How local energy providers are ensuring energy resilience


In the past month, I have passed two wildfires on the side of the freeway. That’s now life during California summers. As the pandemic rages on, limiting people’s movement, the prospect of another year of public safety power shutoffs — the utility program that preemptively shut down power to Californians last summer to avoid wildfires — is scary.

Many smart people have been working hard on this problem. Energy providers across California — from local utilities to massive investor-owned utilities (IOUs) — have been tasked with cracking the energy resilience code.

As the west begins to burn, how are those efforts going?

Community choice aggregators (CCAs), programs that allow cities or counties to buy energy for their residents, are a bright spot for energy-resilient offerings.

Last week, three San Francisco Bay Area CCAs — East Bay Community Energy (EBCE), Peninsula Clean Energy and Silicon Valley Clean Energy (SVCE) — announced a partnership with Sunrun to install roughly 20 megawatts of solar with a battery backup on up to 6,000 households n danger of getting their power shut off. The CCAs all have carveouts for low-income customers to ensure this program serves all communities.

The announcement comes two months after Marin Clean Energy, a CCA in Northern California, launched a program to install 15 megawatt-hours of customer-sited energy storage. San José Clean Energy and Peninsula Clean Energy issued a request for offers for similar energy-plus-storage programs to serve their customers.

While both California utilities and CCAs are tasked with finding resilience solutions, the CCAs are the first to offer solar-plus-storage programs to their customers.

According to the CCAs, this is because local utilities work in and for the community.

“SVCE is a community-based organization,” Aimee Gotway Bailey, director of decarbonization and grid innovation at SVCE wrote in an email. “Our community formed us and governs us. That means we’re well-positioned to be responsive to what our community needs. The resilience program we just launched is a testament to that.”

Our community formed us and governs us. That means we’re well-positioned to be responsive to what our community needs.

JP Ross, EBCE’s director of local development, electrification and innovation, echoed that sentiment in a phone conversation. “We’re not responsive to shareholders; we’re responsive to our community,” he said.

CCAs are also in a better position to aggregate behind-the-meter resources as part of a procurement plan for resource adequacy — in other words, they can better monetize the new energy resources when there aren’t outages to shave peak loads.

“Local utilities are leading because there aren’t other organizations in as natural position to lead,” Mark Dyson, principal of Rocky Mountain Institute’s electricity practice, wrote in an email. “[They] are the ones that can enable the ‘blue sky’ benefits of [distributed energy resources, or DERs], and most effectively integrate DERs’ ‘black sky’ benefits with existing resilience planning activities.”

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