Microgrid Adds Energy Resiliency and Emergency Power at Rancheria, and a Model for Small Businesses

The Blue Lake Rancheria is adding a new project to its portfolio of microgrid projects, which will enable a gas station and convenience store to be powered independent of the grid during emergencies.

The new $1.85 million microgrid project, which is called Solar +, is scheduled to break ground this summer. The project received $1.5 million from the California Energy Commission’s Electric Program Investment Charge (EPIC) program. The program supports research that helps California meet its energy and greenhouse gas reduction goals.

The microgrid has a 60 kilowatt (kW) photovoltaic (PV) system and 174 kilowatt hour (kWh) battery storage unit. The Solar+ project will also install new electric vehicle charging stations at the gas station and build the system so it can be replicated in similar- sized gas stations/convenience stores throughout California.

The Solar+ microgrid will allow gas pumps and a convenience store to be powered by the microgrid. A diesel generator is the only current backup.

“The Blue Lake Rancheria microgrid projects not only create energy resiliency for the Blue Lake community, it supports California’s commitment to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to 40 percent below 1990 levels by 2030,” said Energy Commissioner Karen Douglas.

The Solar + microgrid allows the Rancheria to add to the energy resiliency provided by an existing microgrid called the Low-Carbon Community Microgrid Project that can operate independent of the grid. That existing microgrid, which received $5 million in funds from the Energy Commission, can power the Blue Lake Rancheria casino, hotel and a Red Cross evacuation center by employing a 500kW solar photovoltaic system and a 950kWh battery storage system.

While microgrids have been installed as a backup power at military bases and universities, their use is fairly new on tribal lands like Blue Lake Rancheria. The microgrid at the rancheria is in an isolated area 15 miles east of Eureka in an area prone to forest fires, earthquakes and tsunamis.

Leaders at the Blue Lake Rancheria looked into building microgrids after the magnitude 9 Tohoku earthquake rocked Japan in March 2011. The jolt sent tsunami waves across the Pacific Ocean, with residents on California’s North Coast on alert for a devastating surge. More than 1,000 people were evacuated from the Arcata area inland to the rancheria’s casino parking lot.

Photo courtesy of Siemens USA.

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The California Energy Commission is the state's primary energy policy and planning agency created by the Legislature in 1974.
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