California CCAs seek distributed energy storage to keep the lights on

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The most central mission of any utility is to supply reliable power, and that’s the one thing that Pacific Gas & Electric Company (PG&E) has shown that it can’t – or won’t do. Starting last month, the bankrupt utility has been proactively shutting off the power in waves to hundreds of thousands of its customers, with outages sometimes lasting as long as days.

But PG&E isn’t the only actor in Northern California’s power sector. The region’s community choice aggregators (CCAs) have taken a state-level requirement to secure resources to keep the lights on, and turned it into a solicitation for energy storage to provide resiliency in their communities.

Yesterday three CCAs in the San Francisco Bay Area – East Bay Community Energy, Silicon Valley Energy and Peninsula Clean Energy, along with Silicon Valley Power (SVP), the municipal utility for the city of Santa Clara, filed a joint solicitation seeking a total of 32.7 MW of batteries. These systems can be paired with existing or new PV systems.

To be clear, these entities need to procure resources to meet state-requirements designed to ensure that they have enough local resources to meet demand, called resource adequacy (RA). And they’ve been struggling to do this; the three CCAs are among 19 that asked state regulators a week ago for a waiver on their RA requirements, arguing that the market for eligible resources is “seriously constrained”.

But these public power entities are turning this into an opportunity. There’s nothing in the RA requirements that say that you need to be able to form microgrids, but that’s what these organizations are doing. Among a list of the types of resources that are eligible under the new solicitation is the following requirement:

All systems must be able to island from the grid to provide resilience to participating customers

And while RA can be met outside a utility or CCA’s service area, the four public power entities have expressed a definite preference for projects in their areas – which is likely so that if they do need to island, they can do so for the benefit of their customers, not somewhere else.

The load serving entities will not automatically exclude proposals that include geographies outside of its service area, provided that the RA capacity originating outside of its service territory is clearly indicated, but the load serving entities also reserve the right to exclude any of these non-conforming bids from consideration.

It’s notable that some of the Public Safety Power Shutoffs (PSPS) that PG&E has imposed over the past month affect some of the customers of the three CCAs and SVP, particularly those of East Bay Community Energy.

The three CCAs are trying to get at least 3-4 MW by September 2020, and two of the three would like to get the rest online by June 2021. Most of the entities are also requiring that some of these batteries be located in disadvantaged communities.