The state’s plans for slashing climate emissions depend on a stable electric grid delivering clean electricity to the cars, homes and businesses of the world’s fifth-largest economy. The jarring new reality of preemptive blackouts could frustrate those plans by throwing the grid’s reliability into doubt.
Government-run energy providers known as community choice aggregators, or CCAs — which now serve about one-quarter of California residents — say they could play a major role in helping homes and businesses install rooftop solar systems and batteries to protect themselves against blackouts.
CCAs don’t operate the poles and wires at the heart of the state’s wildfire crisis — that’s still the job of investor-owned utilities across most of the state. But they are responsible for electricity rates and customer incentive programs, and many of them have chosen to prioritize local energy resources.
The CCA serving Alameda County, East Bay Community Energy, recently signed a contract with the San Francisco-based company Sunrun to buy 500 kilowatts of “resource adequacy” from rooftop solar panels and batteries the company plans to install at low-income single-family and multifamily homes.
Basically, the CCA will pay Sunrun for the right to draw power from the solar-plus-storage systems. And when PG&E’s electric grid goes down during a preemptive power shutoff or other emergency, those low-income homes will be able to keep the lights on, East Bay Chief Executive Nick Chaset said.
East Bay is planning a much larger purchase of similar solar-plus-storage resources. This time, the CCA may tell potential vendors to prioritize homes most likely to have their power shut off preemptively by PG&E, or perhaps customers who depend on medical devices that run on electricity, Chaset said.
“So far, we have not seen PG&E come out and do this,” he said. “This is more in the wheelhouse of a CCA.”