Sonoma Community Microgrid Initiative

Coffey Park after the 2017 Santa Rosa fires

The Sonoma Community Microgrid Initiative seeks to make the best of an otherwise devastating situation. We have the opportunity to rebuild a community from the ground up, specifically focused on lowering the rebuilt community’s environmental impacts, creating regional economic benefit, and helping to protect residents during future disasters.

The neighborhood of Coffey Park, a working-class suburban neighborhood of the City of Santa Rosa, California, was devastated by the unprecedented Napa and Sonoma County wildfires that began on October 7, 2017. The neighborhood of about 7,300 residents saw over 1,300 homes destroyed, most burned all the way to the ground. In total, the fires wiped out 5% of the housing stock in Santa Rosa and many more structures in the surrounding communities, while tragically killing 44 people.

Coffey Park before and after the fires

There is a significant need and desire in this community to “build back right” — to make a more robust and resilient energy system that will not fail during the next crisis, and to lower the environmental impacts of housing and transportation, all while maximizing clean local energy use with solar PV, energy storage, and electric vehicle charging infrastructure.

Initiative objectives

Because the Coffey Park neighborhood is being built from the ground up, the Clean Coalition will coordinate with local government planners to implement the most advanced zero-net energy (ZNE) design principles and encourage fuel-switching away from natural gas and diesel generators to electricity for heating, transportation, and emergency backup power.

The Sonoma Community Microgrid Initiative has the following objectives:

  1. Rebuild the fire-damaged areas: From a community master-planning level, the rebuilding efforts will be designed to achieve results in Sonoma as well as serve as a model for other areas. Rebuilt structures and new construction will be designed as safe, healthy, comfortable, durable, and low cost to operate; they will have optimally efficient envelopes, smart and all-electric systems, and electric vehicle charging infrastructure, all powered by clean energy.
  2. Modernize the grid: The project will deliver higher quality, more reliable, more resilient, and more secure energy via grid modernization technologies and techniques covering an entire substation grid area. The Community Microgrid will provide ongoing backup power to specific critical and prioritized loads. The Clean Coalition and its partners will design and install a resilient distribution grid to mitigate the impacts of climate change, via undergrounding, islanding, and other best practices. In addition, the project will incorporate a Distribution System Operator (DSO) pilot, which will demonstrate the power of local control and balancing of the energy system — a key concept for scaling the Community Microgrid approach.
  3. Design and deploy optimal distributed energy resource (DER) portfolios: DER portfolios will be deployed at targeted locations in the service territory to achieve resilience, security, and clean energy, delivering optimal grid performance and economic outcomes to the county. The project will include 30 megawatts (MW) of local solar PV.
  4. Lower ratepayer costs: DER will be utilized to defer or avoid substantial costs in centralized energy delivery, including peak energy procurement and transmission & distribution (T&D) infrastructure investments.

Economic and environmental impact

A Clean Coalition analysis demonstrates that the installation of 30 MW of local solar PV on the built environment will produce the following benefits:

  • 46 million pounds of annual GHG emission reduction
  • 10 million gallons of fresh water saved annually
  • 225 acres of land preserved for other uses
  • $120 million in new regional economic activity over 20 years
  • $60 million in added local wages over 20 years

Demonstrating the transformative power of the Community Microgrid

The Sonoma Community Microgrid Initiative model will inform future rebuilding efforts and will demonstrate the transformative power of the Community Microgrid, which unleashes clean local energy and provides an unparalleled trifecta of environmental, economic, and resilience benefits.

The conditions for the Sonoma Community Microgrid Initiative are ideal for success. Unlike recovery and rebuilding efforts under way elsewhere, this project will be located in the global capital of technological innovation, the San Francisco Bay Area. California policymakers have established nation-leading goals and frameworks for the transition to renewable energy and carbon-free transportation. Pacific Gas & Electric, the collaborating utility company, strives to be the most inventive and advanced energy services provider in the country and has partnered with the Clean Coalition on multiple relevant local energy initiatives.

This project location and the partners involved will prove the applicability and replicability of the Community Microgrid approach for the modernization of existing energy systems.

An opportunity to reinvent the future

The Sonoma Community Microgrid Initiative will demonstrate a tangible way to address climate change, and set a new standard for rebuilding the human environment in a more environmentally sensitive, cost-effective, and resilient manner.

While the constituent technologies involved are proven, these pieces have not yet been brought together and implemented at the scale of this project. We have an opportunity to reinvent the future and to demonstrate the unique benefits and scalability of Community Microgrids.