Sonoma Clean Power, MCE expand with wind, biogas

SCP, like MCE, is a clean-energy supplier with an agreement with PG&E to purchase electricity from sources like solar, wind, geothermal and hydropower from alternative sources, and feed it through PG&E’s wires to customers. PG&E also remains responsible for billing and maintenance to the system.

Customers can opt out of the service and sign with PG&E directly, but in Sonoma 88 percent rely on Sonoma Clean Power, and MCE serves 83 percent of the population it covers

In May, SCP broke ground on a wind facility, in the western central valley community of Tracy. The Golden Hills North Wind Facility project removed 283 30-year-old wind turbines and replaced them with 20 2.3-megawatt GE turbines, capable of generating more power with twice the efficiency of the previous installation.

The wind project will have a generating capacity of 46 megawatts, enough to power more than 13,500 homes, and is forecasted to cover 6 percent of SCP’s load starting in 2018.

In June, SCP began serving Mendocino County, which added 38,000 new customers to its existing 196,000 in Sonoma County.

In August, SCP broke ground in rural Petaluma on its first solar facility that will generate two megawatts of solar energy — enough electricity to power 600 homes.

SPC also started a program for customers to install smart devices, like EV charging stations and in the future smart heat pump water heaters, and thermostats, that gives SCP permission to control those devices to help out the electricity grid under times of stress, enabling more renewable energy to come online.

MCE currently serves about 225,000 customers in Marin County, Napa County, Benicia, Richmond, El Cerrito, San Pablo, Lafayette and Walnut Creek and expects to add another nine counties, or 200,000 more customers in 2018.

MCE’s Freethy Industrial Park solar project in Richmond went online in February, with a two-megawatt, ground-mounted solar project

The project supplies enough power for up to 600 homes, with greenhouse gas reductions equivalent to taking 114 cars off the road each year.

MCE’s biogas plant in Novato began operations in September. The plant converts trash into local power. The plant will provide enough renewable electricity to serve more than 5,000 MCE customers in Marin and Napa counties and the cities of Benicia, El Cerrito, Lafayette, Richmond, San Pablo, and Walnut Creek.

The new $14.5 million state-of-the-art plant takes the methane gas, produced by trash, and powers two reciprocating engines that generate 3.9 megawatts of electricity 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

MCE will also go online early in 2018 with Solar One, the second largest solar installation in the Bay area, according to Jamie Tuckey, director of public affairs. Located in Richmond, the 60-acre project will generate 10.5 megawatts of power, enough for 3,000 homes each year.

Cynthia Sweeney covers health care, hospitality, residential real estate, education, employment and business insurance. Reach her at Cynthia.Sweeney@busjrnl.com or call 707-521-4259.

 

Sonoma Clean Power, MCE expand with wind, biogas ,By Cynthia Sweeney, North Bay Business Journal, December 25, 2017

Environmental Victory in California: Marin County Chooses 100% Renewable Energy

This fall, Marin became the first county in the state to have 100% renewable electricity for all of its county, town, and city municipal accounts. Together, all 12 municipalities have eliminated an estimated 3,570 metric tons of pollution, or the EPA equivalent of removing 764 cars from the road in one year.

Belvedere was the first of Marin’s municipalities to opt up to Deep Green, MCE’s 100% California-sourced renewable energy service, in 2010. This was closely followed by opt ups from Fairfax (2012), San Anselmo (2014), and Sausalito (2014). This year Corte Madera, Larkspur, Mill Valley, Novato, Ross, San Rafael, Tiburon, and the County of Marin joined the movement to purchase 100% pollution-free electricity for all public buildings, streetlights, and other civic accounts.

“Not only does this contribute more renewable energy to California’s electrical grid, but half of the Deep Green premium collected goes towards building local solar projects in our service area, like MCE Solar One, a 60-acre solar project in Richmond that’s nearing completion,” said Dawn Weisz, CEO of MCE. “Marin is making a significant contribution to the state’s requirement of 100% renewable energy use by 2045. The county has shown that on a local level, we can not only help achieve California’s goal ahead of schedule, we can demonstrate the urgency of acting on climate change now.”

