Fort Bragg’s Microgrid

On August 13, 2020, the Fort Bragg City Council met in a special session. The obvious item of interest on that evening's agenda was the appointment of Mayor Will Lee and Vice Mayor Bernie Norvell to serve second full four year terms on the council. Both originally won their seats in the November, 2016 election. In 2020, Norvell and Lee filed the necessary paperwork to be on this year's November ballot. No other candidates filed. Therefore, the early appointment to remove the council seats from the forthcoming ballot.

Tucked into that August 13 agenda was another item in the Consent Calendar. The item was a letter addressed to John Redding and Barbara Barkovich. The heading of the letter: “Fort Bragg Microgrid Project Status.”

Barkovich

John Redding is a member of the board of directors of the Mendocino Coast Healthcare District (MCHD). Barbara Barkovich is a partner in Barkovich & Yap. Inc. According to that company's website, Barkovich has been a consultant and expert witness for thirty-five years on energy and regulatory matters, with an emphasis on the electric industry…” 

Barkovich and Redding appear to be a married couple.

The origins of all this go back quite a time, but came to stark awareness during the extended Public Safety Power Shutoff in late October, 2019. Grant possibilities through PG&E appear to have spurred Redding to charge full speed ahead into what came to be called the “Fort Bragg Microgrid Project,” involving his wife and others from a company of which they are part. Meetings took place with local and county officials looking for a way to provide permanent backup energy for Fort Bragg's most important institutions such as the hospital, police and fire departments in the event of future lengthy power outages. 

Redding garnered letters of support from MCHD's interim chief executive officer (CEO) as well as from the city. The proposal he was going to present to PG&E as part of a grant application indicated that approximately five vacant acres of hospital district owned land would be used for the actual construction site of the microgrid. The letter of support Redding got from the interim CEO may have helped gain approval from Fort Bragg's City Council. The only problem: the hospital land is owned by the residents of the Mendocino Coast Healthcare District. Those citizens are represented by the entire board of directors of MCHD through public election. Redding is only one member of that board. Other than possibly mentioning the microgrid concept during affiliation meetings with Adventist Health, Redding did not take the microgrid project to the hospital district's board of directors. He also may have represented the full approval of Adventist Health officials for the project in order to gain acceptance from city officials. 

In June or early July, word on the street has it that Redding was asked to cease and desist from the project by at least one of the parties he had involved in the process. Yet, he appeared to be back at something of a verbal shell game in early August, apparently telling the different parties, the City, Adventist Health, the hospital district, and by then Sonoma Clean Power slightly variant stories on the microgrid theme.

Hence, the letter from the City Council, approved and signed by all five members: 

“The Fort Bragg City Council continues its support of and commitment to sustainability, self-sufficiency and healthy ecosystems. This is particularly important as it applies to infrastructure and utilities in our City and in the larger coastal community. The City Council unanimously supported the local community proposal to Pacific Gas and Electric Company (PG&E) for distributed generation enabled microgrid services in January 2020. While the City Council’s commitment to a microgrid, particularly one that increases the reliability of electrical services, does not waver, the Council is also committed and has a duty of transparency to all of its citizens and stakeholders. Thus, at this time, the Fort Bragg City Council must take a neutral position on ongoing or revised proposals for a local microgrid project. The City of Fort Bragg does not support or oppose any current or future community microgrid project. However,the Council does look forward to future collaborations in which the Council may fully support and even champion a sustainable project that will strengthen the reliability of the City’s utility infrastructure. Thank you and the Fort Bragg Microgrid Committee for your expertise and dedication to these projects.”

In political terminology, the Fort Bragg City Council was declaring itself neutral on microgrid projects. However, the letter was addressed to only two people, John Redding and Barbara Barkovich.

Redding

Mr. Redding did not take this letter as something expressing neutrality, firing off half-baked verbal and written accusations every which way. Nevertheless, after a month passed, Redding gave a succinct and rather calm presentation to the Mendocino Coast Healthcare District board at their monthly meeting in late August. He noted that PG&E still has grant possibilities out there. Board President Jessica Grinberg asked if the PG&E grants were confined to microgrid systems only. Redding replied, no they weren't. The implication of the question and answer being that a backup energy project for the hospital might not need the use of as much as five acres of land.

In his own clumsy manner, John Redding may have put the hospital district and other emergency services in Fort Bragg onto something. This is definitely a “we shall see what we shall see” topic.

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