Monterey Bay Community Power Agency Hires Interim CEO, Works on Implementation Plan

Monterey Bay >> Officially formed earlier this year, the Monterey Bay Community Power agency is starting to take shape.

This week, the tri-county agency announced the hiring of its first executive officer, Pacific Grove resident and longtime utility administrator Tom Habashi, who will serve as interim CEO. Habashi, who spent the last year as CEO of the community choice power agency Silicon Valley Clean Energy as part of a 30-year career managing community-owned utilities, will oversee the creation of the local agency’s strategic implementation plan, operations, regulatory affairs, and communications and outreach. He will be paid $330,000 per year, or $27,500 per month, with a $30,000 signing bonus but no benefits.

Santa Cruz County Supervisor Bruce McPherson, who was named chairman of the agency’s policy board earlier this month, noted Habashi “brings a wealth of experience in the clean energy sector.”

“We’re confident Tom’s expertise will help (the agency) deliver on our mission of providing renewable energy while giving a boost to the local economy,” McPherson said in a prepared statement.

Habashi said in a prepared statement helping launch the state’s first tri-county community choice energy agency was an “exciting opportunity,” and looked forward to working toward the “triple goal of local choice, clean energy and economic vitality for the Monterey Bay area.”

The agency expects to begin searching for a permanent CEO by next spring.

The local community power agency, which consists of county and municipal entities from Monterey, Santa Cruz and San Benito counties, would be empowered to take over power purchase authority from PG&E, offering higher ratios of renewable energy and charging up to 750,000 customers in the region similar rates as the private utility without the corporate profit share. The difference in customer bills would be used to lower rates and pursue clean energy projects aimed at boosting local jobs and the economy. All jurisdictions in the tri-county region have signed on except Del Rey Oaks and King City.

Also this week, the Board of Supervisors on Tuesday approved a $1.36 million credit guarantee to cover the Monterey County share of the agency’s estimated $3 million start-up costs.

Meanwhile, agency officials will work to complete an implementation plan that will set out the agency’s organizational structure, rate setting and other participant costs, financing, disclosure and due process provisions in setting rates and allocating costs, identification of potential energy providers, and the like. The plan must be reviewed and approved by the state Public Utilities Commission.

The agency policy board is slated to consider the plan at an Aug. 16 special meeting to be held at 9 a.m. in the Watsonville City Council chambers, on the fourth floor of City Hall at 275 Main Street in Watsonville.

Monterey Bay Community Power Agency Hires Interim CEO, Works on Implementation Plan, by Jim Johnson, Monterey Herald, July 27, 2017.

First Solar Begins Construction on Cuyama Solar Power Facility

San Luis Obispo-based First Solar began construction of a 40 megawatt solar facility in Cuyama on July 25.

Construction is expected to provide 200 jobs and the facility will generate enough electricity to power 16,000 homes on average when it is fully operational — displacing 30,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide each year.

Peninsula Clean Energy in San Mateo County will purchase power from the facility throughout 2018, until January of 2019, when deliveries will begin on a 25-year power purchase agreement with Pacific Gas & Electric.

First Solar Begins Construction on Cuyama Solar Power Facility, by Staff, Pacific Coast Business Times, July 27, 2017.

Monterey Bay Community Power Selects CEO

WATSONVILLE — Monterey Bay Community Power (MBCP), a regional initiative among local government agencies to provide electricity to residents and businesses throughout Monterey, San Benito and Santa Cruz counties, selected Tom Habashi as interim CEO by the MBCP Policy Board.

The decision was made at the July 12 joint meeting of the Policy and Operations Boards, held in Marina. The boards have also selected Santa Cruz County Supervisor Bruce McPherson as chair of the Policy Board and Gonzales City Manager Rene Mendez as chair of the Operations Board.

Serving as MBCP’s first executive officer, Habashi will oversee and direct MBCP’s strategic plan, implementation, operations, regulatory affairs and communications and outreach.

