California’s Hoopa Valley Tribe embraces network Microgrids in a new deal with Smarter Grid Solutions

Microgrids are the best solutions for power supply to off-grid areas such as rural areas and villages. However, they cannot be developed by just anyone or anywhere. Network microgrids are rare and can only be constructed on land owned by the same person or entity.

According to Smart Grid Solutions’ senior development engineer, Tim McDuffie, the company has proposed network microgrids for Hoopa Valley Tribe in northern California. The tribe experiences frequent power outages as a result of public safety power shutoffs (PSPS) from the PG&E (Pacific Gas & Electric) firm.

The network microgrids are going to be installed in various places within the tribe, such as the police station, fire station, community center, medical center and the public grocery store. The Hoopa project meets all the standards for a microgrid. The tribe owns the land in which all these microgrids will be installed. “It comes down to broad ownership of resources and existing buildings,” said McDuffie.

Smarter Grid Solutions is running a feasibility test in Hoopa Valley. Shell New Energies, a lower-carbon renewable energy provider, is negotiating with the California tribe to work on this project alongside several other companies. A vote will be taken to determine the company that best fits this deal. The tribe might purchase the project or leave the Shell Company to own it.

The project could be funded by Self-Generation Incentive Program since it is within the state equity resilience zone. Tribes in such zones are vulnerable to fire and medical constraints and receive higher rebates for battery storage.

A popular tribal microgrid by the name Blue Lake Rancheria, is also situated in California. The project is different from the Hoopa Valley one in that it has one primary service that serves all other electrical infrastructure. For the one in Hoopa Valley, the properties are dispersed and there are no facilities for the tribe to use on the tribal property.

“Blue Lake has primary service that comes in, and all electrical infrastructure is served off that. They put all their energy assets and PV assets together in that one spot,” explained McDuffie. The main service is what ties the utility to Blue Lake.”

Utility infrastructure is owned by private companies. Therefore tribes have to network small ‘pockets of energy’. Distributed energy resources (DERs) are connected and managed from a central position. “Someone in the tribe, not necessarily an engineer, can manage their DERs and all five buildings,” added McDuffie.

Smarter Grid solutions will avail the central controller. It determines the status of different assets from the central point. “When trying to coordinate services during an outage, that is when communication is critical. You have an emergency operations center that tells where you do and don’t have power,” said McDuffie.

The microgrid is crucial to cushion fatalities and losses caused by power outages. “You can move Grandma to the fire station where you know you have power so she can hook up there and ride out the PSPS and go back home when she is done,” he added.

The tribe may use solar to augment power needs for the grids, but it would require permissions from PG&E. “The tribe thought they could put solar on their property to keep the local substation energized during PSPS. Technically, we can do that, but we aren’t legally allowed to do that without PG&E’s permission,” said McDuffie. “We are trying to concentrate on making them appreciate what is now feasible and meeting the greatest needs of the tribe, “he added.