As essential service providers, utilities are responsible for helping to ensure the health and well-being of our communities. The weight of that responsibility has gotten heavier as climate change and the pandemic take its toll on our beautiful state and the people who live here.
San Diego Gas & Electric released a sustainability strategy Thursday with climate change-conscious goals in the areas of environmental stewardship, clean transportation, grid modernization, community engagement and company operations.
The Sweetwater Authority and the Otay Water District collaborated with multiple agencies during the recent Valley Fire in San Diego County. Water infrastructure played a key role in the firefighting effort.
Cooperation and collaboration are critical elements during wildfires. Both water agencies worked with multiple responders, including U.S. Forest Service firefighters, CALFIRE and SDG&E, to ensure the safety of crews and keep a safe, reliable water supply flowing for their customers.
The Valley Fire started September 5, southeast of Alpine in the Cleveland National Forest. Before it was fully contained on September 24, the wildfire burned 16,390 acres and destroyed at least 30 homes, according to officials with the Cleveland National Forest.
Loveland Reservoir plays key role in firefighting efforts
Water agency infrastructure, employees and the public were directly threatened. The fire started in Alpine near the Sweetwater Authority Loveland Reservoir. Employees and anglers at the reservoir had to be evacuated.
Reservoir water was used throughout the firefighting efforts. Designated as critical infrastructure, Loveland was protected by fire crews, who used bulldozers on the property to create fire breaks.
Sweetwater Authority also made water tankers available to provide drinking water to crews and other agencies working the fire.
Infrastructure at Loveland Reservoir to protect water quality and provide for recreation was protected and did not sustain damage during the fire.
“We are grateful to the firefighters who worked tirelessly to protect Loveland Reservoir,” said Sweetwater Authority General Manager Tish Berge. “This reservoir is crucial in providing local water and keeping water rates low for our customers.”
The region was in the early stages of a prolonged heatwave when the fire started. The San Diego Union-Tribune reporters covering the fire wrote on September 5:
El Cajon hit 114 degrees and Alpine reached 113 — the highest temperatures ever recorded in those communities — while Ramona got to 112 and San Diego State University topped out at 105, according to the National Weather Service.
By Saturday night, fire fighters were working to control a wildfire that grew to more than 1,500 acres in the rural Japatul Valley area of East County, threatening homes and forcing evacuations.
“We’re throwing everything at it,” said Cal Fire spokesman Kendal Bortisser, as teams used helicopters and air tankers to make water drops. “It is going to be an extreme-attack fire. It is nothing we are putting out tonight.”
Otay Water District urges energy conservation
The Otay Water District safely curtailed electric power at its facilities during the Valley Fire as requested by SDG&E to help alleviate fire and weather concerns.
In addition to the prolonged heatwave and the Valley Fire, SDG&E continued to monitor potential high fire risk weather conditions. Those conditions may have forced SDG&E to shut off power to reduce the risk of a wildfire. Prior to the Valley Fire, Otay encouraged customers in its service area to safely conserve energy.
“We believe that any actions a local water agency like the Otay Water District can take to help SDG&E during heatwaves and the fires contributes to the region’s safety as a community,” said Otay Water District General Manager Jose Martinez.
Fighting wildfires involves cooperation from many agencies. The Valley Fire is another example of how water agencies, and water infrastructure, are key parts of those efforts. The cause of the fire remains under investigation.
The Vallecitos Water District is pursuing greater use of renewable resources, increasing capacity to the electrical grid, and reducing long term operational costs with an innovative solar power project.
In 2017, the Vallecitos Water District Board of Directors agreed to pursue development of districtwide renewable power sources using existing open space to benefit the District and its ratepayers. The District worked with solar consultants Terra Verde Renewable Partners to evaluate and study the feasibility of three solar port locations. Two projects are now moving forward; two arrays at the pair of Vallecitos owned reservoirs in Twin Oaks, and an array at the (sewer) Lift Station #1, located on San Marcos Boulevard.
