As coastal winds began to pick up last week and red-flag warnings were issued by the National Weather Service for critical fire-risk conditions, Santa Barbara County’s South Coast found itself at risk of losing power for potentially prolonged periods as Southern California Edison considered implementing Public Safety Power Shutoffs (PSPS).

Craig Lewis

Craig Lewis (Clean Coalition photo)

California’s major utilities are increasingly using these preemptive grid shutoffs to mitigate the risk of their power lines causing wildfires.

By the end of the weekend, Santa Barbara area had not yet experienced a grid outage. But the PSPS threat got everyone thinking about what might happen if more than 24,000 residents were left without power, as SCE’s website indicated Friday.

If initiated, the PSPS would last as long as high-fire-risk conditions continued to threaten the vulnerable transmission lines that stretch from Ventura to the Goleta Substation, which is located at the top of Glen Annie Road above Goleta and provides the region’s only interconnection to California’s transmission grid.

Public Safety Power Shutoff map

Public Safety Power Shutoff map for Santa Barbara County’s South Coast, as of 4 p.m. Oct. 18. (Santa Barbara County Office of Emergency Management map)

With the emergence of PSPS events as the new normal throughout California, first responders and local jurisdictions are assessing the impacts that these power outages will have on our communities — and everyone is searching for solutions.

Many Californians — including Gov. Gavin Newsom, who called the situation “unacceptable” — are questioning whether broad grid area shutoffs are the best way to deal with increasing wildfire risks.

Public Safety Power Shutoff map

( Clean Coalition map)

While no silver bullet exists, a highly effective solution is Community Microgrids — a new approach for designing and operating the electric grid. Community Microgrids are stacked with local renewables and staged for resilience, providing communities with an unparalleled trifecta of economic, environmental and resilience benefits.

California is increasingly turning to microgrids for energy resilience, because microgrids can “island” from the larger grid to keep a smaller area online.

In September, the California Public Utilities Commission started a rulemaking proceeding on SB 1339, legislation passed in 2018 that aims to reduce barriers to resilience-focused microgrids.

In response to SB 1339, the commission recently started considering policies and programs that will facilitate such microgrids during PSPS events — and during actual disasters, too.


(Clean Coalition illustration)

Meanwhile, some microgrids have already been deployed in California. Most of these are standard microgrids, however, meaning they are deployed at one home or business and generally serve just that customer rather than an entire community.

Now, the South Coast region is at the forefront of an emerging trend to deploy microgrids that serve broader communities. Direct Relief, which installed a solar-driven microgrid last year to protect the Santa Barbara nonprofit organization’s temperature-controlled medicines during grid outages, while enjoying lots of everyday economic benefits, is making its headquarters available to anyone who loses power during a PSPS — allowing residents to charge their phones, computers, portable batteries and other devices.

Taking this even further, another local nonprofit, the Clean Coalition, is staging a comprehensive Community Microgrid that covers the entire South Coast. Like a standard microgrid, a Community Microgrid can island from the larger grid and operate independently.

Unlike a standard microgrid that supports a single facility, however, a Community Microgrid serves an entire community by ensuring indefinite renewables-driven backup power for critical community facilities such as fire stations, water and communications infrastructure, hospitals and emergency shelters.


(Clean Coalition illustration)

The Goleta Load Pocket Community Microgrid, or GLPCM, named after the Goleta Substation, is being staged to provide renewables-driven resilience to the entire South Coast, to keep the lights on and the doors open at critical community facilities during outages of any length. During normal operations, these clean local energy resources will drastically reduce the carbon footprint of our community and yield significant local economic stimulation.

The Montecito Community Microgrid aims to be the first building block of the GLPCM by providing solar-driven resilience to the Montecito Fire Protection District headquarters, the Montecito Water District and Montecito Union School, all at the upper end of San Ysidro Road.

Santa Barbara Substation

(Clean Coalition illustration)

Other communities are also turning to Community Microgrids. Shortly after experiencing a 48-hour PSPS last fall, the City of Calistoga took steps to prepare for future PSPS events — as well as wildfires or other actual disasters — by planning the Calistoga Community Microgrid.

The Clean Coalition is conducting a feasibility study for the Bay Area city that will include functional designs for six target Critical Community Facility Microgrids. Starting with these separate microgrids at discrete locations, the project has the ultimate goal of developing a comprehensive Community Microgrid that serves the much broader grid area.

Calistoga map

(City of Calistoga map)

These and other Community Microgrids being planned in Northern and Southern California will significantly improve regional energy resilience and minimize the impacts of PSPS events and actual disasters alike.

Santa Barbara County is in dire need of innovative resilience solutions, and Community Microgrids are ready to provide that resilience our community.

Click here for more information from the Clean Coalition on any of the projects listed here.

— Santa Barbara resident Craig Lewis is executive director of the Clean Coalition, a nonprofit organization working to accelerate the transition to renewable energy and a modern grid through technical, policy and project development expertise. He can be reached at Follow Craig and the Clean Coalition on Twitter: @CraigLewisCC and @Clean_Coalition. Connect with the Clean Coalition on LinkedIn. The opinions expressed are his own.