Powering Strong Communities

CPUC grants conditional PSPS approvals, accelerates microgrid deployments

The California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) last week granted conditional approval of wildfire mitigation plans submitted by utilities in the state.

In a separate action on the same day, June 11, the CPUC issued a decision requiring the state’s large investor-owned utilities to accelerate deployment of microgrids and resiliency projects to minimize the impacts of wildfire-caused power outages and Public Safety Power Shut-off (PSPS) events.

Wildfire mitigation plans

In approving the wildfire mitigation plans for Horizon West and Trans Bay Cable, Liberty Utilities, PacifiCorp, Southern California Edison, San Diego Gas & Electric, and Pacific Gas and Electric (Docket #: R.18-10-007), the CPUC is requiring the utilities to provide “clear analysis and data” to support their wildfire safety proposals.

To that end, the CPUC developed risk measurement tools, including a “Maturity Model,” that evaluates the utilities’ wildfire risk mitigation efforts across 10 categories and 52 specific capabilities.

The CPUC held the wildfire mitigation plan of Bear Valley Electric Service until the commission’s June 25 meeting.

While the CPUC said the utilities are “generally demonstrating progress” in reducing wildfire risk, most utilities “demonstrate a need for improvement.”

For instance, in a separate document June 10 document, the CPUC said it is “imperative” that Pacific Gas and Electric makes “a meaningful reduction” in the scale and scope of PSPS [Public Safety Power Shutoffs] for the 2020 fire season and beyond.”

But despite the utility’s programs and improved re-energization protocols, “PG&E does not articulate quantitatively how it expects hardening to increase PSPS thresholds for individual circuits,” impeding the commission’s ability “to determine how the $5.3 billion in hardening work will affect the probability of a PSPS in communities in California.”

In a similar vein, the CPUC said that Southern California Edison (SCE) “has not described their deployment strategy and timelines in sufficient detail to convince the [commission] that the highest risk circuits are being targeted in a nuanced way and that this work will be completed on time” and must meet the conditions issued by the CPUC to address those gaps.

Microgrid decision

In the June 11 microgrid decision ( Docket #: R.19-09-009), the CPUC called for the state’s utilities to streamline and expedite interconnection processes for microgrids, resiliency, and other projects, and to collaborate with local and tribal governments to rapidly develop and deploy projects that could keep electricity on for critical facilities and other customers during power outages.

The CPUC put the microgrid rulemaking on a fast track after “the mismanagement by utilities of the October 2019 PSPS events” and said the new rule is intended to increase the deployment of new projects during this wildfire season.”

Last November, the CPUC began an investigation to assess whether the state’s investor-owned utilities properly balanced the need to provide safe and reliable service when planning and executing their recent PSPS events.

“The use of microgrids, coupled with the CPUC’s work to hold utilities accountable for creating and implementing wildfire mitigation plans, will help make communities more resilient in advance of the 2020 Wildfire season,” CPUC President Marybel Batjer said in a statement.

In addition to microgrids, the June 11 order requires the state’s IOUs to modify their net energy metering tariffs to allow storage devices to charge from the grid in advance of a PSPS event. The order also requires the IOUs to modify their net energy metering tariffs to remove the storage sizing limit.

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