Community Choice Energy CEOs share experience with Davis

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Davis Enterprise, by Dave Ryan, April 24, 2015 |
 For Community Choice Energy program members in Marin, Sonoma, Contra Costa and Napa Counties, it can be lonely out there.

Intermittent threats from the legislature happen when bills pushed by Pacific Gas & Electric-supported groups seek to sidestep rules that prohibit investor-owned utilities like PG&E from directly taking on CCEs and make it harder for CCEs to form, expand and do business.

What’s a program that pushes more green energy generation and local control of energy selection to do? Help other communities become CCEs or become part of existing CCEs to make the programs more numerous and therefore raise their profile. Hopefully, the theory goes, the legislature will be even more supportive that way.

That was the stated goal of two CEOs who addressed a community forum on the subject of CCEs Thursday night at Community Chambers. An audience of roughly 70-80 people listened as top representatives of Sonoma Clean Power and Marin Clean Energy talked about their operations and answered questions about how CCEs work.

Local control was a big part of it, said Geof Syphers, CEO of Sonoma Clean Power. The way things work now with PG&E, it can be arduous for everyday people to have their voices heard.

“It can be a long drive to San Francisco to raise a stink about (utility) rates and you have to hire a $450-an-hour attorney to do so.”

But so is environmental stewardship, long a key motivating factor for groups in Davis discussing ways to improve local control of power since — by some accounts — 1997.

Under a CCE, PG&E still handles the billing and turns the power on and off when you move as well as maintains the power lines, owns the utility infrastructure and handles outage issues. But the CCE picks power sources and can boost renewable energy production.

Alan Pryor, a member of both the city’s Natural Resources Commission and chair of the newly formed Community Choice Energy Advisory Committee, said cleaner energy, consumer choice, competitive pricing and local control were in alignment with city goals, including the city’s climate action plan.

The city had in 2013 diverted its investigation of CCEs to pursue a path toward a publicly owned utility under former city manager Steve Pinkerton’s leadership.

But under criticism for the expense and appearance of overreach during a time when the city was asking for a sales tax increase and under fire over a proposed water rate structure, the council eventually voted to table the discussion.

What later emerged this year was a return to investigating a CCE, which unlike a publicly owned utility, won’t face a direct attack from PG&E by law or an almost inevitable long, expensive court battle.

Syphers and Marin Clean Energy CEO Dawn Weisz detailed various Bay Area and California renewable energy projects the two CCEs either had a hand in building or were scheduled to come online soon, illustrating the power of CCEs to encourage the growth of renewable energy statewide.

Yet Syphers pointed out that PG&E, is one of the cleanest investor-owned utilities in the nation, but it can’t match even the most basic programs of the two CCEs, which deliver about 50 percent renewable energy to their customers at a discount of a few percent compared to PG&E rates.

Weisz said Marin Clean Energy had $5.9 million in customer savings in 2014 and has committed hundreds of millions of dollars to new California-built renewable energy projects like solar, biomass and geothermal energy. So far her program figures 59,421 tons of greenhouse gas reductions.

“We’re going to be able to use a lot of local job training, local labor to do that,” she said.

Both CCEs offer programs that cost slightly more than PG&E rates that offer 100 percent renewable energy sources to the customer.

A question that arose at the forum was whether Davis could form a CCE on its own or needed to join an existing program. Syphers said his “gut check” was that Davis was too small to go it alone.

“I want to encourage you to think big,” Syphers said. “This is an incredible opportunity and the time is good for it.”

— Reach Dave Ryan at dryan@davisenterprise.net. Follow him on Twitter at @davewritesnews

Marin Clean Energy:  Background and Current Status

MCE was created in December 2008, following six years of study and development, and service was launched to customers on May 7, 2010, as California’s first Communit y Choice Aggregation program. MCE’s service area includes all of Marin County as well as the City of Richmond. Marin County includes Belvedere, Corte Madera, Fairfax, Larkspur, Mill Valley, Novato, Ross, San Anselmo, San Rafael, Sausalito, Tiburon, and the County of Marin. The County of Marin also includes unincorporated areas located outside of the boundaries of any of Marin County’s 11 cities and towns. MCE currently provide renewable energy for about 125,000 customers—approximately 75% of all electric customers in Marin and Richmond.

Revenue and Rates

MCE is funded by revenue it receives from their customers based on the electricity they use. MCE offers a cleaner, more sustainable energy product with many of the same rate schedules as PG&E. Following are the classes of electrical power service offered by MCE and comparison of Residential and Commercial rates

Types of Power Offered

Light Green is MCE’s default electricity service offering, so customers automatically start with Light Green. Light Green is 50% renewable: more than twice the renewable energy than is otherwise available to customers from PG&E.