Municipal adoption of 100% renewable electricity was a catalyst for inspiring local residents and businesses to opt up as well. In Marin County, enrollments in Deep Green have increased 62% in just 10 months, from 2.7% (2,378 accounts) in January, to over 4% (3,852 accounts) as of October 2017. Marin County homes, businesses, and municipal accounts make up over half of all Deep Green customers in MCE’s entire service area. As of September 2017, MCE has reached its goal of having 5% of its total electricity load enrolled in Deep Green, 7 years ahead of its original 2025 target.

Marin County’s Climate Action Plan aims to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 30% below 1990 levels – double the State’s reduction target – in 2020. Together, Marin County communities have reduced their greenhouse gas emissions by 15% compared to 2005 levels.

Many  environmental groups and activists played key roles in providing information to the City and Town Councils, and the County Board of Supervisors, including Environmental Forum of Marin and 350Marinmembers, Sarah Loughran and Helene Marsh, as well as the Marin Conservation LeagueCitizen’s’ Climate Lobby (Marin Chapter), Resilient NeighborhoodsOFA MarinCool the EarthCoalition for a Livable MarinMarin School of Environmental LeadershipStrategic Energy InnovationsSustainable MarinSierra Club (Marin Group), Sustainable San RafaelSustainable NovatoSustainable FairfaxFairfax Climate Action CommitteeMainstreet Moms (West Marin), Mill Valley Community Action Network, and CA Interfaith Power and Light.

 

Environmental Victory in California: Marin County Chooses 100% Renewable Energy, By Kalicia Pivirotto, Marin Clean Energy, December 17, 2017

Bay Area Rapid Transit Commits to a Future Powered by Wind & Solar

Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART), the public transportation system of the San Francisco Bay Area, is moving forward on plans to source the majority of its electricity supply from renewables. The BART Board of Directors approved two 20-year renewable-energy power purchase agreements this week.

“These agreements will ensure the District gets a majority of its electricity supply from clean, renewable, and competitively-priced sources through at least 2040,” said BART Board President Rebecca Saltzman. “Wind and solar energy will take center stage in BART’s long-term electricity supply.”

One of the agreements calls for NextEra Energy Resources to build a new 61.7-MW wind energy project, and the other calls for Recurrent Energy to build a new 45-MW solar energy project. Both projects will be located in Kern County and are expected to be online by January 1, 2021.

“These agreements demonstrate BART’s commitment to being a climate-forward transportation agency and establish the agency as a national leader when it comes to utilizing renewable energy,” said BART District 8 Director Nick Josefowitz.

BART currently gets 4% of its electricity supply from renewable sources, but that will increase dramatically with these two new agreements. Renewable energy will account for about 90% of the District’s electricity portfolio, starting in 2021, when the two new renewable projects begin delivery under the agreements.

The new agreements would not be possible without California Senate Bill 502, which was authored by then San Francisco State Senator Mark Leno, and approved by the state legislature in 2015. That bill allows BART to directly procure renewable energy sources.

“BART received a robust set of competitive bids in response to the Request for Proposals that was issued in May 2017,” said BART Sustainability Director Holly Gordon. “The price per kWh (kilowatt hour) that BART will pay when the projects begin operating in 2021 is lower than what BART currently pays for energy.  That low price will be locked in for 20 years, resulting in significant cost savings for BART over the long term.”

The two agreements build on the Wholesale Electricity Portfolio Policy approved by the BART Board in April. That policy calls on BART to get at least 50% of its electricity from renewable sources by 2025. The new agreements mean BART is well ahead of that goal. Ultimately, BART plans to get 100% of its electricity from renewable sources by 2045.

BART currently uses about 400,000 MWh of electricity every year. That’s slightly more than the electricity needs of the city of Alameda and makes BART one of the largest users in Northern California.

Bay Area Rapid Transit Commits to a Future Powered by Wind & Solar, by Michelle Froese, Windpower, December 8, 2017.

Batteries Could Replace Three California Power Plants

Three California power plants burning fossil fuels might be replaced with batteries, under a proposal state utility regulators will discuss in January.

If approved by the California Public Utilities Commission, the proposal would direct Pacific Gas and Electric Co. to search for energy storage projects that could replace the output of the three plants, two of them located in Yuba City (Sutter County), the third in San Jose. The commission’s five voting members are scheduled to decide the issue on Jan. 11.

