9 Acre Clean Energy Microgrid Coming to Arcata Airport

An aerial view of Arcata-Eureka Airport in Humboldt County, California.

An aerial view of Arcata-Eureka Airport in Humboldt County, California. [Photo provided by HSU]

Press release from Humboldt State University:

A cutting-edge clean energy microgrid is coming to Humboldt County’s regional airport.

Designed by the Schatz Energy Research Center at Humboldt State University, the microgrid will generate green electricity, create jobs for local contractors and technicians, and provide an energy lifeline in the event of a natural disaster. Last week, the California Energy Commission announced a $5 million grant award through its EPIC program that will support $6 million in matching funding from the Redwood Coast Energy Authority (RCEA), for development of this solar plus storage microgrid system.

“The Redwood Coast Energy Authority is excited to be partnering with the Schatz Center, PG&E, and the County,” said Matthew Marshall, Executive Director of the RCEA. “This project will allow us to provide enhanced resiliency and emergency-response capabilities for the airport and Coast Guard and deliver the environmental and economic benefits of developing our local renewable resources.”

Composed of a 2.3 megawatt photovoltaic array covering 9 acres—the largest in Humboldt County—and an 8 megawatt-hour battery storage system, equivalent to the batteries in 100 Tesla Model S cars, the microgrid will support 18 electric accounts including the airport and the U.S. Coast Guard Air Station.

The California Redwood Coast-Humboldt County Airport serves 50,000 flights a year and 140,000 customers, including commercial, private, and emergency medical flights. The Coast Guard Air Station Humboldt Bay provides search and rescue for 250 miles of rugged rural coastline, from the Mendocino-Sonoma County line to the California-Oregon border. Since roads into and out of Humboldt County are often closed by fires and slides, energy stability at the regional airport is crucial.

“This is a wonderful project for Humboldt County and we have a great team eager to get started,” said Peter Lehman, founding director of the Schatz Center and principal investigator for the project. “The airport microgrid will make us a safer and more resilient community and plow new ground in developing the electric grid of the future.”

As the first multi-customer microgrid in Pacific Gas and Electric’s service territory, the project will provide a test bed for the policies, tariff structures, and operating procedures necessary to integrate microgrids into California’s electric grid. Lessons learned will help the state strengthen its power grid by creating a roadmap for microgrid integration across the state.

A microgrid combines energy generation–often solar or wind power–with energy storage and smart controls to allow it to run both connected to and disconnected from the larger power grid. Under normal conditions, microgrids add power to the grid and smooth out power fluctuations, adding stability. In an outage, microgrids can “island” and supply electricity indefinitely. As extreme weather events and fires driven by climate change continue to cause regional outages, the ability to maintain independent power generation is key to local resiliency. Microgrids provide life-saving power to transportation hubs and other critical facilities like shelters, hospitals, and fire stations.

The airport microgrid is the second designed by the Schatz Center for the Humboldt Bay region. The Center’s renewable energy microgrid at the Blue Lake Rancheria (BLR) went live in 2017, providing clean energy to the BLR campus and enabling the Rancheria to operate as a Red Cross Shelter. Last fall, the Rancheria was recognized by the Federal Emergency Management Agency for its contributions to community safety.

The Schatz Energy Research Center

For almost three decades, the Schatz Energy Research Center at Humboldt State University has developed clean and renewable energy technologies and implemented them worldwide. Current projects and expertise include smart-grid design, bioenergy assessment, off-grid energy access, and clean transportation. The Center also plays a leading role in the World Bank Group’s Lighting Africa and Lighting Asia initiatives, which support high quality, affordable energy solutions for people in off-grid and marginal-grid communities.

The Redwood Coast Energy Authority

Formed in 2003, the Redwood Coast Energy Authority (RCEA) is a local-government joint powers agency of the County of Humboldt, the Cities of Eureka, Arcata, Fortuna, Rio Dell, Ferndale, Blue Lake, and Trinidad, and the Humboldt Bay Municipal Water District. The purpose of RCEA is to develop and implement sustainable energy initiatives that reduce energy demand, increase energy efficiency, and advance the use of renewable resources available in the region. RCEA is the primary provider of electricity generation service for Humboldt County through its Community Choice Energy program.



  • Does anyone know if geothermal has any possibilities here? From what I’ve seen that seems to be the most promising alternative energy, but maybe only works in volcanic areas?

    • None for energy generation.

      • What about for heating?

        • Most ground under a house can be used as a heat sink with a heat pump to cool or preheat cold air or water a bit in climates with big temperature swings but most places don’t have potential for what you are thinking of. Places that do should, of course, put investment there.

        • Our climate is too moderate for benefit from Geothermal heating/cooling systems. Geothermal requires a large difference between the cool earth and the hot/cold surface air to help lower energy costs.

  • Thank you Schatz and Thank you RCEA.

  • And how effective will these solar panels be located at the foggiest airport in the continental US?

    • McKinleyville gets enough sun to make even rooftop PV viable.

    • And having already had many pilots complain of being blinded by the solar panels in the south, what kind of hazard does a 9 acre mirror of the sun pose to our Coast Guard helo pilots, not to mention general Aviation and commercial pilots??? Big, big, huge mistake. Stupid, stupid, stupid thing to do.

  • Wondering that too, for both planes and birds. In other parts of the state that glare has killed thousands of birds.
    Anyone from schatz reading this that could answer would be great.

    • I think the killing birds issue has not been from PVs rather from the huge concentrating mirror facilities in the desert that fry birds near the focal point. All energy production has down sides so conservation is always the best first strategy. Solar panels have toxic byproducts if made cheaply but that does not negate the fact that every sunny roof in the world should have well made ones with a stack of batteries to smooth the load.

  • Yes, let’s put the solar panels at the nation’s foggiest airport! If they were actually intended to generate power, they’d go to the Kneeland, Garberville, or Dinsmore airports, or even Fortuna. But if the main goal is to generate press releases…

  • I have never heard it called the Arcata airport. Many times the Eureka airport, sometimes the Mckinleyville airport, but never the Arcata airport.

  • Is that the same EPIC that grows grass fed protein instead of grass fed cattle?

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