Western Officials Use "Microgrids" To Minimize Effects Of Planned Power Outages

Dec 3, 2019

Idaho Governor Brad Little (left) led discussions about energy and natural resource management at the Western Governors Association workshop in Post Falls.
Credit Doug Nadvornick/SPR

Leaders in the western states have a variety of common issues with which they’re wrestling. One of the most pressing, especially in southern Oregon and northern California, is how to manage the power grid when wildfire danger is high.

That was one of several energy-related issues discussed at a Western Governors Association workshop, held today [Tuesday] in Post Falls, Idaho.

One of the new wildfire prevention strategies employed by utilities is to de-energize parts of their systems when high winds could blow trees into power lines.

But that can be a huge inconvenience for customers, especially if an outage lasts for several days.

In cases like that, Peter West from the Energy Trust of Oregon says his organization has worked with Pacific Power to create what he calls “microgrids."

“An area that can self serve, not at the same level, but identifying the critical services that you can do, from wastewater treatment to keeping the lights on," West said.

Mark Peters says those microgrids work well. Peters is the director of the Idaho National Laboratory in Idaho Falls. He says his organization recently worked with a Native tribe in northern California to create a microgrid.

“They had their own energy source and their own battery backup, battery storage and such, to be able to stay online for some period of time, not forever, four or five days of outage that they had that particular time, so it works," Peters said.

He says his lab is also working to design microgrids in small towns in Alaska.

Participants at Tuesday’s Western Governors Association also talked about issues such as natural resource management and the outdoor recreation economy as part of a workshop entitled “Reimagining the Rural West.”