The plants, which include the Metcalf Energy Center in south San Jose, are no longer economical to run at current electricity prices, according to the proposal from the commission’s energy division. But the organization that runs most of the state’s electricity grid, the California Independent System Operator, has said that all three are necessary to ensure the reliability of the grid in the areas they serve.

The two plants in Yuba City — the Feather River Energy Center and the Yuba City Energy Center — are small “peaker” plants that run only during periods of high electricity demand, each generating a maximum of 47.6 megawatts of electricity. Metcalf is somewhat larger, capable of producing 605 megawatts. A megawatt is a snapshot figure roughly equal to the amount of electricity used by 750 typical homes at any given moment.

Although Metcalf opened in 2005, the plant now needs “significant upgrades” if it stays open, according to the proposal.

PG&E last week announced plans to replace an old peaker plant in Oakland’s Jack London Square neighborhood with solar power and batteries.

Batteries Could Replace Three California Power Plants, by David R. Baker, The San Francisco Chronicle, December 13, 2017.

PG&E Proposes Innovative Clean Energy Alternative to Aging Fossil Fuel Plant in Oakland

SAN FRANCISCO–(BUSINESS WIRE)–Pacific Gas and Electric Company (PG&E) today announced a proposal that, if approved, would provide a clean energy alternative to a decades-old fossil-fuel power plant in Oakland.

PG&E’s Oakland Clean Energy Initiative would provide a clean and innovative alternative that could replace the existing power plant and would be a cleaner and more affordable option than the traditional approach of using either a new fossil-fueled plant or new transmission lines through heavily populated areas of Oakland. The proposal would use local clean energy resources including energy storage, energy efficiency and electric-system upgrades to ensure reliability in Oakland.

“Today’s event marks an exciting milestone in our work together to meet the energy needs of this terrific city – and really, to set a model for other cities in California and beyond,” said Geisha Williams, CEO and President of PG&E Corporation.

PG&E has invited multiple stakeholders to weigh in on the proposal, including the city of Oakland; the Port of Oakland; environmental groups such as the Environmental Defense Fund, the West Oakland Environmental Indicators Project and the Natural Resources Defense Council; and local businesses that neighbor the site.

Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf said the proposal would achieve a number of goals for the city.

“Today’s announcement is exciting because it’s another important step forward for our city as we create a safe, prosperous and healthy Oakland for our residents. It’s not every day that you get to make the air cleaner, improve the health and quality of life for your residents, and support green jobs, but that’s what this project will do for Oakland,” Schaaf said.

“The Oakland Clean Energy Initiative sets the right precedent with its innovative clean energy plan for West Oakland. We are excited to be part of the project team and look forward to seeing this effort integrated into the bigger picture of clean, locally owned energy systems and more resilient communities,” said Brian Beveridge of West Oakland Environmental Indicators Project (WOEIP).

Jamie Fine, Senior Economist, Environmental Defense Fund (EDF), echoed WOEIP, and added, “PG&E’s proactive approach has the potential to harness the power of clean energy to help reduce pollution in Oakland, a win for the community and the environment. We look forward to working together to successfully deploy these solutions.” Labor groups also said they support the proposal.

“The working men and women of IBEW Local 1245 are proud partners with PG&E in providing safe, affordable energy to the city of Oakland, and all of Northern California. We are excited to see the energy reliability solutions of the future, developed in the communities where we work and live,” said Anthony Brown, Assistant Business Manager of IBEW 1245.

“We are tremendously grateful for the support of so many local leaders, businesses and environmental groups. It’s a great example of what we can do for our communities and our economy when we work together to come up with innovative solutions,” Williams said.

The existing plant in the area is a 40-year-old, jet fuel-powered generating facility at 50 Martin Luther King Jr. Way that is needed for local reliability. The California Independent System Operator (CAISO) has a Reliability-Must-Run (RMR) contract with the plant’s owner, Dynegy, to purchase up to 165 megawatts of energy during peak periods.

A conventional solution to maintaining the system reliability provided by the aging generating station would be to build a new fossil fuel power plant or to build new transmission lines through heavily populated parts of Oakland.

Instead, PG&E’s proposal is to upgrade existing substation infrastructure and develop new clean energy resources in Oakland. If the proposal is approved, it will mark the first time that local clean energy resources are proactively deployed as an alternative to fossil-fuel generation to provide transmission reliability.