The projects are structured under a Power Purchase Agreement. A solar provider designs, builds, and maintains systems for 25 years. In turn, the District receives a reduced electricity rate from SDG&E over the 25-year term at the District’s 13 highest use meters. The District will become owners of the solar system after the 25-year maintenance term expires. No capital investment is required from the District.
“The project is a great benefit to Vallecitos customers,” said Ryan Morgan, Capital Facilities Senior Engineer. “Through our export of power into the electrical grid, we receive bill credits on these power exchanges. The District benefits directly through reduced power costs, and that cost savings is passed down to the customer ultimately in reduced water and sewer rates.”
Multiple stakeholders working together
Vallecitos Water District provides the project sites, working with SDG&E, the solar provider team, the District’s contractors, and the solar maintenance operator. The District’s water professionals work with solar power experts to guide the project through planning, design, and construction as a team.
Over the 25-year term, the District will benefit from a reduced electrical rate of 7.79 cents per kilowatt-hour (kWh) at its 13 highest use meters. It will also receive a rebate or credit on its export of power to the electrical grid. Savings to the District over 25 years are estimated at $8.3 million, which ultimately results in reduced water and sewer rates for customers. District staff locked in the maximum federal rebate by launching the project in 2019 and meeting a narrow window for grant funding.
Solar panels installed on top of two reservoirs
The west solar array is installed on top of the District’s 33-million gallon reservoir with 2,300 solar modules and eight 80 kW inverters. The east array is located on top of the 40-million gallon reservoir with 2,900 modules with ten 80 kW inverters. The total production is roughly 3.6 MWh annually, enough to power 340 homes.
Local power conservation remains vital
While the solar power project cannot prevent the potential for power outages due to rolling blackouts, the project helps to add capacity to the power grid when it is needed.
“The District wants to publicly thank Terre Verde Renewable Partners, Holt Renewables, and Kenyon Energy for their valuable roles in the success of this project,” said Morgan. “We also want to acknowledge the above and beyond effort of the District’s inspections team.”
The Twin Oaks Reservoir dual array is expected to be completed in November 2020. The Lift Station #1 site is expected to be completed in February of 2021.
A deep dive into the causes of the first rolling blackouts to hit California in 19 years is coming soon from state agencies but a preliminary report from an energy consulting group in Sacramento points to a number of reasons — including an overreliance on out-of-state energy imports.
The Ramona Municipal Water District has received some inquiries from concerned customers regarding the impact of the SDG&E power outages on RMWD’s water system during fire season and COVID.
As many of us in Ramona are aware, RMWD purchases 100 percent of our water from the San Diego County Water Authority and the water is pumped nearly 1,000 feet “up the hill” to Ramona. During the last several years, RMWD has made several important investments in natural gas technology and emergency generators to provide a second source of power for pumping, improve water reliability, reduce pumping costs and protect Ramona in emergencies.
Carlsbad, Calif. (August 18, 2020) –To support statewide emergency energy conservation efforts, Poseidon Water and the San Diego County Water Authority are temporarily reducing water production at the Claude “Bud” Lewis Carlsbad Desalination Plant.
While the plant uses less than 1% of peak energy demand in San Diego Gas & Electric’s service territory, Poseidon and the Water Authority are committed to supporting electrical reliability while ensuring continued delivery of safe and reliable water supplies.
California’s power grid operator delivered a blistering rebuke Monday to the state’s Public Utilities Commission, blaming the agency for rotating power outages — the first since the 2001 energy crisis — and warning of bigger blackouts to come.
San Diego Gas & Electric was directed to begin rolling blackouts Monday that could have effected 100,000 customers, but the power crisis was averted at the last moment. “Rotating outages were averted in San Diego and southern Orange counties today, in part thanks to local residents and businesses heeding the call to cut back on energy usage amid a prolonged heat wave and exceptionally high energy demand,” the utility said in a statement.
Electric prices in the West soared to record highs as California consumers prepared for more outages on Monday after the grid operator ordered utilities to cut power over the weekend to reduce system strain during a brutal heat wave.