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PSPS Events Showcase Reliance on Fossil Fuels

With the recent Public Safety Power Shutoffs, blackouts may be a big push toward renewable energy

Public Safety Power Shutoff, blackouts could aid the push toward renewable energy. Solar micro-grids, local offshore wind farms or more well maintained power lines could be the answer to back-to-back outages. 

Pacific Gas and Electric Company’s PSPS events are triggered by environmental conditions that threaten parts of their power grid. For example, a third consecutive power shutoff was originally scheduled for Tuesday morning, but changing weather patterns pushed back the timing. On Tuesday at 5:22 p.m. the county was removed from the PSPS affected counties list.

PG&E’s PSPS events are triggered by environmental conditions that threaten parts of their power grid.

“Due to diminished weather conditions, Humboldt County is no longer in the scope for a Public Safety Power Shutoff tonight and power will remain on,” said Humboldt OES in an email alert. “There are still communities without power but PG&E advises they hope to have those areas re-energized tonight.”

The nature of the power grid in Northern California renders Arcata and Eureka subject to power outages if other areas of the grid are at risk. The energy used in Northern Humboldt is imported through transmission lines to the Eureka Humboldt Bay Generating Plant, where it’s amplified for local use. If energy stops flowing through the lines to Humboldt, there is no source of energy and therefore, no electricity. 

Terra-Gen, a Manhattan-based wind power company, has proposed a wind generation project for the Monument and Bear River Ridges that could provide nearly half of Humboldt’s energy. A panel discussion on the project will be held Nov. 6 at 5:30 p.m. in Founders Hall 118.

“Anticipated project features include a significant contribution to North Coast renewable energy generation and to California’s clean energy mandate,” the panel flyer says.

According to Terra-Gen, benefits of the project could include the creation of local green jobs and Humboldt Bay development. However, some local community members see the project as more consequential than not. 

As California’s dry and windy seasons become the new normal, power shutoffs will likely become common occurrence.

The proposed area of development, Monument and Bear River Ridges, sit on Wiyot territory. According to the Wiyot Tribe and the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, the Monument and Bear River Ridges aren’t appropriate for wind development. The turbines could harm or destroy some of the rare and protected species that call the area home.

“Concerns raised include impacts on bat and bird deaths; tree removal; effects on sites with cultural and ecological significance to Native American Tribes; erosion and sedimentation from sub-river drilling and road expansion; visual impacts; light and noise pollution; and traffic congestion,” the flyer says.

The upcoming panel lists some of these concerns as additional talking points, but it is unclear if the company or the county have come to a conclusion on how to proceed with this particular option of alternative energy. 

Alternatively, PG&E maintains that shutoffs are necessary to prevent dangerous wildfires like the Camp Fire of 2018. Any at-risk transmission line can be shut off. As California’s dry and windy seasons become the new normal, power shutoffs will likely become common occurrence. However, some individuals are taking advantage of the winds, rather than suffering from them. 

Blue Lake Rancheria has tested local energy generation since 2011. The Rancheria has yet to be seriously impacted by the power shutoffs because they have solar electricity and battery storage, forming a microgrid

Their microgrid works as a system of solar panels which power the Casino and other buildings during the day while also charging up a bank of Tesla batteries for the night. The grid can be connected or disconnected from PG&E’s grid as needed, making them sustainable without any power from the utility.

The primary barrier to building offshore wind turbines and micro grids or improving PG&E’s transmission lines is cost. Alternative energy projects cost significantly more upfront that traditional fossil fuels. The economic costs of the recent power shutoffs, however, may be enough to kickstart real conversations about alternatives.

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