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Community Choice Aggregation Featured Topic at Central Coast Bioneers Conference

Ecologistics Inc. will host a presentation on Oct. 20

Many people believe that community choice aggregation (CCA) is an idea whose time has come for the Central Coast. To encourage the conversation, at 2 p.m. Oct. 20, Ecologistics Inc. will host a presentation on CCA as part of the Central Coast Bioneers Conference in San Luis Obispo.

The panel will include Shawn Marshall, founder and executive director of Lean Energy U.S.; Paul Fenn, the author of AB 117, California’s CCA law; Lane Sharman, co-founder of the San Diego Energy District & Foundation; and Andrew Christie, chapter director of the Santa Lucia Chapter of the Sierra Club.

Personal letters of invitation to attend the workshop were mailed to 175 leaders from San Luis Obispo, Monterey and Santa Barbara counties and 23 cities within those counties.

What Is CCA?

Established by law in six states to date, including California, community choice aggregation is a market-based tool that enables cities and counties to pool the energy demands of the residences and businesses in their jurisdictions to purchase or develop power on their behalves. Communities who want to increase the amount of non-polluting, renewable energy they use are looking at CCA as a mechanism for doing so.

In May 2010, Marin County became the first community to create a CCA for its citizens. The Marin Energy Authority is a nonprofit public agency that includes the County of Marin and all of its cities and towns, which together oversee the county’s clean energy program. Its board is made up of representatives of the cities of Belvedere, Larkspur, Mill Valley, Novato, San Rafael and Sausalito, the towns of Corte Madera, Fairfax, Ross, San Anselmo and Tiburon, and the County of Marin.

How Does CCA Work?

Unlike a municipal utility, a CCA does not own the transmission and delivery systems. Instead, the CCA is responsible for providing energy to its citizens and choosing the source and price of that energy. As an example, Marin Clean Energy partners with Pacific Gas & Electric to deliver electricity and maintain the power lines. PG&E reads the electricity meters, issues monthly bills, and provides maintenance and repair services as it always has.

Marin Clean Energy offers two programs to its customers. “Light Green” electricity is 50 percent renewable, more than twice what was otherwise available to customers in Marin. “Deep Green” electricity is 100 percent renewable energy and costs 1 penny more per kilowatt-hour. Inclusion in the CCA is not required, and households and businesses can opt out and have the local utility company continue providing their power. As of July 16, the Pacific Sun News reports that 80 percent of Marin County had switched from PG&E to Marin Clean Energy.

Even more exciting is the potential for CCAs to develop their own generation projects that not only increase local employment, but increase the resiliency of the community to outside power disruptions and economic turmoil. Marin Clean Energy has signed contracts for more than 45 megawatts of new solar to be built in California in 2012, including a solar project at the San Rafael Airport.

The airport project is being built by Synapse Electricity, a Muir Beach-based company, and will create 25 jobs during the construction phase. The project will provide enough energy to power 280 homes per year.  Marin Clean Energy has also contracted for new biogas projects in Yuba and Solano counties.

How Much Does Clean Energy Cost?

Marin Clean Energy reports that as of July 1, most residential customers pay $3.85 more per month for the Light Green package. Commercial customers pay an average of $3.31 per month less in the summer and $4.12 more in the winter.

Here is a comparison of average monthly bills for July as reported by the Pacific Sun News:

» Residential customers of PG&E (20 percent renewable energy): $89.66

» Residential customers of MCE (50 percent renewable energy): $93.51

» Residential customers of MCE (100 percent renewable): $98.91

The average commercial customer uses 1,312 kilowatt-hours of energy during a summer month. Commercial customers will pay 91 cents less than a PG&E customer for Light Green (50 percent renewable) energy and $12.21 more than a PG&E customer for Deep Green (100 percent renewable) energy.

Risk-Benefit Analysis

In its publication “Community Choice Aggregation,” the Local Government Commission sets forth issues that a community will need to consider before making the jump to a CCA. Besides the obvious benefit realized by reducing greenhouse gas emissions, the LGC also points out that the development of local generation projects would provide jobs and create income to offset municipal expenditures. Even more importantly, feasibility studies indicate that over time, CCAs should be able to reduce electricity rates compared with investor-owned utilities (such as PG&E) because of the higher costs of private financing.

In a pilot project funded by the California Energy Commission, CCA capital costs were about 5.5 percent compared with 12.9 percent for investor-owned utilities. The biggest risk given by the LGC in choosing to establish a CCA, however, is the possibility that CCA rates may be higher than utility rates. This risk can be mitigated by well-managed power purchasing and development.

Click here for more information about the CCA panel. Registration and more information about the Central Coast Bioneers Conference can be found by clicking here or calling 805.548.0597.

— Stacey Hunt represents Central Coast Bioneers.

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