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    EWEB 'microgrid' project example of building a more resilient community

    June 6, 2022 - Janine Benner


      Oregonians aren't likely to forget the extreme weather we experienced in 2021 – from record-setting ice storms in February to record-setting heat waves just a few months later. Not to mention, 2021's weather came on top of a devastating wildfire season the summer before.

      In some areas of Oregon, it took weeks to repair power lines and restore electricity to homes and businesses after the ice storms. Following the 2020 Labor Day wildfires, the communities of Detroit and Idanha were without a local gas station for months.

      Unfortunately, the effects of climate change are already here, and these extreme weather events are starting to feel more like the norm. As we continue to work toward reducing emissions, it's also time to adapt to the effects of climate change by building a more resilient energy future for Oregon communities.

      Resilience is a term used to describe how our energy systems can withstand the effects of emergencies that disrupt energy delivery, and how fast these systems can recover following the disruption. In addition to extreme weather affecting our energy systems, we also know the "big one" – the Cascadia Subduction Zone earthquake – would devastate parts of Oregon's energy infrastructure, from electricity to petroleum fuel pipelines to natural gas pipelines, as well as roads and bridges. According to the Oregon Resilience Plan, Oregonians could be without fuel and power for months in some areas.

      State agencies, local utilities and communities are starting to focus more on strengthening energy resilience. Here at the Oregon Department of Energy, we developed the Oregon Fuel Action Plan, which outlines the steps the agency will take to coordinate the acquisition and distribution of petroleum fuels to emergency and essential services after a disruption, such as a Cascadia earthquake. Oregon communities and electric utilities are investing in resilience projects, like the Eugene Water & Electric Board which partnered with Howard Elementary School to install a solar and storage system that can help pump water from a well in an emergency.

      "Microgrid" projects like the one at Howard Elementary can be designed to provide essential power to buildings and communities when the larger grid is down. For example, following a major earthquake, coastal Oregon communities will likely experience major long-term power outages and inaccessible roadways from other parts of the state will limit their supply of petroleum fuels like diesel. A solar and storage microgrid project could supplement existing diesel generators at sites like schools or hospitals to keep the lights on and power flowing for critical services and life-saving equipment.

      Oregon public bodies, tribes, utilities and other community organizations should consider investing in more energy resilience projects. Projects that combine local, homegrown energy like solar with battery storage capability not only support community-level resilience, they also reduce harmful greenhouse gas emissions, create jobs and bolster local economies and strengthen energy independence.

      The good news? The Oregon Department of Energy has a new $50 million grant program to support planning and developing renewable energy and energy resilience projects in Oregon communities – the agency is now accepting applications for its first round of grants totaling $12 million. Oregonians also can access public funding for rooftop solar and storage systems through the Oregon Solar + Storage Rebate Program. From electric vehicle chargers powered by renewable energy to solar plus battery storage installations to other microgrid technologies, our agency is here to support Oregon communities as they plan and build a stronger, more resilient foundation.

      Janine Benner is the director of the Oregon Department of Energy.

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