The sun is rising on renewable energy for Humboldt County

The sun is rising on renewable energy for Humboldt County

A residential solar array
4.8 kW Solar Array at Hondeydew Elementary School
solar panels on Ridgewood Elementary in Cutten
Ridgewood Elementary Cutten 52kW solar array

“We’ve been doing this four years.”

This month marks the fourth anniversary of the Redwood Coast Energy Authority’s Community Choice Energy Program.  Since we began providing electricity to customers in 2017, our central goal has been to affordably meet our community’s energy needs by advancing the use of renewable resources.  Despite last year’s challenges, we are making exciting progress on becoming a community powered by renewable energy. Much of this early success came from greatly expanding solar energy production while simultaneously increasing local energy resilience.  Here are some highlights:

  • Redwood Coast Airport Microgrid – This project and the other strong microgrid work by the Schatz Energy Research Center, the Blue Lake Rancheria, and others, have made Humboldt County an industry leader in the development of microgrids. RCEA’s solar and battery-storage microgrid at the county airport is scheduled to be completed by the end of this year and will provide local renewable power to RCEA’s customers while enhancing local emergency-response capabilities and energy resilience.


In addition to these local benefits, this cutting-edge project provided the inspiration and template for the “Community Microgrid Enablement Program” recently approved by the California Public Utilities Commission. This program will support microgrid deployment to serve critical facilities and vulnerable populations across PG&E’s entire service territory.


  • Supporting customer solar – RCEA’s Solar Net Energy Metering program provides rate savings to customers who produce power on their property. We’ve seen the number of RCEA customers with solar on their home or business double to nearly 2,400 since 2017. Customers who produce more power than they use over the course of the year receive a check for this surplus solar generation every spring. This year, customer-level power producers are receiving over a quarter-million dollars.


In addition, RCEA’s Public Agency Solar Program has helped our local government partners successfully secure over $3 million in funding to install renewable, resilient energy systems at schools, water-treatment facilities, fire stations, and other critical community facilities across the county.


  • Utility-level solar generation – RCEA’s Feed-in-Tariff program offers above-market rates to community-scale renewable energy generators around the county. Nearly 6,000 kilowatts of new, local, distributed solar generation capacity has been contracted to date, with projects set to break ground this year.


RCEA also contracted for a 100-megawatt solar project to be built in central California to generate enough power to meet about 45% of our customers’ current electricity needs. This is equivalent to the power generated by over 48,000 residential rooftop solar arrays. Power prices for this project will be about 1/3 of what RCEA pays for small-scale local solar power (and, I’ll note, will be well below the cost of power from fossil fuels like coal and natural gas). This will reduce power procurement costs on behalf of all our customers.

These projects give me hope for the future, but we have much work ahead of us.  Solar energy, rooftop solar in particular, has an important part to play in Humboldt County’s clean energy future. It is not a one-size-fits-all panacea, but rather part of a diversified portfolio that can also include wind and biomass, supplemented by energy storage, small hydropower, geothermal, and other emerging technologies, and the key ingredient of customer energy efficiency and conservation.

To address the magnitude of the climate change emergency we need every tool in the toolbox and we need to focus on where we as individuals and as a community can have the most impact.  While we aren’t the sunniest place in California, we are the windiest: the North Coast has a truly world-class offshore wind resource. Things have been in holding pattern since 2018 while we waited for the federally-managed offshore waters leasing process to get moving again, but RCEA continues to make steady progress on a proposed project 25-30 miles off our coast. Keep an eye out for offshore wind energy efforts picking up steam starting this year.

There will be many challenges while we transition to a renewable energy future, and solar energy is one part of the solution — but a significant new stage of sustainable energy progress for Humboldt County is happening now, and this first big step will be powered by the sun.



Matthew Marshall

Executive Director, Redwood Coast Energy Authority


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