“Tom brings a wealth of experience and leadership in the clean energy sector, most recently launching and building the Silicon Valley Clean Energy organization,” McPherson said. “We’re confident that Tom’s expertise will help MBCP deliver on our mission of providing renewable energy while giving a boost to the local economy.”

Following the Community Choice Energy model (CCE), MBCP will enable more than 750,000 residents in the tri-county region to choose clean-source power at a cost equivalent to PG&E, while retaining PG&E’s role in maintaining power lines and providing customer service. The new agency will be financially self-sustaining and will be developed at no cost to local government.

“Joining Monterey Bay Community Power is an exciting opportunity to launch California’s first tri-county CCE public agency,” Habashi said. “A tremendous effort took place for 19 jurisdictions to come together for the public good of residents and our environment. I look forward to launching a program that successfully balances the triple goal of local choice, clean energy and economic vitality for the Monterey Bay area.”

Prior to joining MBCP, Habashi served as chief executive officer at Silicon Valley Clean Energy, a community choice energy public agency serving customers in Santa Clara County. Prior to that, Habashi spent 30 years serving community-owned utilities in Burbank, Palo Alto and Roseville, where his responsibilities included managing a wide range of energy sector activities including energy acquisition, rate development, finance, supply distribution and customer programs.

The MBCP Implementation Plan will be considered for final approval at a special meeting of the MBCP Policy Board, Aug. 16 at 9 a.m. at the Watsonville City Council Chambers, 275 Main St., fourth floor.

Monterey Bay Community Power Selects CEO, by Staff, Register-Pajaronian, July 25, 2017.

Thinking Solar? Ventura County Homeowners Can Learn about Options

Although the promise of free electricity is appealing, for many Ventura County homeowners, purchasing a solar-powered system can be a daunting process.

With the variety of options on the market, many feel overwhelmed when deciding which company to work with and what equipment to install. Another major decision is whether to purchase the system outright, finance the system or enter into a power purchase agreement with a solar company, in which the homeowner buys the electricity from the system rather than buying the equipment itself.

According to the National Renewable Energy Lab, residential solar power system prices have decreased by almost 60 percent over the last six years. In determining the value of an investment in solar energy, homeowners may compare their current electricity costs to the upfront cost of a solar system, which will produce electricity for more than 25 years. In calculating the expected savings over time, homeowners may also consider the expected increase in energy costs, which may range from 1.9 percent to 6.3 percent, depending on assumptions.

In addition to the monthly savings associated with reduced electricity bills, there are also the benefits of net energy metering and the 30 percent federal tax credit to consider in the savings equation. Net energy metering is the mechanism by which customers earn credits for the electricity produced by their solar panels, not used right away, and sent back onto the grid. The homeowner can use the credits when they need electricity — for example, at night. The 30 percent federal tax credit can be applied to the total cost of the solar power system, including installation, equipment and even roofing and tree-removal in some cases.

Purchasing a solar power system often provides the most cost savings over time and also increases home values. Solar financing tools have improved in recent years, making purchasing possible for more homeowners. In comparison, a power purchase agreement can save homeowners about 20 percent each month on their electricity bills, but it is important to consider the details of the agreement, including escalator rates and early termination clauses.

Free solar workshops are being held in partnership with cities, highlighting the Solarize Ventura County group purchase discounts. Here’s the schedule of meetings:

  • Thursday: 6 p.m., Oak View Park and Resource Center, 555 Mahoney Ave., Oak View
  • Aug. 2: 6 p.m. English, 7 p.m. Spanish, city of Oxnard community room, 300 W. Third St., first floor, Oxnard
  • Aug. 16: 6 p.m., Thousand Oaks Library, 1401 E. Janss Road, Thousand Oaks.
  • Aug. 21: 6 p.m., Blanchard/Santa Paula Community Library, 119 N. Eighth St., Santa Paula
  • Aug. 22: 6 p.m., Newbury Park Branch Library, 2331 Borchard Road, Newbury Park

For more information, visit http://www.solarizeventura.org.

