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PG&E readies dual-fuel Humboldt Bay station for “islanding” in event of grid shutdown

Photo courtesy of Wartsila.

Pacific Gas & Electric Co. has reconfigured its dual-fuel Humboldt Bay Generating Station to directly power area customers in the event of a major system-wide power outage.

The 163-MW Humboldt station can now be “islanded,” or repurposed to provide electricity straight to portions of Humboldt County customers even if the larger grid is shut down. Those will include some 20 cities and towns in the area.

“This represents a significant milestone, not just in Humboldt County where customers will benefit directly, but for all of the customers in our service area who will benefit as we look for innovative solutions to reduce the impact of public safety power shutoffs,” said Andy Vesey, PG&E Utility CEO and President.

A PG&E team of about 70 people worked together to reconfigure the Humboldt Bay station’s connection to the grid over the past six months. The team successfully tested its capabilities last month, although the utility says it will continue to fine-tune the system and make additional transmission upgrades to improve functionality in coming months.

PG&E’s service territory in northern California, like most of the state, is susceptible to wildfires and major wind events. Deadly and destructive wildfires in 2017 to 2019 caused billions in damages and forced PG&E into Chapter 11 bankruptcy reorganization.

“Our residents and businesses endured hardships during safety shutoffs even when there wasn’t a wildfire threat in Humboldt County,” said Rex Bohn, First District Supervisor for Humboldt County. “PG&E leadership answered our calls to make sure they did everything they can to reduce impacts next time. We thank PG&E for its dedication to serving the county with safe and reliable power,”

Humboldt Bay Generating Station was originally a gas-fired plant. Ten years ago, PG&E contracted with Wärtsilä to replace those gas turbines with 10 18V50DF dual-fuel engines which can run on natural gas but have backup capability to use ultra-low sulfur diesel.

PG&E is planning to emerge from its Chapter 11 reorganization later this month.

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