PG&E will be working with East Bay Community Energy to run a market solicitation, known as a request for offers, to invite distributed energy resource providers to propose innovative and competitive solutions as part of the portfolio. Depending on the exact resource mix, the solicitation is expected to result in 20 to 45 megawatts of clean energy resources.

PG&E submitted the proposal to the California Independent System Operator (CAISO) through the annual Transmission Planning Process. CAISO is scheduled to decide on the initiative in the first quarter of 2018. If the project is approved by CAISO, PG&E will open up the request-for-offers process. PG&E is also required by law to file for cost recovery with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and the California Public Utilities Commission. PG&E expects to make the filing by the end of 2018. The Oakland Clean Energy Initiative has a forecasted in-service date of mid-2022.

About PG&E

Pacific Gas and Electric Company, a subsidiary of PG&E Corporation (NYSE:PCG), is one of the largest combined natural gas and electric utilities in the United States. Based in San Francisco, with more than 20,000 employees, the company delivers some of the nation’s cleanest energy to nearly 16 million people in Northern and Central California. For more information, visit www.pge.com and www.pge.com/en/about/newsroom/index.page.

Contacts

Pacific Gas and Electric Company
Media Relations, 415-973-5930

 

PG&E Proposes Innovative Clean Energy Alternative to Aging Fossil Fuel Plant in Oakland, Business Wire, December 6, 2017

Vista Solar Installing 2.5 MW for Shelter Creek Condominiums

Vista Solar, a SunPower commercial dealer, has been chosen by Shelter Creek Condominiums, a 1,296-unit multi-family development, to design and install a 2.5 MW SunPower solar project in San Bruno, Calif.

According to Vista Solar, there will be eight phases of construction of the rooftop solar system, and once complete, the project will offset over 70% of the community’s annual electricity usage.

“As one of the largest multi-family developments in San Mateo County, and having just completed the installation of Fiber Optic connections to each condo through the ‘Fiber to the Home’ project enabled by the City of San Bruno and San Bruno Cable, we believe Shelter Creek has set the bar for advanced technology,” says Ronnie Rosen, general manager of Shelter Creek.

Read more by clicking the link below.

Vista Solar Installing 2.5 MW for Shelter Creek Condominiums, by Joseph Bebon, Solar Industry, November 13, 2017.

Ride the Winds of the Fires for Change to Sustainable Communities

Opinion:

Quickly rebuilding 8,900 buildings destroyed by the fires as “Zero Net Energy” buildings — it’s impossible, right?

Wrong; it’s cost-effective and not that hard, but requires community determination and leadership.

We are at the fork in the road after fires destroyed over 8,900 buildings last month and killed over 40 neighbors in our community in the great fires of the Napa and Sonoma valleys. The largest of many such fires in California over the past few years. The new community slogan is “Love is Thicker than the Smoke “and the tragic devastation of the fires have brought the community together in helping each other heal and rebuild.

Will we rush to rebuild in the same way as before or will we rebuild with cost-effective zero net energy buildings and renewable microgrids?

One road leads to more smoke — a community with continued high utility costs, wasteful energy use, add greenhouse gasses, dependence on fossil fuels, less reliable, less resilient energy systems all contributing to the degradation of the environment and more fires and “natural” disasters.

The other road leads to more love – love of community, future generations, nature and a commitment to rebuild as a zero net energy community. Rebuilding critical public infrastructure designed with renewable microgrids for improved reliability. And leadership that loves to remove barriers to creating this new sustainable community.

So, let’s get to the heart of the matter – building sustainable, reliable, smart, 21st century buildings and power systems is vital to the economic, social and environmental health of our community and the global community. Sustainable designs and systems are the solution that stops contributing to the essential problem of global climate change.

Why zero net energy buildings? They are the best cost-effective solution. zero net energy buildings are so cost effective that California will requires all homes to be zero net energy starting in 2020 — just two years. Commercial buildings have until 2030 to be zero net energy. The added costs for a zero net energy home are only $8,000 to $12,000 in first costs. The reduced homeowner utility bills will pay for the added costs in a few years and/or contribute to monthly mortgage costs.

