Alameda County to decide whether to ‘democratize’ its energy

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In an effort to up their energy usage from renewable resources, an Alameda County steering committee may exercise a legal option allowing city governments to purchase power on behalf of their customers.

According to a city memo published Aug. 7, the committee is considering whether a Community Choice Aggregation, or CCA, program would help individual cities such as Berkeley meet the state’s regulation, which requires 33 percent of utilities’ energy to be derived from renewable resources by 2020 — in line with Berkeley’s Climate Action Plan target.

The program comes out of a provision of state Assembly Bill 117, which passed in 2002.

Marin County established a similar CCA program — the first in California — in 2008, which began serving customers in 2010. Marin Clean Energy, the agency that manages the program, has been successful at providing cleaner energy at competitive rates, according to Alex DiGiorgio, a member of the steering committee who also serves as MCE community affairs representative.

Customers of a previous CCA program in Marin County received 50 percent of their energy supply from renewable energy. That program offered residents the choice of opting out of the system in favor of their previous PG&E plan or upgrading to receive up to 100 percent of their energy from renewable sources for a small additional cost, according to DiGiorgio.

“A public agency is actually an arguably better steward of the public interest because they don’t have shareholders to whom they have to pay a dividend to,” DiGiorgio said.

MCE has offered lower rates than PG&E for the past two years. In 2014, MCE customers collectively saved about $6 million, according to DiGiorgio.

The Alameda County program could contract multiple renewable energy suppliers — ranging from local small businesses to large companies, such as Shell — to generate cleaner energy for communities from solar, wind and geothermal sources. While PG&E would no longer generate energy for those who choose to stay in the CCA program — if adopted — PG&E would continue to manage distribution, billing and other customer services.

The program could be opposed by unions who are content with previous negotiations and contracts made with PG&E, according to DiGiorgio, including the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers 1245 union.

According to the union website, IBEW 1245 represents about 12,000 PG&E employees in physical and clerical classifications.

DiGiorgio said that while the collaboration of different cities, the creation of a CCA program and the addition of new energy providers may sound like increased bureaucracy, the program might be the “democratization of the energy economy.”

The CCA program would potentially include a joint power authority, a separate entity with representatives from each participating jurisdiction that would protect local governments from financial liabilities, according to Berkeley Energy Program Manager Neal De Snoo.

De Snoo said he did not expect cities in Alameda County to be burdened with the initial capital needed to get the program started.

The committee requested a technical feasibility study at its last July meeting and anticipates the proposal will be granted by October, said Joan Diamond, a Berkeley resident who sits on the committee.

“I think about this in terms of an option and an opportunity in providing choices for consumers,” Diamond said. “Not wild west choices, but the opportunity to make informed decisions that reflect personal values.”

Contact Alexandra Yoon-Hendricks at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @ayoonhendricks.

Clarification(s):
A previous version of this article may have implied that PG&E would no longer supply any residents of Alameda County with power. In fact, PG&E would still supply power to those who choose to opt out of a potential Community Choice Aggregation.

Correction(s):
A previous version of this article described certain renewable energy options for customers as applying to a potential Community Choice Aggregation program for Alameda County. In fact, those options existed for previous programs in California, but will not necessarily be included in a program for Alameda County if it is created.

A previous version of this article attributed Alex DiGiorgio as saying local unions would be opposed to a CCA program. In fact, DiGiorgio said there was a possibility of opposition.

A previous version of this article also stated that participants in a Sonoma County CCA program automatically received 50 percent of their energy from renewable resources. In fact, these residents received 33 percent of their energy from renewable resources.