As wildfire season approaches, concerns about potential rolling blackouts linger. A small City in rural Salinas Valley, California is working to build its own microgrid so that they do not have to rely on their utility companies. The Salinas Valley is one of the major valleys and most productive agricultural regions in California.
The city we are talking about is Gonzales. Agriculture is the main industry and the City once known as the salad capital of the world. A small, working-class population of just over 11,000 in the city has ingeniously solved tricky problems on their own. Now the city has taken into its hand the most stubborn challenges, which the entire state is facing: Procure cleaner, cheaper, and reliable and uninterrupted power supply which the local utilities failed to provide.
“Businesses needed to shut down immediately and there was a lot of economic loss,” Gonzales City Manager Rene Mendez said during an interview given to NBC Bay Area while talking about rolling blackouts. He further added that “We had almost a two-day shutdown, we don’t have the exact data, but anecdotally, it cost them millions of dollars.”
As agriculture is the biggest industry, Gonzales depends heavily on electricity. A big part of the electricity is required either to keep the engines running at the big packing plants or to provide uninterrupted power supply to refrigeration units in the area.
Power was lost several times during rolling blackouts over the past two years and people of the city say they have suffered enough and eventually want to get rid of the unreliable grid. Hence, the microgrids — local power grids, either separate or connected to the larger grid.
In short, Gonzales is going to build its own electricity island to guarantee uninterrupted power for the agricultural and industrial businesses.
In California, the idea of microgrids is not a new phenomenon. They are seen as tools to make electricity services more resilient and to better integrate renewable energy sources, like solar PV and wind. However, such efforts are not always welcomed by utilities, and many other barriers such as sufficient funding and regulatory permission also came in the way.
As the old English saying goes, “’Where there is a will, there is a way’.”, people of Gonzales found a local developer, who will design, build, own, operate, and maintain the new microgrid. The good news is that the company itself will also fund most of the project’s $70 million price tag, earning back its money over 30 years by selling power at a lower price than the current utility.
By constructing its own microgrid, Gonzales is refusing to maintain status-quo its dependency on the unreliable grid. Instead, taking the situation into their own hand, one of our state’s smallest city is setting a very big example.