Deep Green is 100% renewable energy and costs just a penny more per kilowatt-hour than our Light Green rates —or about $5 more per month for the average home and $13 more per month for the average businesscustomer

Sol Shares electricity is 100% new, local solar energy offering, and is currently limited to 200 customers. The cost is directly tied to the rates paid through MCE’s Feed-In Tariff program, providing guaranteed, long-term rate stability

Residential Rate Comparison

Percentage Change from PG&E

Light Green –  2.4%

Deep Green –  + 3.4%

Local Solar –  + 34.5%

Commercial Rate Comparison

Percentage Change from PG&E

Light Green –  3.0%

Deep Green –  + 3.1%

Local Solar –  + 44.9.5%

Local Energy Projects Constructed or Planned with Standard Feed In Tariff Contracts

San Rafael Airport: 972 kWh

Airports have a ton of roof space to spare, so why not convert them into solar surfaces? MCE’s best-in-California Feed-In Tariff program was behind our recent agreement with the San Rafael Airport to build a 972 kilowatt rooftop solar project—the largest solar installation in Marin County, made possible by ratepayer revenues that are invested in community benefit projects. Nearly 5,000 solar panels are now mounted on 48 aircraft hangar rooftops, providing enough energy to power 1,200 homes for the next 20 years when the sun is shining at its brightest!

As a model of business working to create local green jobs, Synapse Electric hired 20 workers, identified by the Marin City Community Development Corporation and CLP Resources, to install the panels. Following the installation, Synapse ended up hiring three new locally-based, full-time employees to continue helping with other projects. San Rafael-based REP Energy designed the installation, and the REC Group manufactured 85 percent of the solar panels, which are American-made. Power-One supplied all of the inverters, which are also American-made.

The project was financed locally by the Bank of Marin and businessman Joe Shekou.

Novato Solar Carport Shade Structure: 1 MW

MCE has partnered with a nonprofit organization in Novato to build a 1-megawatt, solar-shaded parking structure. The structure will be built on an existing employee parking lot and will transform a heat-absorbing parking area into an efficient and beautiful solar power project creating clean electricity for MCE customers. The project is expected to be completed by August 2015.

Richmond Port Solar Rooftop and Carport Shade Structure: 1-3 MW

A land lease is currently being finalized with the City of Richmond to add solar to an existing parking structure at the Richmond Port. The project would initially be built at 1 MW and could grow to 3 MW in future construction phases. The first phase of the project is expected to be completed by December 2015.

Waste to Energy at Novato Landfill: 4 MW

MCE is currently negotiating a power purchase agreement with the Novato Landfill to capture methane gas from the landfill and turn it into renewable energy. The project is expected to be completed by April 2016.

Richmond Brownfield Ground Mount Solar: 1-3 MW

A land lease is currently being finalized with the City of Richmond to build a 1-3 MW ground mount solar project on a brownfield site in Richmond. Due to former industrial use at the site, future use is affected by environmental contamination, making it an ideal site for ground mounted solar. The project is expected to be completed by August 2016.

Staffing –

MCE’s website identifies 18 Staff. It is uncertain how many are full time or part time. At least 2 are known to be part-time consultants.

Sonoma Clean Power: Background and Current Status

SCP was created and service launched in 2013, following 2 years of study and development. It is California’s 2nd Community Choice Aggregation program. SCP’s service area includes the cities of Windsor, Cotati, Sebastopol, Santa Rosa, Sonoma, Cloverdale and all of the County unincorporated areas have decided to participate. The cities of Petaluma and Rohnert Park may vote on allowing their residents and businesses to participate later in 2014.

Revenue and Rates

SCP is funded by revenue it receives from their customers based on the electricity they use. Following are the classes of electrical power service offered by SCP and comparison of Residential and Commercial rates

Types of Power Offered

SCP’s default CleanStart power that has 33 percent from renewable sources.

Qualifying renewable sources (wind, solar, geothermal, biomass, etc.):         33%

Large hydropower (also carbon free):                                                             37%

General systems power (primarily natural gas):                                              30%

SCP has purchased 10 MW of local geothermal power from the Calpine Geysers facility in Northern Sonoma and Southern Lake Counties.

They also offer EverGreen electricity which is 100% local renewable resources

Residential Rate Comparison

Percentage Change from PG&E

Clean Start –  4.6%

EverGreen –  + 12.7%

Commercial Rate Comparison

 Percentage Change from PG&E

Clean Start –  5.3%

EverGreen –  + 11.9%

Staffing

MCE’s website identifies 9 Staff. It is uncertain how many are full time or part time.

Planning Documents

The following documents (including their feasibility study, implementation plan, and JPA Agreement) are available online at https://sonomacleanpower.org/about-scp/.

SCP Resource Plan Draft v.2 (Posted 08/28/14)

Joint Powers Agreement – Second Amended & Restated (Posted 07/25/13)

Final CCA Implementation Plan (Posted 08/26/13)

Draft Implementation Plan Executive Summary (Posted 12/18/12)

CCA Feasibility Study (Posted 10/13/11)

Residential Survey for Planning

Commercial Survey for Planning

Residential Focus Group Summary

Commercial In-Depth Interviews