With unprecedented power shut-offs threatening California communities, some Santa Barbara County residents living in wildfire-prone areas are considering reliable backup sources of power.
People who are worried about losing electricity during a possible power outage are learning about backup options, including individual home batteries and solar-powered microgrid systems.
A community microgrid project in Montecito would deliver local energy and power daily to emergency buildings during system failures and outages.
Experts acknowledge that wildfires are possible in the winter in California and the fire season is becoming longer.
Utility companies are turning off electric power to customers in extreme weather conditions in an attempt to reduce the risk of dangerous wildfire and assure public safety.
Some homeowners want their residences electrified during blackouts.
A free workshop on the topics was held on Wednesday at Montecito Union School, sponsored by the Santa Barbara-based nonprofit Community Environmental Council, the Montecito Association, the Santa Barbara-based nonprofit Clean Coalition and other community leaders.
Area solar and companies presented energy storage options such as public safety power shutoff applications, safety considerations, financial incentives, technical details and more.
“With these public safety power shut-offs, we know there is a lot more to be done,” April Price, the Community Environmental Council’s renewable energy program manager, told the crowd.
Generators aren’t the only option when the power is turned off, Price said.
“Thinking about lots of people getting generators, it becomes a big deal because of the health impacts of burning diesel, the greenhouse gas impacts, and the investment you would be making for this equipment,” Price said.
Solar-paired batteries can be backup power, she said.
Price is working with the Community Environmental Council to transition the region to renewable energy sources and reduced energy consumption. She leads the organization’s solarize program, which facilitates residential solar adoption.
CEC has partnered with several cities on the Central Coast, nonprofits and businesses to offer solarize programs since 2001, according to the organization.
The program provides a streamlined purchasing process and group discounts, and it has helped more than 750 homeowners go solar, the CEC said.
Over the last two years, battery storage options have been available in response to demands, according to the CEC.
Rob Lewin, former director of the county Office of Emergency Management, also addressed the crowd at the gathering.
Energy resilience is a pressing need and important for communities, Lewin said.
The recent Bay Area and Northern California PG&E power outages affected millions of people, Lewin pointed out.
People rushed grocery stores, gas stations and other locations as they quickly prepared for days without power.
“Most people were not prepared and they were getting creative,” Lewin said. “Generators are not the answer because they produce more carbon, which is exactly what we don’t need more of, and they are dangerous.”
ATMs and other critical services likely won’t work during a power shutdown, he said, and schools and businesses also might close their doors.
People should be ready for a power outage lasting as long as five to seven days, Lewin said.
In some areas, it can take weeks to get power lines repaired.
“We get to decide if we want to be a survivor or a victim,” Lewin said. “You are here tonight because you want to be survivors when this happens.”
He suggests that people work together to reverse and minimize climate change.
Mitigation and readiness are good ways residents can prepare for the impacts of global warming, Lewin said.
“It (climate change) is already in Santa Barbara,” Lewin told more than 50 people. “We have a front-row seat unfortunately to climate change.”
A similar workshop occurred at the Santa Barbara Public Library in November.