April Price is a renewable energy and efficiency specialist with the Community Environmental Council. For more information on Eco-Tip of the Week, contact David Goldstein, an environmental resource analyst for Ventura County’s Public Works Agency, at 658-4312 or david.goldstein@ventura.org.

Thinking Solar? Ventura County Homeowners Can Learn about Options, by April Price, Ventura County Star, July 23, 2017.

California Solar Farm Shrinks in Deal with Environmentalists

A solar project that would have erected 1.2 million shiny solar panels over four square miles of remote Central California range will be cut sharply in size, under an agreement Friday with environmental groups that are concerned about the impact to endangered wildlife.

The San Jose Mercury News reported that New York-based Con Edison Development agreed to build 130 megawatts of solar panels in San Benito County’s remote Panoche Valley. That was down from the initial plan of 399 megawatts, which would have produced enough power for roughly 65,000 homes.

Environmental groups had sued after county officials approved the project, saying the county had not done enough to protect endangered species including the San Joaquin kit fox, the giant kangaroo rat and tri-colored blackbird.

Under the new plans, Con Edison will also build a smaller solar project of no more than 117 megawatts hundreds of miles to the south, at a less environmentally sensitive site near the Mexico border.

Con Edison and the Sierra Club, Santa Clara Valley Audubon Society and Defenders of Wildlife environmental groups called their deal a victory for renewable energy and wildlife.

“As we work toward lowering carbon pollution, it’s critical that new clean energy development is not done at the expense of endangered animals and their habitat,” said Sarah Friedman, a senior representative for the Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal Campaign in Los Angeles.

County supervisors in San Benito County were not included in the settlement talks. They called themselves livid at the loss of millions in dollars in tax revenue they’d been told to expect when they approved the bigger version of the project in 2010.

“This would have generated much-needed revenue,” county Supervisor Anthony Botelho said. “All you have to do is drive down there and see the conditions of our roads. We have minimal amounts of public safety. This was going to be a big thing, but the rug was pulled out from under us.”

California Solar Farm Shrinks in Deal with Environmentalists, Associated Press, The Sacramento Bee, July 21, 2017.

Monterey Regional Airport Poised to Go Solar

Just off of a road behind the Monterey Regional Airport’s airstrip, a lone construction worker smoothes over a freshly poured concrete pad on a fenced-off sandy lot. A few feet away from him, a bundle of steel beams glitter in the sunlight.

“We’re so glad that those beams came in on time,” Airport Project Manager Chris Morello says. “We were getting nervous.”

That’s because this project, a 3-acre solar array, is on a tight timeline. Airport officials have been talking about going solar for nearly five years, and on May 28, the California Energy Commission approved a $3 million loan to the airport district. That leaves them with two months to finish the project before Aug. 1. That’s the date when Pacific Gas & Electric plans to implement a new formula for billing customers who also generate solar power.

“If we didn’t make July 31, we weren’t going to do the project,” says Airport General Manager Mike LaPier. “We’re threading a needle.”

The airport spends $280,000 a year on energy. Even though they’re closed from roughly 1am-4:30am, most lights and TSA equipment run 24/7, in keeping with federal regulations. The new solar panels, which are expected to generate nearly 1.5 million kilowatt-hours of electricity, will more than cover the airport’s electric bill. LaPier expects the airport to pay back the loan, at 1-percent interest, within 12 years.

Contractor OpTerra Energy is doing the installation on a site carefully selected to be out of the range that could distract control tower operators with glint and glare. Instead of rotating panels that track the sun – and generate more power – they’re using fixed panels, to make sure they mitigate the glare problem. Airport officials also chose to keep the project relatively small, on 3 acres of the airport’s 498 acres, because anything larger would have triggered a more extensive (and time-consuming) environmental review process.

