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October 15, 2019
(Sun Light & Power's founder and President, Gary Gerber is traveling in Europe, where he learned about the power outages in California. He sent us this message from Croatia on Friday, October 11, 2019.)
I hope you are all coping well with the power disruptions I am reading about here. The policy of shutting down power all over Northern California as the best solution to prevent arcing from high voltage power lines seems completely wrong-headed to me, on several levels. Fortunately, there are folks in our solar community who feel the same way and who are making themselves heard.
Susannah Churchill of VoteSolar is one such person. She is heading up a NEM3 (Net Energy Metering) study group I have been a part of over the past few months. Our team includes, Brad Heavner and Scott Murtishaw from CALSSA, Rick Umoff, Solar Energy Industries Association Director of State Affairs, and, various policy people from the major players in the California solar industry (Sun Run, Vivint, Tesla, etc.). We are working together on getting ahead of the inevitable conversation with PG&E over how to properly design NEM3 to properly incentivize and reward Distributed Generation such that Utility-Scale Solar does not dominate the California market.
I am sharing the article below written by Susannah and published this week in the San Francisco Chronicle because it reasonably reflects my opinions about the long-term sustainable answers to the electricity/fire/solar/sustainability issues in California.
Unfortunately, there is one missing element to this article: the issue of undergrounding the wires. This is, in my opinion, the "correct" solution to the fire problem. Frankly, the longer the utilities resist undergrounding and force these power-down events on the public, the better it is for Distributed Generation because these events create a huge groundswell of interest in Solar + Storage.
People keep saying "undergrounding is just too expensive", but what is the societal cost of another Camp Fire, tens of billions? And what is the cost to the economy to have the power system shut down? I have seen a number calculated at $1.8B for just 24 hours of California power shutoffs based on software designed to calculate such numbers (ICE Calculator, a program cosponsored by Lawrence Berkeley Lab). I have seen other numbers, also in the billions, from other sources – each for just one event. It seems to me that a plan to spend billions of dollars on undergrounding wires (even if it actually costs as much as PG&E says) should be seriously considered. The utility should pay for this instead of the taxpayers.
Enjoy Susannah's article, entitled, 'How to keep the lights on in wildfire season — go solar.'
Written by Sun Light & Power founder and President Gary Gerber. Edited for Blog by Seamas Brennan.