Developers like De Young Properties are building zero net energy communities today. The EnVision community with 36 zero net energy homes in Clovis is the largest zero net energy community in the Central Valley.

Why renewable microgrids? It is sustainable technology for a digital world.

Requiring renewable microgrids for our essential public services and buildings is the logical and cost-effective approach for the new normal. Richard Branson and Amory Lovins wrote an Aug. 23, 2017 editorial for the New York Times “How to Keep the Lights on After a Hurricane” And I’ll add, or a firestorm, see key quote below:

Microgrids are becoming proven and popular around the world from India (where record floods couldn’t stop solar power) to the University of California at San Diego, whose microgrid (powering 92 percent of the campus and saving $8 million a year) reversed flow and sent power back to the utility in less than a half-hour (until wildfires ate a power line).

Some traditional utilities oppose microgrids as a threat to their beleaguered monopoly. But giant electrical equipment firms like Siemens, Schneider and General Electric now offer microgrids, and nearly 2,000 projects were underway worldwide at the end of 2016.

Why leadership is required to remove the barriers to zero net energy with community-based solutions?

Just as nothing could stop the recent fires, we need leadership that nothing can stop until we solve these barriers and rebuild smart with 100 percent renewable power and microgrid systems.

According to the Sierra Club, 100 Commitments: five U.S. cities have already done this and 46 cities, four countries and one state have adapted 100 percent renewable plans. Many of these cities are rebuilding from natural disasters due to hurricanes, monster storms, floods, and fires.

It is time to get our head out of the sand, wake up and face the challenge.

We know what to do and how to do it – but the barriers are many.

Barriers include insurance coverage, FEMA coverage, modest added first costs, appraisal process, loan process, building permit process, design and trade training, and the rush to get done.

Which road to take as a community? As individuals? What is the right thing do?

Rebuilding unsustainably and wasting energy is clearly not the right thing to do for the public or private buildings. So, we know the right thing to do and for the love of the community and future generations we need to have the courage, creativity, collaboration and leadership to clear the smoke and the barriers and rebuild our homes and community as part of the solution for a sustainable world.

Ride the Winds of the Fires for Change to Sustainable Communities, by Karl Johnson, Napa Valley Register, November 15, 2017.

Post-Fire Rebuilding Offers a Chance for Microgrids

It is not yet known whether trees blown into electric power lines by ferocious winds helped cause the catastrophic fires in Sonoma, Napa and Mendocino counties. But electric lines are notoriously vulnerable to a variety of hazards, and vulnerabilities to the electric generation and transmission system are well known. It’s time to think about replacing some of our centralized electrical system with decentralized “microgrids,” which generate power locally and renewably — and without utility poles.

Ironically, it is the tragic leveling of entire communities in the Wine Country that might make building microgrids more cost-effective than rebuilding conventional infrastructure in the short run. And in the long run, benefits of microgrids would grow.

Decentralized, or distributed power, can be everything from rooftop solar panels to an array of solar, wind or geothermal power grouped to serve blocks or neighborhoods.

In 2015, the nonpartisan Pew Charitable Trusts reported that “A century-old centralized system is yielding to advanced, distributed energy generation capabilities — in which power is produced at or near the place where it is consumed.” Foremost among these will be microgrids (energy generation and transmission for a specific customer base), with energy generated by renewable energy sources including solar, wind and geothermal, which will serve both regional and neighborhood needs.

Energy microgrids are more resilient in the face of service interruptions caused by natural events, including devastating storms that have taken down utility infrastructure in this year’s hurricanes, wrote engineer Mahesh P. Bhave. He has said that hurricane-ravaged Puerto Rico offers a perfect opportunity to replace the traditional electric grid with microgrids.

Conventional utility infrastructure is also susceptible to hacking. In 2014, CNN documented 79 attacks on the U.S. energy grid. Microgrids are not so susceptible.

Microgrids can provide reliable, continuous power, and enhance use of renewable energy sources. Much of the energy sent over long distances on the existing grid is lost in transmission. Electricity produced close to where it is used, building-by-building or microgrid-by-microgrid, will be more cost-effective and efficient. And, as it does not rely on enormous generating plants, locally produced energy can more easily be harvested from the wind and sun.

