Why We Need the Santa Barbara Microgrid Now More than Ever
If there’s any doubt that communities in California, especially Santa Barbara, are vulnerable to long-term blackouts in the blink of an eye, consider this: on May 20, a large swath of Pacific Coast Highway north of San Luis Obispo was buried in millions of tons of dirt and rocks from a massive landslide that went over the road and into the ocean. Authorities have no idea when the highway will reopen.
This landslide reminds us that Mother Nature is in charge. Why should you care? Such a disaster locally could take out the power lines for Santa Barbara in an instant and leave us with zero power initially and rolling blackouts for weeks or months.
The May 20 landslide is hardly the first to strike California. Sometimes, tragically, lives are lost. In La Conchita, the coastal village between Carpinteria and Ventura, 10 people were killed when a landslide buried homes in 2005. Ten years prior, the same hill crashed down and buried nine homes.
For all its natural beauty, Mother Nature can also be cruel to California – we experience frequent earthquakes, mudslides, wildfires, floods, and droughts.
Southern Santa Barbara County is especially vulnerable as it is connected to an aging, compromised energy delivery system. Most of our power travels 50 miles from the Santa Clara substation, across rugged terrain and remote mountains in Ventura County, carried by a single pair of high voltage transmission lines. The towers carrying these lines are antiquated and face a high risk of destruction from wildfires, storms, mudslides, and earthquakes. If even a single tower were to collapse, Santa Barbara residents could be plunged into darkness for a very long time. And don’t just take our word for it: Southern California Edison, the utility company for our area, first raised this blackout threat in a report all the way back in 2012 and updated their warning in 2014.
A solution is an important energy project we are developing, SBR3, which stands for Santa Barbara Reliable, Resilient, and Renewable. We seek to create an efficient and resilient microgrid energy system using local renewable energy resources—primarily solar power—for southern Santa Barbara County. Santa Barbara is an ideal location to develop a microgrid, which would use local energy production and storage to create the local energy grid. Such a system would eliminate dependence on electricity generated by fossil fuel and reduce greenhouse gas emissions, which would help in the fight against global warming. It would also give us local control over our energy. The UC San Diego campus is powered by a microgrid, so it’s not a pie-in-the-sky idea.
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Fortunately, more than enough renewable energy potential exists in Santa Barbara County to fulfill all of our power needs. Building a community microgrid in Santa Barbara will solve our energy challenges while also providing extraordinary economic benefits to county residents, the state and the world. By creating the first large-scale and 100-percent renewable community microgrid on the planet, the Santa Barbara community will be innovators of a new system that could ultimately reverse global warming and achieve global economic prosperity. We could set the example for other cities.
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(Featured image photo: John Madonna, Associated Press)