CALISTOGA (KPIX) – Wildfire season is underway and if this year is anything like last year, PG&E planned power shutoffs may return soon.

PG&E is racing to finish work that could ease one of the big frustrations with the preventative power shut offs in some areas. That was anger over the fact that people who weren’t necessarily in harm’s way found themselves in the dark.

Enter the microgrid.

“We are making the area resilient,” says PG&E spokesperson Deanna Contreras. “Putting the electrical equipment ground underground you can see some of the vaults here.”

The Calistoga microgrid does not look at all like a substation. Most of the equipment will be underground, and the generators will actually sit above the vaults on trailers, sending power through a new set of lines, right into downtown.

“That is the main goal,” Contreras says. “To keep Main Street powered up, and the businesses and customers who are not in media fire threat, have them remain energized.”

“I mean, it’s great for the downtown section if you live east of the river,” says Calistoga restaurant owner Alex Dierkhising. “It is sort of unfortunate for the other two-thirds of the population here that are not going to have power.“

Calistoga itself is not a high-risk area for fire, but it is surrounded by high-risk areas which has landed the city squarely in the middle of many PG&E power shutdowns. The utility is trying to mitigate that suffering a little bit this year with a more precise strategy.

“That is our goal this year, to reduce the impact by one third,” Contreras explains. “One-third fewer customers impacted by PSPS events compared to last year.”

That, of course, is just one of the challenges facing PG&E, and a system that stretches across California.

“Let’s just hope that PG&E is able to figure out the outages in the countryside so the fire won’t start in the first place,” Dierkhising says. “I mean that’s a real iffy thing.”

PG&E has completed one microgrid and has four more under construction. The goal is to have ten microgrids completed by the end of the year.

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