What Electricity Choices Could Look Like

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You might have heard about CleanPowerSF in the news recently. KCBS reports that, “for nine years, the city has been trying to come up with a renewable energy program where people can buy their power from a provider other than PG&E.”

It’s a program that would allow San Franciscans to choose where their electricity comes from. This model of power purchasing is called Community Choice Aggregation (CCA). It allows cities and counties to become electric service providers to their residents.

CCAs are meant to make it easier for communities to purchase renewable energy. But recently the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission voted to table CleanPowerSF. The program is stalled over labor disputes and questions about the financial risks. Which means after more than a decade, there’s still just one functioning CCA in California: Marin Clean Energy (MCE). In July, Richmond became the latest city to sign on to Marin’s program.

Energy options

Mike Parker just joined MCE. He and his wife live in a small three-bedroom house on top of a hill in Point Richmond. Every morning, before he heads to work he does what many of us do: makes coffee and breakfast, showers, and dresses. All those activities use energy. And this is where things for Parker are a little different.

Walking down the spiral stairs from his living room into a small dark closet, Parker shows me a monitor — it’s watching his solar energy system. “It basically tells us how things are going,” he says. “This is the thing which actually gathers information from the solar panels and feeds it into the computer.”

The solar panels on Parker’s roof provide most of the electricity needed to power his 1,800 square-foot home. Usually, the rest of it would come from PG&E, but since MCE expanded its service territory to Richmond, they have another option.

“We don’t cheat ourselves but where we can cut back, we do that,” he says. “We think that’s the most important thing and then after that the next thing is what is the source of the electricity and energy that you use.”

How do CCAs work?

We may not typically think that hard about how electricity reaches our homes. For most of us in the Bay Area it all comes the same way: through PG&E. The company sends us power from a blend of sources: mostly natural gas, nuclear, and large hydroelectric, plus about 19% from renewables. For a long time, its portfolio was the only one available. Then in 2002, the legislature passed a bill known as AB 117 — Community Choice Aggregation (CCA).

“Basically it enables local communities to come together and purchase renewable energy and sell it competitively within their service area,” says Jamie Tuckey, the communications director for MCE —  the state’s only functioning CCA.

Unlike an investor-owned utility — that’s what PG&E is — MCE is a not-for-profit government agency. So its revenue goes back into a reserve to fund more local renewable energy projects. Now, PG&E still owns all the infrastructure — the lines and poles that make our light switches work. But the community has more control over where the power that runs through those lines is sourced.

“Right now we have contracts with 11 different suppliers for more than 15 different power projects that are being built for our customers,” says Tuckey. “So we take care of making sure that there’s enough electricity being put on the grid for our customers and that’s separate from PG&E.”

If you’re enrolled in MCE’s program you still get  a bill from PG&E — but you’ll see a line-item that reads, “MCE electric generation charge.” MCE offers two different energy packages, called  Light Green and Deep Green. Deep Green is 100% renewables, Light Green is 50%, both mostly wind power.

About 99% of MCE customers choose the Light Green option — not exclusively renewables, but still more than twice as much as what they’d get from PG&E. Residents and businesses in the covered area have a choice: pay a little extra for a MCE Package, or opt out and continue as a PG&E customer. A Light Green bill is about $1 higher than what’s average for PG&E; a Deep Green bill is about $6 higher.

To learn more about energy choice, view the ACCES what is choice? webpage and begin shopping for your energy!

View this News Release (external link)
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