In his Aug. 6 Noozhawk commentary (“What Will You Do When the Lights Go Out?”), columnist Ron Fink was right to pose these questions:

Craig Lewis

Craig Lewis (Clean Coalition photo)

» Where will the utilities’ proposed Public Safety Power Shutoffs (PSPS) leave area residents when they are hit by loss of pay, spoiled food and lack of power for necessary medical equipment?

» What happens when emergency generators fail at hospitals or city facilities?

» How can renewable energy help when the sun goes down?

These are serious concerns that must be addressed. Fink correctly notes that diesel generators are not the answer, because they generally have only enough fuel on hand for two days. Replenishing that fuel can be impossible during a disaster-caused power outage, and difficult even during a PSPS event.

Fortunately, we have an answer to all of these questions: renewables-driven Community Microgrids. This is not a futuristic utopian scenario; in Montecito, Community Microgrids are already being designed to bring the area unparalleled economic, environmental and resilience benefits.

While all microgrids can disconnect and “island” from the main electric grid during a power outage, most microgrids serve just one facility or home. In contrast, a Community Microgrid serves an entire community by indefinitely powering significant portions of the load and at the very least the critical, or life-sustaining, loads — usually 10 percent of the total load.

That can mean fire stations, water infrastructure, emergency shelters, hospitals, gas stations and grocery stores. Even in the face of an extended outage during the worst weather, when designed properly, a Community Microgrid will keep these critical facilities online indefinitely.

Community Microgrids

Community Microgrids keep critical loads online indefinitely and other loads online a large percentage of the time. (Clean Coalition illustration)

This is done by combining solar with energy storage that, like solar power, is becoming cheaper all the time. Two years ago, the Clean Coalition, a California nonprofit organization, conducted a study showing that solar+storage could cost effectively replace two proposed gas plant projects, while fulfilling the area’s required power needs.

The cost of energy storage has continued to decrease since then — not just for large installations but also for homes and commercial-scale structures. The resilience value of solar+storage Community Microgrids make these installations an even better deal.

Currently in Santa Barbara, there are plans in place to design and implement a UC Santa Barbara Community Microgrid; UCSB is the main emergency sheltering site for all of Santa Barbara County, making it imperative that the site be prepared for any emergency that might occur.

The Montecito Community Microgrid is also well underway, with the first section expected to be completed this year at the Montecito Fire Protection District headquarters at 595 San Ysidro Road. Within a few months, deployments will be completed at both the Montecito Water District, 583 San Ysidro Road, and Montecito Union School, 385 San Ysidro Road.

These are the first building blocks in a larger Community Microgrid for the Goleta Load Pocket (GLP), an area spanning 70 miles of California coastline from Point Conception to Lake Casitas, encompassing Goleta, Santa Barbara, Montecito and Carpinteria.

Goleta Load Pocket

The Goleta Load Pocket, served by just one set of transmission lines. (Clean Coalition illustration)

When fully realized, the GLP Community Microgrid will provide 100 percent protection to the area against even a complete transmission outage. The GLP has more than enough siting opportunity for all the solar+storage needed to achieve this protection — which is especially crucial because the GLP is served by a single set of transmission lines, making the region particularly vulnerable.

The same transmission infrastructure that has caused some of California’s deadliest wildfires also puts our disaster-prone area at risk of widespread outages, as Fink notes.

Community Microgrids are so effective that even municipalities not yet hit by disasters are considering them to proactively make their communities more resilient. One example is the City of Calistoga, which has already experienced a 48-hour-long PSPS. With another severe wildfire season expected this year, the threat of further PSPS events has led Calistoga to move forward with plans for a Community Microgrid.

More of our cities need to follow suit.

Fink is right once again when he says that those of us who are advocates for renewable energy will soon have a chance to test our theory that renewables will replace fossil fuels. We are confident that Community Microgrids will pass that test with flying colors.

— 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.