That was one way to pick up the pace as far as securing the Energy Commission loan and getting the project built on time. But airport officials also enlisted the political muscle of Assemblyman Mark Stone, D-Scotts Valley, who helped the airport get in line for funding even after they’d already awarded all of their money for the year. “Normally we don’t push but it was so time-sensitive,” Morello says. “[Stone] helped us accelerate it.”

Monterey Regional Airport Poised to Go Solar, by Marielle Argueza, Monterey County Weekly, June 22, 2017.

Community Energy on Its Way

Tri-County CCE Coalition

May 3 was a momentous day for our region when representatives of Monterey Bay Community Power (MBCP) met as the first tri-county Community Choice Energy (CCE) agency in California. MBCP will oversee the most impactful environmental strategy local governments can take to meet established state and regional climate goals.

Elected and administrative representatives from Monterey, San Benito and Santa Cruz counties, as well as 16 cities therein, met officially in Marina to formulate an electricity deliverance system which will at least double our reliance on renewable resources (solar, wind and biomass) in the future. With a population of more than 750,000, this tri-county region stands to carry the largest electricity peak load at 660 megawatts-plus of any CCE in California.

This is a “four-win” energy efficiency program. In addition to (1) doubling our reliance on renewable energy resources, our four-year study and review of other CCEs in the state show that (2) this can be done at rate parity or less, (3) provide local governance among our 19 county-city government participants and (4) create numerous local jobs as it is implemented.

Community Energy Times Publishing Group Inc tpgonlinedaily.comForming Community Choice Energy (sometimes referred to as Community Choice Aggregation) agencies was authorized by California state legislation in 2001 and amended in 2011. The state subsequently established 2030 as the year to meet some strict climate action/strategy goals; with MBCP, we may be able to reach our goals on clean electricity production 10 years ahead of that date.

CCEs are funded through customers paying their electricity bills, not taxes. Ratepayer money stays local and being a larger, tri-county agency should drive down costs of procuring electricity.

Through my Santa Cruz County Board of Supervisors office, this effort began four years ago. Not enough praise can be made for the 15-member Project Development Advisory Committee (PDAC) who over 28 public meetings worked tirelessly in exploring program viability and structural options on whether this tri-county proposal was feasible. The answer was “yes.” Numerous staff and volunteers also were of tremendous assistance, as well as the established CCEs in Marin and Sonoma counties.

It’s also noteworthy that not one dollar of general fund money from any county or city was tapped to conduct the PDAC’s necessary Technical Feasibility Study. While some CCEs spent $700,000 or more in forming their agency, we raised more than $400,000 through the California Strategic Growth Council ($344,000), nonprofit partner Community Foundation of Santa Cruz County ($25,000), World Wildlife Fund ($30,000), UCSC Carbon Fund ($5,000), and others. Our sincere thanks to each of them.

As for PG&E, we will partner with them as they continue in transmission/distribution, repair and customer service (billing). Other special rate charges such as CARE, Medical Baseline and other programs for low-income households remain in place.

With MBCP oversight from Policy (elected officials) and Program (administrators) Committees in the months ahead, we now anticipate that our agency will be up and running in spring 2018. Next year, customers will have four chances to opt out of MBCP if they wish.

It has taken some time to establish Monterey Bay Community Power, but for environmental and economic reasons, it has been worth the wait. Clean, community energy is on its way in our tri-county region.

•••

Santa Cruz County 5th District Supervisor Bruce McPherson is interim chair of Monterey Bay Community Power.

Community Energy on Its Way, by Bruce McPherson, Aptos Times, June 12, 2017.

Improving North County: Energy Efficiency Is Everyone’s Business

Cross, Dave COLOR NEW.jpg

Dave Cross is a local land-use consultant and program manager for the Santa Barbara County Energy Watch Partnership.

Energy efficiency is just one important factor in addressing future state and local energy needs.

The necessity to review our electrical infrastructure is essential. If we don’t prepare now, we could risk energy shortages and disruptions down the road.

