Step into the East County community of Cameron Corners, next to Campo.

With wildfire season approaching, the new small grid in Campo promises some relief from blackouts for local residents

During the height of wildfire season, blackouts are almost a way of life for people in remote areas like Campo, a town and the surrounding area of ​​about 3,500 that lies about an hour east of San Diego and about six miles off Interstate 8.

“They’re a pain in the ass because it’s hot in here and you need the air conditioner,” said longtime resident Robert Hughes.

In recent years, utilities in California have increasingly de-energized circuits when high winds and dry conditions increase the chances of downed power lines starting wildfires. The practice is officially called the Public Safety Power Outage, or PSPS, and residents often grumble about being left without power.

“If you don’t have a generator, you’re in trouble,” said Amy Meza.

But some relief is coming, in the form of a microgrid that San Diego Gas & Electric is preparing to unveil next month. Using a combination of solar and battery energy storage, the Cameron Corners microgrid is connected to 11 locations in the community to provide a continuous source of electricity whenever a PSPS event is called.

The sites will allow residents to go “where they can take a break from being in a hot environment, in the absence of air conditioning,” said Melinda Kimball, SDG&E project manager.

The 11 sites include Campo Middle School and its health and medical facilities, the city library, the nearby Cal Fire station and communications site. The subway lines are also connected to two gas stations with a mini mart and a taco shop popular with the residents.

In addition, the micro-grid will keep wells servicing gas stations, a small shopping district, taco shop and community stores energized so that businesses can have water to make food, ice, and other goods and services in the event of a power outage.

“I call it a resilient oasis, so if[the residents]go out of power, they can still access essential needs,” said Fernando Valero, Director of Advanced Clean Technology at SDG&E.

Step into the East County community of Cameron Corners, next to Campo.

(Rob Nikolowski/San Diego Union-Tribune)

Microgrids have taken on a larger profile across California in recent years because they can operate independently of the larger electrical grid, allowing small areas or communities to keep power flowing for hours at a time during emergencies.

This is especially important in areas prone to wildfires. Located in what’s known as the High Fire Threat District, the Campo area is particularly windy, and temperatures can soar to 100 degrees in the summer, making it vulnerable to a power circuit shutdown by SDG&E.

The Cameron Corners Small Grid’s solar and battery operations occupy approximately five acres on a 27-acre plot near the intersection of Buckman Springs Road and Campo Road.

One of the 16 rows of solar panels in the Cameron Corners microgrid

One of the 16 rows of solar panels in a Cameron Corners grid designed to help customers in the Campo area deal with power outages when gusty winds spark wildfires caused by power lines.

(Rob Nikolowski/San Diego Union-Tribune)

Sixteen rows of more than 2,700 solar panels draw 875 kW of power from the sun, and six iron flow battery units can provide about 2,400 kWh of electricity to those 11 sites in Campo, all of which can be combined through an advanced microgrid. observer.

SDG&E owns and operates the zero-emissions mini Cameron Corners network and the utilities expect to open the facility by the end of July.

Cameron Corners convenience store and gas station is one of the locations that will be activated by the microgrid during a power outage.

“We will be able to pump gas and at the same time be open to the whole community,” said Bashar Hormuz, store manager. “Because for a lot of society, when the electricity goes out, they work on generators and generators that run on fuel. So it’s a huge advantage.”

Francisco Monreal owns El Paso Taco. “It benefits the taco shop because (despite) many blackouts, it can still be in business and people can still get their food,” Monreal said in Spanish through an interpreter.

Outside of PSPS events, electricity from solar energy and battery storage can be sent to the state’s grid, when required by the California Independent System Operator, to support stability and reliability.

Cameron Corners’ flow batteries, which are made by Oregon-based ESS, are designed to last 25 years and use a combination of iron, salt, and water to store energy. It is described as non-toxic and non-flammable.

Some of the six units of battery energy storage in the Cameron Corners microgrid

Some of the six units store battery energy in the Cameron Corners Microgrid, operated by the San Diego Gas and Electric Company. Iron Flow Batteries are manufactured by ESS, Inc. Using the non-toxic chemistry of iron, salt, and water.

(Rob Nikolowski/San Diego Union-Tribune)

Microgrid network costs can run into the tens of millions of dollars, and the costs are passed on to interest rate payers. The cost of SDG&E’s Cameron Corners facility, under California Public Utilities Commission rules, remains classified for at least three years.

In a wildfire mitigation plan submitted to the California Public Utilities Commission, SDG&E forecast spending $1.89 billion on fire risk reduction measures from 2020 to 2022.

“Wildfire affects everyone, so the extent to which you reduce wildfires in our service area, affects everyone,” Valero said, including customers who do not live in fire-prone areas.

In addition to Cameron Corners, SDG&E has established three other small networks in high fire threat areas:

  • Ramona, a 500 kWh and 2000 kWh lithium-ion battery storage system. It’s adjacent to the city’s airport and provides backup power to the Ramona Air Attack Base, home of the Cal Fire and a fleet of US Forest Service aircraft that can put out fires before they get out of control.
  • Butterfield farm, located in the desert near Agua Caliente.
  • Shelter Valley, off Route 78 near Julian.

While not in a high-risk fire area, SDG&E’s Borrego Springs small network in 2013 became the first utility-scale small network in the country. It provides network resilience to nearly 2,700 desert city residents.

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