In the face of California’s widespread power shutoffs and the rise of dirty fossil-fuel-powered back-up generators, The Climate Center has launched a new initiative for clean and smart community microgrids to build resilience. The initiative, called “Advanced Community Energy,” will establish a decentralized power system of community microgrids built from the bottom up with clean power and storage to reduce the number of outages both planned and unplanned. This system will enable utilities to better target specific outages and to isolate local electricity generation from the larger grid. This would ensure that essential governmental, health, and other services would remain powered in communities during outages.

To fully implement community microgrids statewide, we will need to transform our regulatory policies and institutions by revising market rules so that thousands of small-scale distributed energy resources can be compensated for providing local energy services. We need to direct the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) to develop regulatory rules for the big electric utilities to collaborate in good faith with the cities, counties, and other stakeholders in their service areas.

At the local level, communities will need to identify their critical facilities— water supply, wastewater treatment, first responders, and community care centers— and decide where to install new local renewables and storage to create community microgrids. Community microgrid planning will involve collaboration between local governments and stakeholders, from residents including those in disadvantaged neighborhoods to electric distribution utilities, clean energy developers, and technology companies.

Some California local governments have already started developing community microgrids, such as in OaklandEureka, and Santa Barbara. The Climate Center’s clean and smart community microgrid initiative will help ensure that all cities and counties have the funding and technical support to conduct collaborative, participatory planning processes going forward.

We also need market signals to enable this transformation, starting with increased state funding to support critical facility microgrid projects. The first state-supported community microgrids should be established in high fire risk areas in disadvantaged communities, and eventually should cover all of California.

Community microgrids are the logical next step in California’s history of energy policy innovation. The clean and smart community microgrid initiative offers a blueprint for engaging local governments and the communities they serve in creating a clean, resilient, more affordable, and equitable electricity system.