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Should PG&E revamp its transmission system or embrace microgrids?

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  • Nov 9, 2020

Motivated by frequent fire-fighting blackouts, local governments across northern California are turning to micro-grids to provide their citizens with more reliable power. 

Last year—this pandemic has made time move in weird ways—the Blue Lake Rancheria received a good deal of attention when their micro-grid turned the small reservation into an electric oasis during a one-day blackout in the region. Although the miniature grid was built in 2011 with a tsunami in mind, it will undoubtedly get more use in the near future providing relief during the increasingly intense California fire seasons. 

Now, the Redwood Coast Energy Authority, a coalition of local governments in and around Humboldt county, has decided to build a new micro-grid. The coalition is collaborating with the Schatz Energy Research Center at Humboldt State University to make it happen. Once completed, the microgrid will sell electricity to ratepayers throughout the year and serve as disaster backup, for homes as well as the local airport and hospital. 

I’m wondering how PG&E and California’s operator will react to these projects, assuming they become more common. Should they try to solve the problem at a root level by updating transmission lines to make them safer in dry and windy conditions? Is that even possible? Or should they just accept the growing number of microgrids and work with local governments to make connection easier?


Richard McCann's picture
Richard McCann on Nov 12, 2020

Expanding the use of microgrids looks to be a much more cost effective solution than undergrounding the grid.

Matt Chester's picture
Matt Chester on Nov 12, 2020

That's a really interesting point that I hadn't considered in the undergrounding debate-- while certain utility advancements may have an 'all of the above' approach, for specific regions of the grid you really do have to pick one or the other, as you're not going to build out multiple grids. 

Rosana Francescato's picture
Rosana Francescato on Nov 13, 2020

PG&E is a partner on the Redwood Coast Airport Microgrid, which you mention. In general, though, the major utilities have not embraced this type of project. While we will always need some transmission lines, and we should ensure the ones we have are as safe as possible, we need to curb runaway transmission spending — and Community Microgrids like the Redwood Coast Airport Microgrid bring our communities unparalleled economic, environmental, and resilience benefits. We need more projects like this one.

Henry Craver's picture
Thank Henry for the Post!
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