Sunrise brief: California approves electric microgrid program for vulnerable communities

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The California Public Utilities Commission (PUC) approved a microgrid plan for Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E) to support local governments and tribes and provide resiliency in the event of utility outages.

One-time matching funds of up to $27 million annually for 2021 and 2022 are available to defray the cost of special facilities or distribution system upgrades. The program reserves one-third of total budget, or $9 million a year, for disadvantaged and vulnerable communities, with an opportunity to increase this reserved amount if needed.

Microgrid systems are capped 20 at MW to account for the typical maximum capacity for a 21 kV distribution circuit. The utility told regulators that facilities larger than 20 MW would need to be connected to a substation bus or transmission line. It said that was a more complex and expensive undertaking and outside of the program’s target scope and funding.

Microgrid systems are capped 20 MW to account for the typical maximum capacity for a 21 kV distribution circuit.

A June 2020 PUC decision required large electric investor-owned utilities to speed up deployment of microgrids and resiliency projects to minimize the impacts of power outages, including utility Public Safety Power Shut-off events.

Local and tribal governments developing community microgrids serving multiple critical facilities located in outage-prone areas are eligible for the program. PG&E will provide technical support, including project scoping, project design guidance, and a dedicated project management office.

Hydro-Québec to commercialize hydrogen tech

Hydro-Québec’s Center of Excellence in Transportation Electrification and Energy Storage and the University of South Wales signed commercial agreements transferring patented hydrogen storage technology from USW to Hydro-Québec to enable its commercialization. The pact is part of ongoing efforts to decarbonize industry and provide alternative, cleaner sources of energy.

The USW technology enables hydrogen to be absorbed into material at higher concentrations and densities, increasing its capacity for hydrogen storage.

The technology is expected to offer a number of advantages over existing hydrogen storage options, including greater storage capacity, less weight for the same capacity, increased safety as a result of lower tank pressure, lower manufacturing costs, simplified infrastructure, and no need for liquefaction, generating savings in large-scale transport.

Applications include transporting large quantities of hydrogen safely, or being able to have reservoirs of hydrogen-powered vehicles that can hold larger quantities of hydrogen in a smaller space.

Hydro-Québec said it will work with the patents over the next two years to bring them to the commercial stage.

Texas utility gets a financial safety net

The San Antonio, Texas, city council granted CPS Energy authority to seek up to a $500 million line of credit to provide liquidity, if needed, to support ongoing operations.

The line of credit is seen as a backstop as the city-owned utility challenges purchased power charges from the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) related to the mid-February winter storm that crippled the state’s electric power grid.

The Texas PUC lost its last remaining member.

The council also passed a resolution supporting the utility’s plan to seek and state financial and policy assistance; pursue regulatory intervention; and negotiations. CPS Energy earlier sued ERCOT in an effort to prevent what it said were charges to CPS Energy and its customers.

The state’s regulatory outlook became murkier when the final member of the Public Utility Commission, Arthur D’Andrea, resigned.

Gov. Greg Abbott asked for D’Andrea’s resignation hours after Texas Monthly reported that the regulator told out-of-state investors on a call he would work to stop calls to reverse billions of dollars in charges for wholesale electricity during the storm.

On March 15, the Texas Senate passed a bill to force the PUC to reverse those charges. D’Andrea had publicly resisted such calls.

D’Andrea was promoted to chair by Abbott early in March to replace the previous chair, DeAnn Walker, who resigned over fallout related to the winter storm. The other commissioner, Shelly Botkin, resigned a week after Walker.

Georgia solar portfolio is complete

Green Power EMC, the renewable energy provider for 38 Georgia Electric Membership Corporations, and Silicon Ranch announced completion of a 200 MW solar portfolio that includes three utility-scale projects in southern Georgia.

The total capacity is spread across two counties in the southwestern and southeastern parts of the state.

The three sites were developed, funded, and built by Silicon Ranch, which also owns, operates, and maintains the arrays. Green Power EMC is buying all the energy and environmental attributes generated by the facilities on behalf of its member EMCs for the next 30 years.

The first site, known as Hazlehurst III, came online in December 2019 and is a 40 MW facility. In August 2020, Silicon Ranch commissioned the second site, the 74 MW Terrell Solar Farm. In December 2020, the partners commissioned the third site in the portfolio, Snipesville I, an 86 MW facility.

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