The mayor of San Jose, California wants more microgrids in his city following Pacific Gas & Electric‚Äôs (PG&E) recent power shutoff ‚ÄĒ and he‚Äôs willing to break ties with the utility to do it.
Mayor Sam Liccardo late last week petitioned the city council to create a municipal utility ‚Äúfor the purposes of strategic development of microgrids.‚ÄĚ
In an October 17 memo to the council, Liccardo detailed his concerns about electric reliability after PG&E instituted a ‚Äėpublic safety power shutoff‚Äô (PSPS) October 9-12 to avert wildfires.¬†In all 738,000 customers in 35 California counties lost power, including 60,000 in San Jose. The outage has been linked to the death of a 67-year-old North California man who relied on an oxygen tank.
Liccardo said the outage made ‚Äúall too apparent‚ÄĚ the limitations of California‚Äôs investor-owned-utility model. And the shutoff, he said, was likely the ‚Äúfirst of many.
PG&E‚Äôs CEO Bill Johnson echoed the likelihood of more intentional outages during an emergency meeting called Friday by the California Public Utilities Commission. Johnson said that the shutoffs could go on for a decade. (See related Microgrid Knowledge story.)
Liccardo‚Äôs memo found problems with PG&E‚Äôs communications as it prepared for the blackout. For example, the memo cited inaccuracies in a utility list of San Jose residents who depend on medical equipment that runs on electricity.
While communications need to be improved, the most feasible long-term solution, Liccardo said, ‚Äúlies in distributed, off-grid electricity generation, and storage, which can take several forms. Enabling residents with solar arrays to create islands of resiliency within neighborhoods can help, as can investing in larger microgrids in strategic parts of the city.‚ÄĚ
But to expand microgrids beyond a single home or block, either the state legislature will need to change law that constrains microgrid development or San Jose will need to create its own public utility, Liccardo said.
‚ÄúIt‚Äôs time to move on and to take bolder action to protect our residents.‚ÄĚ ‚ÄĒ Mayor Liccardo¬†
In addition, Liccardo wants to explore the role the city and partners can play in helping residents ‚Äúget off the grid‚ÄĚ by installing infrastructure for hybrid off-grid solar systems with backup utility power. He also wants the city to look at:
San Jose, which last month announced plans to make buildings in the city all electric, was already quietly looking at forming a municipal utility, he said.¬† Now Liccardo wants the city to¬†conduct polling to gauge voter support for bonds that would pay for microgrids at critical facilities and for the purchase of PG&E‚Äôs electrical infrastructure in the city, a precursor to creating a municipal utility.
‚ÄúIt‚Äôs time to explore a San Jose without PG&E. It‚Äôs time to move on, and to take bolder action to protect our residents,‚ÄĚ Liccardo said.
The costs of a power outage to a business can be substantial, including losses in product, revenue, productivity, and customers. With increasing severe weather events and disasters triggering greater numbers of costly power outages, there is a growing interest in generators for reliable backup power. Download the new report from the Joint Institute for Strategic Energy Analysis that presents natural gas backup generators as the most reliable fuel choice.
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