By Ellie Cohen, The Climate Center, and Ed Smeloff, Vote Solar
Californians might be wondering about the connection between recent power outages in Texas and those in California last summer. While some are eager to blame renewables in both cases, the actual causes of these blackouts stem from a lack of planning for energy resilience to bend, but not break, in the face of extreme weather events.
Although some wind turbines did freeze in Texas, they don’t in the Arctic. Fossil fuel failures and poor planning were the main culprits in Texas last week. Gas wells froze and pipelines struggled to move fuel in the severe cold. In California last summer, poor coordination with neighboring states and a lack of energy planning for managed demand reduction was to blame.
Blackouts in the country’s two most populous states provide an alarming reminder of how fragile and vulnerable the electric system is. California state policy responses to date have been mostly top-down, focused on protecting existing power plants from closing while adding large-scale battery storage.
Flexible, community-based solutions are available today due to rapidly declining costs for locally-produced, clean energy. As noted in a recent Vote Solar report, on-site solar plus battery storage is more cost-effective than dirty fossil fuel back-up generators when factoring in lifecycle expenses. This approach can also provide revenue when customers sell power back to the grid and help curb energy demand at peak hours– without air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions.
Widespread adoption of resilient clean energy community microgrids would transition us to an electric grid that is clean, affordable, resilient, equitable, and safe. The costs of installing on-site resilient renewables plus storage are rapidly declining while their functionality improves. Meanwhile, the costs of our dangerous and archaic fossil fuel electric system are rising.
Failure to take advantage of declining costs for on-site renewables plus storage in an equitable way will leave lower-income customers to foot much of the bill for aging fossil fuel infrastructure. This course of action is inequitable and unsustainable.
California must initiate a new state policy framework, grounded in local community empowerment to secure a clean, resilient, and equitable power grid. Local governments should be engaged at the beginning, not the end, of the energy planning process because the installation of new community-scale energy infrastructure (e.g. solar, battery storage, and EV charging stations) requires compliance with local land use and planning ordinances.
In order to achieve this vision for energy equity and resilience, The Climate Center, Vote Solar and partners launched the Community Energy Resilience initiative as part of our Climate-Safe California campaign to slash emissions, sequester carbon, and build resilience to increasing weather extremes.
We are working with state lawmakers to enact urgently needed policies that will open the door to a new electric system that better serves all Californians, including the following legislation:
- Senator Bill Dodd’s bill SB 99, the Community Energy Resilience Act, calls for the creation of a technical assistance and grant program, administered by the California Energy Commission to enable local governments to develop community energy resilience plans, prioritizing vulnerable communities.
- Assemblymember Autumn Burke’s bill AB 1325 directs the California Public Utilities Commission to establish a program to build clean energy resilience for California’s most vulnerable communities.
We also need your financial support to make sure these bills are enacted. Climate extremes are increasing. A modern, decentralized, and flexible electricity system can meet the challenge with more clean energy community microgrids, the logical next step in California’s remarkable history of energy innovation.
Stand with us today in support of these bills and a vibrant, equitable, and healthy future for all.