A Santa Barbara environmental think tank has teamed up with a Menlo Park renewable energy nonprofit on an ambitious new effort to build a mini, self-sustaining electrical grid to power Montecito’s critical water and fire protection facilities. The Montecito Community Microgrid Initiative — as explained by the World Business Academy and the Clean Coalition in a joint presentation last week — would generate and store solar power on-site at the San Ysidro Road fire station and nearby Water District headquarters, thereby ensuring a constant flow of electricity even if their connection to the Southern California Edison grid is cut.
Clean Coalition’s Craig Lewis said he returned to his hometown of Santa Barbara to spearhead the project because he believes such a system would make Montecito more resilient to disasters and because last winter’s tragedy hit so close to home. The fire station’s backup diesel generator failed during the fire, he said. Lewis described the microgrid as a first step that could eventually be expanded to include the Upper Village’s market, gas station, post office, and banks, which might be used as shelters during an emergency. Then, he said, the Lower Village could be included, and then expand to the entire South Coast, now tenuously connected to the Edison grid by a single transmission line snaking through the mountains.
Lewis acknowledged that even the initial undertaking will be complex and difficult, with a dizzying galaxy of stakeholders needing to reach consensus. But there’s already been progress, he said. Edison is on board, and early conversations with water and fire agency staff have gone well. The first phase of powering the two facilities would cost around $2.25 million, Lewis said. Of that, he predicted $1.5 million would be paid through energy savings, tax benefits, and other solar incentives. The remaining $750,000 is expected to come from philanthropic sources. Thus far, the World Business Academy has raised $46,000 toward that goal. To power the rest of the targeted Upper Village buildings would cost $7.5 million, Lewis said.