In Brooklyn, N.Y., solar energy produced on rooftops is bought and sold among neighbors, bypassing traditional utilities. Batteries to store solar power and feed it back at night are proliferating, and are rapidly coming down in cost. Rigorously tested, these batteries can supply a whole house with energy, and are made by well-known firms such as Tesla and Samsung, as well as a growing number of smaller companies.

We can also reduce our energy use, and save money as well. Passive solar homes have been gaining popularity for years. Zero-net-energy buildings, which maximize the effect of renewables and energy efficiency, will be required as standard construction in California by 2020. That could dramatically reduce the amount of energy new buildings in the Wine Country — or anywhere else — will need.

Post-Fire Rebuilding Offers a Chance for Microgrids, by Edward Church, The San Francisco Chronicle, October 30, 2017.

California May Reach 50% Renewable Power Goal by 2020 — 10 Years Early

Two years ago, Gov. Jerry Brown signed an ambitious law ordering California utility companies to get 50 percent of their electricity from renewable sources by 2030.

It looks like they may hit that goal a decade ahead of schedule.

An annual report issued Monday by California regulators found that the state’s three big, investor-owned utilities — Pacific Gas and Electric Co., Southern California Edison and San Diego Gas & Electric Co. — are collectively on track to reach the 50 percent milestone by 2020, although individual companies could exceed the mark or fall just short of it.

 In 2016, 32.9 percent of the electricity PG&E sold to its customers came from renewable sources, according to the report. Edison reached 28.2 percent renewable power in 2016, while SDG&E — the state’s smallest investor-owned utility — hit 43.2 percent.

California first started requiring utilities to increase their use of renewable power in 2002. Brown and his Republican predecessor, Arnold Schwarzenegger, ratcheted up the targets over time. Known as the renewable portfolio standard, the requirement has become one of the state’s most important tools for lowering greenhouse gas emissions and fighting climate change.

Brown has touted California’s ability to boost renewable power and lower emissions while growing its economy. Even as President Trump has moved to scale back federal efforts to combat global warming, Brown has been pushing other states and foreign governments to join California.

“We don’t want to do nothing and just sit there and let the climate get worse,” he said Monday by phone from Germany, where he is attending climate talks. “California is all in.”

California’s emissions from electric power generation have declined almost every year since 2008.

The requirement triggered a boom in the construction of solar power plants and wind farms. At the same time, renewable power prices have plunged. The average utility contract price for buying electricity from a large-scale photovoltaic solar facility dropped from $135.90 per megawatt-hour in 2008 to $29.17 in 2016. Wind power prices fell from $97.11 per megawatt-hour in 2007 to $50.99 in 2015, according to the report.

So much solar power now floods the California grid from late morning through mid-afternoon that on many days, there isn’t a need for all of it. But the state is still heavily reliant on conventional power plants burning natural gas, which provide the large majority of California’s electricity during late afternoons and evenings.

The report found that as the renewable power building boom was getting under way, utilities signed contracts with more solar and wind power developers than they needed, expecting many of the projects to fall through.

They also bought more “renewable energy credits” — tradeable certificates generated whenever a solar plant or wind facility produces electricity — than necessary.

In addition, the growing popularity of community choice aggregation projects — in which local governments buy electricity on behalf of their citizens — has cut into the amount of electricity the utilities sell to customers, a trend expected to accelerate. As result, reaching the 50 percent renewable mandate will be easier than anticipated.

California May Reach 50% Renewable Power Goal by 2020 — 10 Years Early, by David R. Baker, The San Francisco Chronicle, November 13, 2017.

Rebuilding with 2050 in mind, not 1950

An energy perspective on rebuilding after the most destructive wildfire episode in California history

Powerful forces are placing enormous pressure on a fast rebuild of the fire-demolished areas in Santa Rosa and Sonoma County. As featured in a recent Sunday edition of the local paper of record, the Press Democrat, the debate about how to rebuild, and how fast or slow has begun. It is a debate that will likely grow. “City officials and most of the City Council have adopted a full-speed-ahead approach…but others are asking whether the city, by moving so fast, might miss its chance to rebuild smarter and safer,” the article states.

It is understandable that the city and county and many residential and business property owners want to clean up and rebuild as quickly as possible. Careful consideration of residents’ and business owners’ needs and wants is imperative. Some kind of process for ensuring that their voices are heard and needs are met as soon as possible needs to happen, as does determining what kind of rebuild occurs over the longer term.

