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California’s PG&E launches community microgrid program

California’s Pacific Gas and Electric Company (PG&E) today launched the Community Microgrid Enablement Program. The program will help communities identify, design, and build permanent, multi-customer microgrids that serve critical facilities and vulnerable customer groups.

Community microgrids

A community microgrid is a group of customers and distributed energy resources such as solar and battery storage within clearly defined electrical boundaries with the ability to disconnect from and reconnect to the grid. 

These microgrids are designed to serve parts of communities that include community resources, such as hospitals, police and fire stations, gas stations, and grocery stores.

Each community microgrid is uniquely designed by the community to address its specific goals and needs. A range of factors determines the size of the microgrid, which community services are served, and which elements are included in the design.

PG&E’s new program is approved by the California Public Utilities Commission.

PG&E’s first project

The program’s first project is the Redwood Coast Airport Renewable Energy Microgrid. It’s a collaboration among PG&E, the Redwood Coast Energy Authority, Schatz Energy Research Center at Humboldt State University, Humboldt County, and Schweitzer Engineering Laboratories, among others.

This front-of-the-meter, multi-customer microgrid featuring solar and battery storage is under construction and expected to be up and running by December 2021.

The Redwood Coast Airport Microgrid will provide renewable energy for 18 customer meters, including the Arcata-Eureka Airport and a US Coast Guard Air Station, and serve as a lifeline for Humboldt County in a natural disaster or other emergency. The microgrid will be capable of disconnecting from the broader grid (known as island mode) and operating as an independent, PG&E grid segment during a planned or unplanned power outage. 

Prioritizing areas

PG&E will provide technical and financial support on a prioritized basis for qualifying projects in areas with the greatest energy resilience needs. This includes dedicated funding to help meet the resilience needs of disadvantaged and vulnerable communities. 

Prioritized projects will be those that serve disadvantaged communities, critical facilities such as hospitals, and areas with a higher likelihood of public safety power shutoffs or other significant power outage events, as well as projects with higher levels of renewable energy. 

Electrek’s Take

PG&E is pretty much constantly in trouble these days. In November 2019, Business Insider noted that its equipment caused more than 1,500 fires in California in six years, destroying countless homes and taking lives. It’s been on criminal probation since January 2017. And just last week, it faced new criminal charges for its role in igniting a 2019 wildfire that burned 120 square miles in Sonoma County north of San Francisco.

At the end of March, the Associated Press reported that a federal judge overseeing PG&E’s criminal probation is considering requiring the utility to be more aggressive about turning off its electricity lines near tall trees. That could double the number of power outages for some Northern California counties in the next decade, so it’s good to see PG&E seek solutions – because, frankly, it has to. It simply can’t afford to keep doing what it’s doing, and community microgrids may prove to be one viable solution to the widespread blackouts as more are created.

It also announced earlier this year, as Electrek reported, that it will use global energy storage tech company Fluence’s AI-powered Trading Platform in order to optimize its battery energy storage system at Moss Landing in Monterey. Moss Landing BESS, which uses Tesla Energy battery storage equipment, will be among the world’s largest battery storage projects when completed in the second quarter of 2021.

Photo: BoxPower

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Avatar for Michelle Lewis Michelle Lewis

Michelle Lewis is a writer and editor on Electrek and an editor on DroneDJ, 9to5Mac, and 9to5Google. She lives in St. Petersburg, Florida. She has previously worked for Fast Company, the Guardian, News Deeply, Time, and others. Message Michelle on Twitter or at Check out her personal blog.