Tree clearing an obstacle for Nevada City microgrid |

Tree clearing an obstacle for Nevada City microgrid

With wildfires and potential power outages already bearing down on Nevada County, almost a year after PG&E Public Safety Power Shut-offs left nearly 50,000 residents without electricity, it’s still unclear whether Grass Valley and Nevada City will have power this fire season.

During last autumn’s shut-offs, parts of the county’s critical infrastructure like Sierra Nevada Memorial Hospital were able to operate thanks to generators hooked up to Grass Valley’s Glenbrook Basin substation.

While PG&E has committed to once again reenergizing the area during a PSPS event, according to PG&E spokesperson Brandon Sanders, the substation will need to be reconfigured before it can be used this year.

The company said it’s made efforts to make any shutoffs this year shorter, smaller, and smarter through new technology like fire cams, increased aerial inspection, infrared equipment, and increasing its website capacity. It’s also installed sectionalizing devices along the county’s grid to decrease the amount of customers affected by an outage, with plans to install more by the end of the month, and are increasing its Community Resource Center locations, if needed.

“While PSPS is an important wildfire safety tool, we know that losing power disrupts lives, especially for those with medical needs and customers sheltering at home in response to novel coronavirus (COVID-19),” PG&E spokesperson Brandi Merlo said in an email. “We have placed temporary generation at the Brunswick Substation, installed sectionalizing devices and continue to work on vegetation management in the area in collaboration with Nevada County, Nevada City, Caltrans and Cal Fire. PG&E continues to explore potential solutions for mitigating PSPS impacts in Nevada City.”

While these measures are supposed to make shut-offs shorter and more targeted, Nevada City officials are hoping to have a local, temporary microgrid setup that would allow them to retain power, similar to the Glenbrook Basin. After the Grass Valley substation is reconfigured, crews will need to clear vegetation along transmissions lines that carry that power to Nevada City.

If the vegetation is not cleared, it could be too dangerous to have the lines energized during a high wind event.

While some vegetation has already been worked on, a plan to remove more than 260 trees along West Broad and Orchard streets will go Thursday before the Nevada City Planning Commission. Typically tree removal work done by utility contractors does not require a permit, but due to the size and historic nature of the project, PG&E will seek approval for those trees, City Engineer Bryan McAlister said.

According to Planning Commission documents, 103 trees are within city property, including Pioneer Cemetery, while 160 are on private property.

PG&E also stated it was looking into a temporary microgrid for Soda Springs in eastern Nevada County.

According to Merlo, PG&E will discuss its Public Safety Power Shut-off plans in more depth at next week’s Board of Supervisors meeting.

To contact Staff Writer John Orona, email or call 530-477-4229.

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