It’s been a mostly dry winter, and the next wildfire season is not far away. With that comes the possibility of more planned power shut-offs from PG&E.
Last year two PG&E Public Safety Shut-Off events included the Coastside. They saddled businesses, schools and residents with the fallout that comes from losing power for an extended period of time.
To prepare for the dry months ahead, some people are taking measures to prevent further disruptions in their lives when the power goes out. Government agencies are also investing resources to limit the impacts and establish better protocols.
Half Moon Bay resident Justin Stockman, who works as a firefighter, said prior to the PG&E shut-offs he had never considered installing solar panels in his house. But as a father to four he said the shut-offs motivated him to keep vital equipment, such as the refrigerator and freezer, running at all times.
“With a generator, it requires a lot of work and needs a lot of fuel,” he said. “This made solar a more attractive option for us.”
Since October he has built an addition to his home with a roof that is fitted for solar, and he installed a solar battery in his garage. He estimates that in five to 10 years the system will pay for itself.
“I’d like to see more solar adoption on the coast. One of the ways to limit PG&E’s influence is to invest in solar locally,” he said.
Peninsula Clean Energy, a joint powers authority that provides San Mateo County with electricity on a grid PG&E maintains, is investing in an energy resilience plan in response to the shut-offs.
The board of directors for Peninsula Clean Energy committed up to $10 million to fund clean backup power for San Mateo County over the next three years.
CEO Jan Pepper said it’s a three-part plan. The first is assisting medically vulnerable people who need electricity to live. The second is creating backup power sources at community centers, and the third is investing in projects at critical facilities such as a police station or water treatment plant.
“The whole idea is to provide a clean energy solution,” she said. “Right now, for hospitals and police stations, they likely have some kind of backup generator which is not clean and is a huge emitter of greenhouse gases. Our hope is to work with them to install solar with a storage battery so they can have a backup that does not rely on fossil fuels.
“We are working fast and furiously to get some of these projects installed before the next shut-offs,” she said.
A lasting impact from the shut-off events was a loss of an estimated $1 million from businesses.
Half Moon Bay Coastside Chamber of Commerce and Visitors’ Bureau CEO Krystlyn Giedt said some businesses are still trying to recover after suffering financial losses related to the shut-offs. She said she knows of at least one business that may have to close as a result.
In November, Giedt hosted a strategy session for business owners to meet and discuss what they would need to prepare their operations for future shut-offs. Since then Giedt said she’s been working with businesses to stay open and productive during a shut-off.
“We want to be able to, as a community, function without power for a few days,” she said.
The city of Half Moon Bay is currently in the process of updating its emergency operation plan, which is a public document updated every two years or so.
“We have one that has been prepared through the county, but it is broader. Now that our staff has grown, and we have more resources, we felt it was time for us to take this on and build something that is really well planned out for Half Moon Bay,” Deputy City Manager Matthew Chidester said.
A steering committee of public safety agencies, including the San Mateo County Sheriff’s Office, Coastside Fire Protection District and the Red Cross is meeting with city staff to assist in developing the updated plan.
City Emergency Coordinator Corie Stocker said preparing for the next PG&E shut-off is included in the plan. The city is working on ways to improve communication during an event and has also contracted with PG&E to guarantee a resource center will be open in Half Moon Bay during each incident.
San Mateo County is also reevaluating its procedures related to how it handles shut-off events, said Kevin Rose, manager of the Office of Emergency Services. Additionally, the state has dedicated about $549,000 to the county to fund backup generators for critical county-operated services, such as cell towers.