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Fighting Fire with Power: The Importance of Energy Resilience During Wildfire Season | Sustainable San Mateo County

Fighting Fire with Power: The Importance of Energy Resilience During Wildfire Season

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By Lizzie Avila

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Kirsten Andrews-Schwind, Senior Manager of Community Relations at Peninsula Clean Energy (PCE),* joined us during one of our monthly Happy Hour online discussions on July 29 to talk about energy resilience in the county, a hot topic especially as we move into wildfire season.

Last fall PG&E had several public safety power shutoffs (PSPS) in order to prevent wildfires from being started by electrical equipment. The shutoffs affected more than 3 million California residents and caught many by surprise.

While PCE has no control over PSPS events or maintaining the power grids, it has committed $10 million toward programs that will help make local communities more energy resilient.

One new PCE program, the Power On Peninsula Program, focuses on medically vulnerable residents – regardless of whether they are homeowners or renters – who either live in high fire threat areas or have lost power twice or more during a PSPS event. PCE offers free portable backup batteries for these residents so their essential medical devices can continue to be powered during a shutoff and they are able to stay home and avoid COVID-19. You can learn more about Power On Peninsula and sign up at PenCleanEnergy.com/medical.

PCE also offers lower costs and financing options for solar and battery storage for critical municipal facilities and residential and commercial buildings.

As we broke into our discussion groups, we discussed how to create energy-resilient infrastructure, obstacles to becoming energy resilient and ways to overcome those obstacles.

Participants were interested to learn that you can buy an inverter for your electric vehicle that allows you to charge your home from your car battery. There was also discussion about the need for all-electric appliances, a policy that has gained traction on the Peninsula, thanks notably to new Reach Codes that many local City Councils have adopted recently.

One of the biggest obstacles for energy resilience that was brought up was affordability, both in existing housing stock as well as in the new affordable housing developments which are urgently needed on the Peninsula right now.

Building below market-rate housing can be challenging because of the up-front costs involved. In one of the breakout discussions, a participant said that although nonprofit developers might be on board for energy-resilient infrastructure, market-rate developers might not be as willing to bear the additional initial expenditure. As a result, cities must have strong action plans and incentives in order to ensure an energy-resilient future for all.

The other main obstacle mentioned was a lack of clear information and education. Some attendees felt overwhelmed by the sheer amount of information available on energy resilience and their options, while others felt that there was not enough outreach and education to residents. One suggestion for solving this problem was to create an user-friendly, online library of information that allows for individuals to make the best decisions based on personal fit.

After coming back to our large group and sharing the main takeaways of our conversations, we left with a common desire to see more energy-resilient communities in the face of future shutoffs. As we move into the fall months and wildfire season, it is essential that we work together to protect the medically vulnerable, make information widely available, and brainstorm solutions to make energy resilience possible for all.

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* Peninsula Clean Energy is San Mateo County’s official electricity provider, generating clean and affordable power and making significant reinvestments back into the community. It is a Community Choice Aggregation (CCA) organization formed by a unanimous vote of all 20 cities in the county.


Lizzie Avila is a freshman studying Earth Systems at Stanford University. She is very interested in environmental education, outreach, NGO management, environmental justice in low income communities, and research. Lizzie is serving as a summer intern with Sustainable San Mateo County.

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