Montecito Community Microgrid Initiative

Montecito home destroyed by debris flow. Source: Santa Barbara County Fire Department

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In December 2017, the month-long Thomas Fire — California’s largest recorded wildfire — burned over 300,000 acres and devastated parts of Ventura and Santa Barbara Counties. The fire claimed two lives and destroyed over 1,000 structures. It also burned trees and other plants whose roots had stabilized the hillsides surrounding Montecito, an unincorporated area in southern Santa Barbara County.

On January 9, 2018, in just five minutes, half an inch of rain fell over the destabilized hillsides, resulting in a debris flow of boulders, trees, and over 15 feet of mud in some locations— traveling downhill at 20 miles per hour. The flow subsumed everything in its path, tragically taking 23 lives and completely destroying 100 homes while damaging 300 more.

Both the fire and the subsequent debris flow demonstrate the need for energy resilience in this disaster-prone region.

The Montecito Community Microgrid Initiative provides a unique opportunity to build back right while ensuring indefinite renewables-driven energy for critical emergency response and recovery facilities. This deployment of clean local energy will showcase the grid of the future and will provide economic, environmental, and resilience benefits to the community.

Areas with high/extreme risk of debris flow and flooding. Source: County of Santa Barbara

Initiative objectives

The Montecito Community Microgrid Initiative aims to do the following:

  1. Stage a Community Microgrid for implementation that begins with the Montecito Fire Protection District headquarters, expands to include the Montecito Water District headquarters, including water wells and pumping stations, and then expands further to include an array of commercial properties within the Montecito Upper Village.
  2. Create indefinite renewables-driven energy resilience for critical Montecito Fire Protection District and Montecito Water District facilities, as well as other critical facilities within the Montecito Upper Village.
  3. Stage a Community Microgrid in the Montecito Lower Village, which is part of the City of Santa Barbara.
  4. Provide a near-term showcase for additional Community Microgrids throughout Santa Barbara and Ventura Counties, and beyond.

In the event of a long-term outage caused by any one of various threats to the local energy system, Community Microgrids will keep the lights on and the doors open at critical and priority facilities, supporting the community. During normal operations, these clean local energy resources will also drastically reduce the carbon footprint of the community and will help advance regional, state, and global climate action goals.

Steering Committee

See this page for information about the Montecito Community Microgrid Initiative Steering Committee.

Community Microgrids

A Community Microgrid is a new approach for designing and operating the electric grid, stacked with local renewables and staged for resilience.

A Community Microgrid features:

  • A targeted and coordinated local grid area served by one or more distribution substations
  • High penetrations of local renewables and other distributed energy resources such as energy storage, demand response, and electric vehicle charging infrastructure
  • Staged capability for indefinite renewables-driven power backup for critical and prioritized loads across the grid area
  • The ability to be readily extended throughout a utility service territory and replicated into any utility service territory around the world

Potential sites

Potential Community Microgrid projects in Montecito include critical facilities such as fire stations and water facilities. Some sites under consideration:

  • The Montecito Fire Protection District headquarters
  • The Montecito Water District headquarters, wells, and pumping stations
  • Local life-sustaining emergency shelter and supply facilities

All sites listed here are tentative, and are currently pending consideration and approval.

Phase I geographic area: Montecito Upper Village

Phase I of the project involves staging a Community Microgrid for implementation in Montecito Upper Village. Potential initial sites are the Montecito Fire Protection District headquarters and the Montecito Water District headquarters (including water wells and pumping stations). The project would then expand further to include an array of commercial properties in the area.

Critical facilities with solar potential

Tier 1 potential sites: Critical facilities required for emergency response

  • Fire Protection District headquarters and station
  • Water District headquarters, wells, and pumping facilities (not pictured)

Tier 2 potential sites: Priority facilities for shelter and recovery

  • Market
  • Gas station
  • Banks
  • Post office
  • Montecito Association headquarters

Priority facilities with solar potential

Phase II geographic area: Montecito Lower Village

In Phase II, a Community Microgrid would be staged for implementation in Montecito Lower Village. This would include priority facilities for short- and medium-term rescue, recovery, and shelter.

Von’s market solar potential

Tier 1 potential sites: Critical facilities required for emergency response

  • Food supply and refrigeration (Von’s)
  • Pharmaceutical and health supplies (CVS and Von’s)

Tier 2 potential sites: Priority facilities useful for evacuation, shelter, recovery staging, and medium-term life-sustaining services

  • Sanitary District headquarters
  • Gas stations
  • Restaurant kitchen facilities
  • Four Seasons/Coral Casino

Coast Village facilities with solar potential

Media coverage

Montecito Community Microgrid Initiative Community Meeting | Noozhawk (November 14, 2018)
Clean Coalition, World Business Academy Pave Way for Microgrid Initiative in Montecito | Noozhawk (July 2, 2018)
Montecito sets course for emergency energy independence | Santa Barbara News-Press (April 30, 2018)
Montecito Community Microgrid Initiative | Edhat Santa Barbara (April 30, 2018)
Montecito Community Microgrid Initiative will provide energy resilience to the region | PV Magazine (April 30, 2018)
Montecito Community to Implement Microgrid Initiative | Voice Magazine (April 27, 2018)
Taking Initiative | Montecito Journal (April 26, 2018)
Montecito Community Microgrid Initiative Launches | Noozhawk (April 26, 2018)

Press releases

Montecito Community Microgrid Initiative Established (April 27, 2018)
Montecito Community Microgrid Initiative will provide energy resilience to the region (April 24, 2018)

Contact us/get involved

To learn more or to get involved in the Montecito Community Microgrid Initiative, contact Gregory Young at gregory@clean-coalition.org.