San Jose plans to bolster resilience with microgrids

San Jose, California, plans to use $500,000 in state wildfire-related funding to start building microgrids that can provide electricity when the power goes out.

“Resilience is the key work for every local community in California,” San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo said during a Nov. 1 press conference.

Pacific Gas & Electric in October conducted a series of planned power outages called public safety power shutoffs — that are designed to reduce the risk utility equipment sparks wildfires.

California’s budget included $75 million to help cities and counties prepare for the planned power shutoffs. Major cities like San Jose, with a population of 1.1 million, are receiving $500,000 in funding and counties are getting at least $150,000.

The funding can be used to buy equipment, such as generators, fuel storage or other backup energy sources for critical facilities, such as fire stations and community centers, according to California Gov. Gavin Newsom. The funds can also be spent on backup emergency communications equipment and developing and conducting plans that better prepare communities for power outages.

San Jose will use the funds to jump start its microgrid plans, according to Liccardo. The city is “going all in” on microgrids, he said.

San Jose city staff is developing a plan so critical facilities in the city can have local generation — solar, fuel cells and storage — so they can provide vital services when the power goes out, Liccardo said.

Ultimately, the city’s microgrid plan will likely cost at least $1 billion, according to Liccardo. The initial state funding “will help us get rolling,” he said.

City staff is preparing to propose microgrid options to be considered by the San Jose City Council at a Nov. 19 meeting.

“We’ll see how we can incentivize local islands of resilience, particularly in low-income neighborhoods,” Liccardo said.

The initial priorities are for residential shelters where people can plug in electric medical devices and can charge their phones as well as fire stations and water pollution control plants, according to Liccardo.

The planned power outages will likely be an ongoing feature in California’s effort to combat wildfires, state Sen. Jim Beall said during the press conference.

Through mid-October, in an effort to reduce wildfire risks, PG&E had shut off power to 837,300 customers and Southern California Edison shut off electricity to 45,600 customers in a series of planned blackouts starting in June, according to reports filed with the PUC. In two events, PG&E shut off power for roughly 600,000 homes and businesses on Oct. 29 and to about 970,000 customers on Oct. 26. Reports on the events haven’t been filed yet with the PUC.

Calif. mayors, county officials unveil customer-owned plan for PG&E

In a Nov. 4 letter to California utility regulators, a large group of California mayors and county officials say that there are several compelling reasons for transforming Pacific Gas & Electric into a customer-owned utility including being able to raise capital from a broad pool of debt financing in amounts substantially greater than can an investor-owned PG&E, and at much lower cost.

Liccardo was one of the mayors who signed the letter.

In October, Liccardo issued a memo in response to a recent power shutoff by PG&E that calls for an exploration of creating a municipal utility, among other things.