City Light testing microgrid technology at Miller Community Center

Results of Commerce-backed pilot could influence future utility strategy

City Light testing microgrid technology at Miller Community Center

City Light testing microgrid technology at Miller Community Center

Seattle City Light is exploring the potential to add microgrid technology to its list of utility offerings, starting with a pilot project to keep the lights on at Miller Community Center in Capitol Hill.

The Washington State Department of Commerce is providing $1.5 million for the project, which is coming from $12.6 million in Clean Energy Fund grants Gov. Jay Inslee announced back in 2016. SCL is investing another $1.8 million into the microgrid resiliency project.

SCL project manager Bianca Smith said the project is at 90-percent design, and can be constructed in 10-12 weeks. There is still permitting to get through, she said.

Miller Community Center was one of several centers without a backup power system that SCL considered for the project. Other criterion for choosing a pilot site included structural integrity and community benefits.

The microgrid project will include a battery energy storage system with a 200-250 kW power capacity and 750-1,000 kilowatt hours of energy capacity, kilowatt-sized solar panels and microgrid controls.

Smith said the system will provide the community center with backup power during a system outage and SCL with helpful analytics to determine future utility benefits of microgrids.

The microgrid would have the ability to disconnect from the traditional power grid and tap into its battery storage to support the community center, which is what the industry refers to as islanding. The solar panels up top will also generate power for the microgrid.

Worley and Puget Sound Solar will handle installation of the project. Puget Sound Solar senior project engineer Ella Willard said the company does a fairly even number of residential and commercial projects in the area, with new energy codes in Seattle now requiring solar arrays on buildings of a certain size. A similar statewide energy code will soon go into effect, she said, at which point she expects Puget Sound Solar to get even busier.

The Snohomish County Public Utility District has installed two battery systems in its coverage area, with another Modular Energy Storage Architecture (MESA) system on the way.

SCL and SnoPUD are working with the University of Washington’s electrical engineering department to analyze their respective systems.

“I think a couple white papers might come out of this work about what we learned,” Smith said.

Rather than building out new substations to keep up with energy demands, microgrids could become a new tool in SCL’s utility chest, Smith said.

“Utility stops at the meter, so we’re going beyond that,” she said.

Seattle Parks and Recreation, which is partnering with SCL on the Miller Community Center microgrid project, will also benefit through a net-metering offset from the solar panels.

A Dec. 9 open house provided community members with more information about the project while also seeking feedback about plans to locate the battery storage system behind the center, in an area currently used for garbage disposal. The battery will be blocked off by a non-metal fence, which could receive an artistic treatment through the 1 Percent for Art ordinance.

Maija McKnight, Seattle Office of Arts and Culture’ public art project manager, said additional funding is being provided for a total of $47,000 for a new art piece at the community center.

While an art screen is one idea for the 1 Percent for Art component, McKnight said, a commissioned art piece wouldn’t have to be physically connected to the microgrid project. The art project can either be on the community center site or have a theme related to the microgrid project. The Georgetown Steam Plant is planned to be used by a partnering nonprofit to promote STEAM education. It is currently only open to the public once a month, so the 1 Percent for Art project attached to capital facilities improvements will be in the form of a graphic novel, McKnight said.

Andrew Taylor, who has lived across from the Miller Community Center for more than 30 years, was involved in its advisory council and selecting the first 1 Percent for Art project, which was a mobile of buildings on top of the center. He said there is a second plinth on the roof, suggesting another mobile may have been considered at one point, which is one idea he suggested.

“The artwork we have out there is wonderful and timeless,” Taylor said. “It’s 20 years — it looks good as new.”

McKnight said she hopes to have a call for artists approved by Dec. 17, but it could take longer. Interested artists can look for the call to be posted at

SCL plans to start construction on the microgrid project in the first quarter of 2020, which will require a temporary closure of a portion of the north parking lot.

Those still wanting to provide feedback can send an email to