related news. 

I recently came across this article in the Washington Post about the utility of a particular northern California microgrid during the latest blackouts. The grid in question belongs to Blue Lake Rancheria, a tiny federally recognized tribe in Humboldt Country that currently boasts 58 members. Composed of various small solar farms, battery systems, and distribution lines, the grid can operate both with the grid or apart from it. 

Although it was originally set up to protect the community against another Tsunami like the one that hit in 2011, the Bluelake grid has ended up shielding the reservation from a very different kind of natural disaster: wildfires. Well, Humboldt County hasn’t actually been seen any fires yet, but they nonetheless lose power when there are fire risks in counties to the south of them. During a recent daylong blackout, the reservation turned into a kind of electricity rich oasis for the surrounding area. Patients from the county hospital were transferred to Blue Lake Rancheria’s hotel, and thousands drove into town to get fill up at the gas station.  

As cool of a story as this is, those plugged in to the utility field understand microgrids have their limitations. That fact is acknowledged in the article with a quote from a member of the governor's team: 

“As you think about doing these systems, you have to ask how much they will cost and how do you continue to fund the rest of the grid,” said a senior official in the Newsom administration who spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe ongoing government discussions to improve electricity reliability. “Microgrids are a tool, they have a role, and they must be one of many things we have to look at. But they are not a panacea.”

That being said, if PG&E doesn’t figure out how to provide customers with power, we’re sure to be reading more microgrid stories in 2020.


Henry Craver's picture

Thank Henry for the Post!

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Matt Chester's picture
Matt Chester on Jan 6, 2020 12:51 pm GMT

“As you think about doing these systems, you have to ask how much they will cost and how do you continue to fund the rest of the grid"

Very true-- microgrids, like most energy techs, can't be thought of as a silver bullet, but rather a key asset in the toolbox of the energy transition

Bob Meinetz's picture
Bob Meinetz on Jan 6, 2020 5:19 pm GMT

Henry, microgrids and advanced security systems will be important tools for gated communities in Northern California to help maintain access to electricity disrupted by growing homeless populations, with reports of "hot-wiring" transmission of electricity to tent cities on the rise.

Deprived of access to affordable housing by Newsom's mandate of solar panels on all new residential construction, social unrest among the homeless is expected to increase in coming years.

Several proposals are afloat to help placate restless riff-raff, including a solar-powered "sushi cannon," capable of discreetly firing day-old sushi and other leftovers over the gates. "I feel really bad for them," said one resident. "I wish them only the best. Aren't there, like, solar panels for tents?"

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