Humboldt energy plan: ‘Act swiftly and boldly’

Daniel Mintz
Mad River Union

HUMBOLDT – The update of a Humboldt County energy authority’s Action Plan for Energy includes near future targets for emissions reduction and energy independence, but technical hurdles were acknowledged during a public workshop event. 

The Redwood Coast Energy Authority (RCEA) summarized its updated energy plan the Oct. 17 workshop at the Humboldt Bay Aquatic Center in Eureka. 

The plan’s ambitious energy production, resiliency and emissions reduction goals were described to an audience of about 30 people by Matthew Marshall, the authority’s executive director. He said an “overarching goal” is achieving “net zero” greenhouse gas emissions countywide by 2030.

In previous workshops, comments had a “consistent theme” – that the county needs to “act swiftly and boldly and effectively to address climate change,” Marshall continued. 

“If we can’t lead and achieve it here in Humboldt County with all the capacity and resources that we have in a rural county, how is LA going to do that, how is Nebraska going to do that, how is China going do that, how is India going to do that,” he continued. “We need to be able to do this ourselves.” 

Another goal of the plan is relevant to the recent and highly controversial PG&E planned power shutoff. By 2030, the county is envisioned as meeting its local energy needs with infrastructure that “effectively responds to energy disruptions and energy emergencies.” 

It’s a goal that was in the RCEA’s mission statement when the agency was formed in 2003, Marshall continued, and it’s “increasingly clear that it needs to be a growing priority that we need to address as soon as possible.” 

“Wait a second, it’s been 16 years since that was determined to be a goal and we have four generating plants on the coast here and it’s not gone anywhere?” said an audience member. 

Marshall said one of the reasons for the lack of progress is that RCEA has had “zero dollars to do that.” 

The infrastructure exists to do it, the audience member rejoined. “How much funding do you need to get them to hook up the right switches?” he asked. 

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Dave Carter, a managing research engineer at Humboldt State University’s Schatz Energy Lab, explained the challenges during his presentation on energy micro-grids. 

A micro-grid is defined in the plan as an inter-connected system of energy resources sized to meet needs within specific boundaries. A local example of one is the Blue Lake Rancheria’s solar power and diesel back-up system, which kept the Rancheria’s hotel, gas station and convenience store in full operation during the planned power shutoff. 

But doing the same thing on a countywide scale has technical challenges. 

To “island” the county by 2030 with a mix of renewable power sources would be “a real trick,” Carter said. “If we want to island this county without the Humboldt Bay Generation Station we would need a lot of storage, with inverters.” 

The PG&E generation station provides the “grid-forming source which can handle the peak and that’s critical,” he continued. “We’re going to need some synchronous generation unless we just go really, really big with inverters and storage.”

A goal of the plan is to establish a network of micro-grids by 2030. Other goals include reducing natural gas carbon emissions 90 percent by 2050, getting 22,000 electric vehicles on the road by 2030 and to eliminate the use of fossil fuels for vehicles by 2050. 

Those targets are ambitious but Marshall again described Humboldt County as a bellwether. “If we can’t do it, the climate’s gonna be in trouble,” he said. 

The updated plan will be presented to the authority’s board next week and final draft will be up for adoption in December. It will be integrated into a plan that’s required to be submitted to the state for the authority’s Community Choice Energy Program. 




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