Poor and medically vulnerable residents in the heavily forested areas of Calaveras County may be among those with priority for a battery storage rebate program to keep the lights on in a power outage.
Through the Self-Generation Incentive Program, the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) has set aside a $1 billion pot through 2024 to help cover the costs of on-site energy storage systems that can provide backup power for several hours.
Priority goes to high-wildfire-risk areas and those that have endured multiple public safety power shutoffs, along with low-income and medically vulnerable customers. Also eligible are non-residential critical facilities that support community resilience during a mass outage or wildfire.
Based on the CPUC’s interactive map, places at greatest risk of a wildfire in Calaveras County include areas adjacent to Avery, Arnold, Rail Road Flat and West Point.
The purpose of the program, according to the CPUC, is to help cut greenhouse gas emissions, lower demand and reduce customer electricity purchases, making the electric system more reliable and helping spur a market for new “distributed energy resource” technologies.
Advocates say home batteries are a cleaner, more resilient alternative to petroleum-based generators.
Using funds from the program, San Francisco-based solar vendor Sunrun Inc. is partnering with GRID Alternatives, a nonprofit that provides renewable energy technology and job training to underserved communities, to roll out “no-cost” battery installations to low-income households.
“Storage is critical to energy equity,” said Sunrun CEO Lynn Jurich in a joint press release in August. “It helps families keep the lights on and food fresh when the power goes out, no matter their income level, while supporting a cleaner and more reliable electricity system.”
GRID Alternatives CEO and co-founder Erica Mackie said in the release that the nonprofit is excited to be partnering with Sunrun on the initiative.
"We want to live in a world where families can stay in their homes, free of burdensome energy costs, health and safety risks, and the threat of environmental disasters, through the use of renewable energy technologies like battery storage,” Mackie said.
Those that already have solar panels would be able to store excess solar energy to be used when the sun isn’t out.
But having solar isn’t required to participate in the program – Sunrun’s technology allows homes to store energy from the electric grid to use during a power outage.
After shouldering upfront costs, customers may be eligible for a rebate of anywhere from approximately 85% to 100% of the costs of the energy storage system, depending on which rebate category they fall under – “Equity” or “Equity Resilience,” per the CPUC.
Pacific Gas & Electric Co., the utility service provider for Calaveras County residents, will receive $72 million annually for the program, according to PG&E spokesperson Brandi Merlo.
Calaveras County is one of several areas across Northern California the utility has proactively shut off power to in wildfire conditions since rolling out its wildfire mitigation program in 2018.
Some PG&E customers qualify for the home battery rebate with no upfront cost.
That’s exclusive to low-income customers on PG&E’s Medical Baseline Program that live in a CPUC-designated, high-wildfire-risk area, have experienced a public safety power shutoff and have notified the utility of a medical condition that could be life-threatening without power.
To determine eligibility for the Self-Generation Incentive Program, residents can start by contacting an installer using the CPUC’s "Find an Installer" Tool.