In our on-going mission to prepare, prevent and protect the Chollas Creek Watershed community from the devastating effects of Climate Change, Groundwork San Diego has dedicated a series of monthly blogs to help residents better understand how Climate Change directly affects them. Our best hope is to develop a current action plan of resilience, so our community can survive and thrive in era of Climate Change. This is the second part of the series.
Leaving the Lights On
Generating our own power through Microgrids and Advanced Energy Solutions.
In last year’s fire season, several regions of California were plagued by electric utility mandated power outages. As we watched the news, many of us saw horrifying stories of what happens to a community when they have to survive for days on end without power for homes and businesses. Without electricity, things we take for granted like going to the store, keeping perishable food and medicine cold, and driving at night become annoying, difficult, and sometimes, dangerous tasks.
In 2019, citizens in the neighborhoods of Talmadge and Kensington saw firsthand how easily fires can spark in Santa Ana conditions. “Embers [were] as big as fists”, said one Talmadge homeowner to the San Diego Tribune, as he relayed his experience of seeing “a wall of fire” as he drove home. Residents in these areas narrowly avoided evacuation, as the fire was extinguished quickly by the San Diego Fire Department. In a neighborhood in Chula Vista, some residents were not as lucky. They had to be quickly evacuated as fires consumed fence lines around their homes. Fortunately, most of the properties were spared when their fire department stopped the blaze.
Two close calls.
Thankfully, both cities were prepared. Emergency services responded quickly. Our local heroes stepped up and saved the day. Still, for many of us, this was closer to home than we thought was possible.
Many citizens in the city of San Diego do not think that wildfires directly affect them. Since we are not surrounded by acres of woodlands, we do not feel threatened by wildfires. However, there are numerous canyons that run through the neighborhoods of San Diego and its surrounding cities. In San Diego, city officials have stated that Municipal Services only have the budget and manpower to clear brush in canyons once every three years. It is very likely that similar statements are being given by city officials in neighboring cities, like Chula Vista and El Cajon. These circumstances are now causing urban San Diegans to come to grips with a new reality: we are more vulnerable to wildfires than we previously thought.
The majority of the largest, most destructive, and deadliest wildfires in California have occurred in the last 17 years. Brush fire threats are projected to grow significantly due to Climate Change effects of increased warming caused by greenhouse gas emissions and more persistent drought conditions.With drought, Santa Ana conditions and annual wildfire season becoming the “new normal” in California, local governments, business and residents are looking for new ways to keep the electricity on during emergencies and periods of planned outages when fire hazard is high.
California’s electric utilities face large financial costs when their equipment sparks wildfires. Our public electric companies feel that the safest way to prevent this is to cut power the grid. The state already gives utilities the authority to shut down power during times of high winds and dry conditions. As we have seen this year, two of the three largest electric utilities in California, Pacific Gas and Electric and Southern California Edison, have shown that they are fully committed to this strategy and will enacted it when ever they feel it is necessary. In some areas of Northern California, these outages have left hundreds of thousands of residents and businesses without power for several days to even a week.
What is the San Diego’s answer to this? Resilience.
The City of San Diego’s is leading the nation with its resilience planning to combat Climate Change. Groundwork San Diego is supporting the City and in the areas of planning and implementation. To prevent the chaos caused by wildfire related power outages and grid shutdowns, microgrid sites will be set up throughout our community via solar panels on rooftops of schools, government buildings, home and businesses. To ensure that we capture enough solar power to reach our goals, carports will be built in the parking lots of residential, commercial and government buildings to increase the amount of structures where solar panels can be installed. We will use electric battery storage facilities at community centers, schools and government buildings to collect and store power onsite. These power storage sites will also be designated as community emergency centers, in times of need. The rest of the energy will be sold back to the electric utility. The funds and credits that we generate from the electricity sales will be used to reduce the costs of electric power for the whole community.
Once the microgrid is fully functional, we will have access to electric power that is independent of the grid. If the grid is shut down or there is a power outage, we will be able to keep our refrigerators running and have basic electrical services. In times of severe emergencies and longer power outages, the energy stored in battery storage facilities will used to provide power for community emergency centers. These are places in the community where residents can pick up bottled water and food rations, charge cell phones and get current status updates and instructions from local government and emergency services. This will also give our community the power we need to keep clean water flowing, keep hospitals open and keep safety and emergency departments like fire, police and ambulance services working.
Currently, we are in the planning stage of this process. Sites for solar panels and battery storage facilities are being chosen and negotiated. Partnerships are being developed between the City, non-profits, SDG&E and clean power companies. Funding sources are being evaluated. Roles and responsibilities are being decided and agreed upon on by all parties involved. The timeline for the next stages of microgird development is being created as well.
While all this planning and development going on, you may be thinking what can you do to help bring microgrids to your neighborhood? You can always contact you city officials, like your city councilperson, and let them know that you want microgrid technology installed in your community. You can also help the community, and your bank account, by getting solar panels installed on your home. There are many programs that can help make installing solar affordable. If you want to find out more about these programs, contact us at Groundwork San Diego. We can put you in contact with these programs, so you can see how much money your family can save on electric bills when you use solar. If solar panels are not an current option for you, and we also can direct you to affordable backup battery power options to keep your refrigerator running, so food does not spoil when there is a power outage.
To keep your family safe, create a crisis plan for your home. In an emergency situation, like a fire or earthquake, you need to be able to safely evacuate your home. Make sure your family knows what exit routes are available. It is also good to choose a spot outside of the home to meet. To ensure all family members know what to do and where to go, have safety drills where you practice evacuating the home and meeting at the designated place. To stay sharp, practice periodically.
While we are on the subject of safety and planning ahead, it is good idea to pack an emergency bag and keep it in a place where you can easily grab it and run out the door. Keep your emergency bag small and simple. Your emergency bag should contain a portable radio, a flashlight, batteries, important documents and pictures, a couple bottles of water, and non-perishable food/snacks, cell phone power cords and a small first aid kit. Important documents can include social security cards, birth and marriage records. You may want to write down a couple of emergency contact numbers of family or friends and put them in the bag, just in case you cellphone runs out of power and you need to make a call. Another good idea is to keep copies of your documents and pictures in a safe location outside of the house, like at a family member’s house, or you can store copies of documents and pictures electronically on digital media, like a flash drive, your cell phone or in a secure location in the cloud.
In era of climate change, we all have to do what we can to keep our community safe when disaster strikes. At Groundwork, we will keep working to ensure that the Chollas Creek community will be able to generate its own power in times when a crisis causes the grid to shut down. We will stay focused on our community’s future, so you can focus on your family’s safety and well-being. A little planning and preparation can make all the difference in ensuring that we all are prepared when wildfires threaten our homes directly or indirectly through power outages.
Plan well and stay safe.
Until next time,
Your friends at Groundwork.
For more information about wildfire safety or to get other safety tips, visit https://www.sandiego.gov/public-safety.