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Blue Lake Rancheria Microgrid Funded By Energy Commission Continues To Produce Benefits

By Media Office Staff

Since full commissioning in July 2017, the Blue Lake Rancheria microgrid continues to deliver stacked benefits to the tribal community and the Humboldt County region, which includes the ancestral territory of the Wiyot people.

"This project shows the type of leadership and partnership that can advance California's climate and renewable energy goals, help transform our energy system and reduce greenhouse gas emissions,” said California Energy Commissioner Karen Douglas.

In 2015, the microgrid received a $5 million grant from the Energy Commission’s Electric Program Investment Charge (EPIC) program, which is an energy innovation funding program. In 2018, a project adjacent to the Blue Lake Rancheria microgrid received $1.85 million in EPIC funding from the Energy Commission’s Solar+ solicitation, which includes demonstrations of facility-scale solar and storage projects.

“I can’t underscore enough the importance of research, development, and deployment programs that are prioritized by the California Energy Commission like EPIC,” said Jana Ganion, sustainability and government affairs director at the Rancheria. “These investments have rapidly advanced technology and applications, which is resulting in financially and operationally successful transitions to zero-carbon energy.”

With technical support from the Schatz Energy Research Center at Humboldt State University, the natural disaster-prone reservation now has a constant source of reliable energy, independent of the larger grid.

Using small-scale electrical systems such as solar photovoltaic (PV) panels and batteries, the microgrid generates 420 kilowatts of solar PV to supply its government office, event center, casino/hotel, emergency facilities, and other infrastructure. The community saved more than $160,000 in electricity costs in 2018, increased clean energy related jobs by 10 percent, and reduced carbon dioxide emission equivalent by around 200 tons a year.

The microgrid is also used as a learning lab for students of all ages. Students at Humboldt State University have researched many aspects of microgrid, including the current social and battery storage expansion, said Ganion. “These students inform what we implement, which is exciting for us and for the students to see their hard work come to fruition."

Throughout project development, the Rancheria overcame integration and communication challenges between utilities, vendors, and the microgrid. The Hula Community Park and Toma Resilience Campus are two follow-on projects in development that the microgrid will power. Hula means water and Toma means sun in the Wiyot language.

The park will be an outdoor venue with synthetic turf playing fields and other outdoor amenities. The 20,000-square-foot campus will include a business incubator, makerspaces, small manufacturing facilities, a commercial kitchen, a training/event venue, and a retail store for emergency supplies. The facility will help attract more decarbonized resilience programs, trainings, and innovation to the region.

Photo courtesy of Siemens USA.

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