Instead of a slow-down, an expedited process for code revisions and special permitting for the longer term rebuilding is in order to allow for inclusion of advanced 21st century systems and technology in what is rebuilt. The question is: how can we expeditiously rebuild with energy infrastructure optimized for safety and efficiency. Doing so offers a path forward that has a potential win/win dynamic that can favorably address resilience and future emergency response scenarios, in addition to offering advantages on consumer energy costs, energy load management, and more.

Rebuilding with the year 2050, not 1950 in mind means a lot more than under-grounding electric utilities, slapping solar panels on roofs, and making homes electric-vehicle-charging-ready or even adding on-site energy storage to the system. It means integrating all of these technologies and more with the smart sensors and controls, communications tools, and advanced automation that are now available that can do double duty for both early warning of future disasters, early pinpointing of trouble spots, and managing energy generation and demand for cost savings and greenhouse gas reductions.

So, what are we talking about here?

Reports are emerging about microgrids in Sonoma County that were able to keep lights on and water pumps operating when others lost power as a result of the fire. A case in point is the story from our friends at the Stone Edge Microgrid project in Sonoma Valley. Not only were they able to go into energy island mode, they were able to do it remotely. For ten hours while the power was out all around them, using rooftop solar generation and energy storage they were able to stay powered. “By quickly putting the microgrid in island mode in response to the fires…the team learned a lot of lessons it wouldn’t have learned otherwise. Top among them [microgrid engineer Craig Wooster] said: ‘The microgrid did what it was supposed to do.’” I wrote about this now repeating phenomenon briefly in “Preventing the Zombie Apocalypse” in 2013 when the Rocky Mountain Institute pointed out the resilience benefits of microgrids that weathered 2012’s Superstorm Sandy far better than areas of New York that did not have such systems.

The vision for a green energy rebuild with 2050 in mind could look something like this: An all-electric renewables-based clean community microgrid that obviates the need for reconstructing obsolete fossil gas and electric infrastructure, including wooden utility poles, a 19th century technology. Why all electric? Because in Sonoma County our electricity dollars pay for an extremely clean mix of power, thanks to Sonoma Clean Power.

Then, beginning with passive design (taking local environmental conditions like prevailing winds into consideration) of new structures, and including the four key technologies of solar, storage, electric vehicles, smart controls, along with others like electric heat pump water and space heaters would enable the decommissioning of the fossil gas infrastructure.

It is a system where sensors are embedded in key points that allow emergency responders to know what and where the problem is early, instead of relying on an antiquated system that requires someone to make a phone call (Imagine if you needed to get a phone call to know you cut your finger; no, your system just knows and reacts!). Other sensors can be embedded that allow grid operators to communicate with load centers in a two-way mode allowing real-time demand response management. All structures can and should be designed to be zero net energy or even net-plus, producing more power than they consume. Many more dimensions of a smart green energy rebuild can be considered.

Some of these technologies may cost more to include, but the right kinds of programs, financial tools, and incentives can make it possible for these ideas to be low or no cost to property owners. This is where the utilities, local government, PACE providers, Community Choice agencies, local financial institutions, and others can play a critically important role and there are early indications that they are eager to work together to make some of this happen. There are community and system-wide energy, safety, and resilience benefits that can justify the investment. And ultimately this approach will save homeowners money on energy and enhance their own safety.

Of course, in addition to the residents, businesses, and others whose structures burned, many other stakeholders will need to be engaged on this including community based organizations, developers, contractors, energy project developers, systems integrators, and others. Both Sonoma County and Santa Rosa will need to be willing to look at innovative stretch and reach codes and ordinances, innovative building codes that push performance to the next level and that can help facilitate such a vision.

Sadly, the recent firestorms could be the “face of the future” as my colleague Barry Vesser pointed out in the aftermath of the 2015 Lake County wildfires. But out of the ashes of this disaster can be born something new and wonderful. And it could create a new model for other communities to follow who will inevitably be hit by ever-increasing climate calamities. We have an unprecedented opportunity to create much safer, energy efficient (and therefore, cost-saving over time), and resilient communities in the areas that were completely lost. Let’s think seriously about doing that before paving over the opportunity.