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PG&E generators

PG&E workers in November 2018 installed portable generators at the Calistoga substation. This was an expensive and temporary fix to Calistoga's vulnerability during PG&E's on-going, and stepped-up Power Safety Shutoff Program.

CALISTOGA — Still stinging from PG&E’s public safety power shutoffs, in which the utility pulled the plug to the entire town of Calistoga several times last year, and with the promise of more to come, the City Council on Tuesday voted to move forward with a plan that promises to supply emergency backup power.

The city has been exploring the possibility of a microgrid, and now is using Clean Coalition, a nonprofit based in Menlo Park, to perform a feasibility assessment to see whether such a system would work for Calistoga.

Cost for the initial assessment is $26,000. According to the agreement, the city has the option to proceed or not thereafter. The study should come out in July, according to the city report.

The idea of a microgrid is to increase local energy independence and resilience, city officials said, and in the process, Calistoga has the opportunity to lead the way for other municipalities.

In designing microgrids, Clean Coalition works with electric utilities like PG&E to implement a subsystem within the electrical grid that has connected backup loads capable of automatically disconnecting from the macrogrid and operating in “island” mode.

The system is supplied with alternative energy sources, like solar, and stored in battery energy storage systems. Calistoga also has an abundant supply of geothermal power, council members noted in a previous meeting.

A microgrid is much less susceptible to single-point failure, representatives of the company said.

Now that PG&E has filed bankruptcy, council members expressed concern that the utility is seeking more wildfire mitigation plans, which includes public safety power shutoffs as a primary tool.

“It’s inevitable that there will be more of these (power shutoffs),” said Public Works Director Mike Kirn, sitting in for City Manager Dylan Feik at Tuesday’s meeting.

Mayor Chris Canning added, “They will be more frequent and for longer periods of time.”

During last year’s various public safety power shutoffs, local businesses lost tens of thousands of dollars, schools were closed, residents lost perishables, and there was some confusion about how long the outage would last.

Councilmember Dunsford’s was the only vote against the assessment, saying the issue warranted more discussion.

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You can reach Cynthia Sweeney at csweeney@weeklycalistogan.com or 942-4035.

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The Weekly Calistogan Editor

Cynthia Sweeney has been editor of The Weekly Calistogan since July, 2018. Previously, she was a reporter for the St. Helena Star, and North Bay Business Journal. She also spent a significant amount of time freelancing in Hawaii.