The main electrical grid system that serves California and brings power to our Central Coast is impressive and complex, but it faces increasing stress. The pressure grows with population and development. New technology, appliances and other devices require electricity to operate, and more vehicles are requiring electric charging. California will soon be losing Diablo Canyon’s energy input, which will add strain to the grid.

A comprehensive approach is required to solve tomorrow’s energy needs. Reducing energy use and creating additional opportunities for renewable resources, such as solar, is part of it. It also involves innovative building construction that results in zero-net energy use. Energy storage units and other technology are already being used. Municipalities can also be proactive in developing micro grids and smart technology.

The cost factor for energy use by residents, businesses and municipalities cannot be overlooked. Simply put, reducing energy use saves money. It not only saves for today, but it continues to save every time the utility bill comes due.

A good first step in reducing energy and having immediate savings is accomplished by upgrading your lighting to LEDs. Other savings can be derived from reducing the amount of heating and air conditioning and by reducing water use, which requires gas to heat.

Renewable energy production is important. Solar is becoming more practical and cost effective. Wind has been used for a long time, and there are other methods being developed. Until these alternative resources become more feasibly prevalent, fossil fuels will dominate energy production in California.

Energy storage units can be used on a small and large scale. These units store energy like a battery. They are charged during the time of day when energy is cheaper and more prevalent, and they kick in during peak hours when energy is less available and costlier.

When it comes to future building and development, California is heading toward zero-net energy use. This means buildings would mitigate energy use by innovative architecture and incorporating onsite renewables.

On the municipal side, local governments should look at the feasibility of mini-grids, grid districts and smart grids. These could be self-sustaining and can disconnect from the main grid when necessary and operate on their own. This means that should the main, centralized grid go down in an outage, the mini-grid system takes over. Also, during peak hours, energy storage kicks in and reduces pressure on the entire system.

An example of using a smart grid would be street lighting that can be selectively dimmed during certain times of the night, or turned off where there is no activity, but can be motion-sensitive. For public safety, brightness can be doubled in areas where a police or fire response is called in.

Today, local municipalities consider zoning, development and growth when preparing for the future. Comprehensive energy planning should also be a priority. It affects everyone. Every person, home, business and building uses energy. It is time to become more proactive in addressing energy use in our cities and communities.

The Santa Barbara County Energy Watch Partnership — funded by PG&E and So Cal Gas, and administered by the Santa Maria Valley Chamber of Commerce — provides programs for commercial and municipal upgrades. It also assists municipalities in reaching out to spread the message to everyone that energy efficiency and sustainability are everyone’s business.

Improving North County: Energy Efficiency Is Everyone’s Business, by Dave Cross, Santa Maria Times, July 7, 2017.

Agency to Study Oxnard Power Plant Alternatives

The manager of California’s electricity grid agreed to conduct a study of clean energy alternatives to replacing an existing natural gas facility in Oxnard with a new, more efficient fossil fuel plant.

In a five-page filing with state regulators on Friday, the California Independent System Operator asked for a deadline of Aug. 16 to complete the project. The California Energy Commission had initially given the system operator until July 19, if it chose to do the review of alternatives to the proposed Puente natural gas project near Mandalay State Beach.

Commissioners have scheduled a hearing for June 28.

The system operator’s decision to study the alternatives follows hundreds of filings over the past week from residents near the power plant site, many urging the energy commission to reject any plan to build a new natural gas plant in the already heavily industrialized community.

A similar review is underway by the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power, which is deciding whether to spend $2.2 billion to renovate existing power plants in the L.A. basin or use clean energy to meet demand. That study is expected to be completed in the first quarter of 2018.

The studies mean that a handful of proposed fossil fuel plants could get scrapped in favor of renewable energy.

A Los Angeles Times investigation earlier this year found that power plants are closing prematurely in the state because of a glut of electricity. Yet regulators continue to approve more natural gas plants.

Members of the electricity grid operator’s board of governors decided in May to propose a study of clean alternatives to the proposed Puente natural gas plant.

California has mandated that 50% of its electricity must come from clean energy sources such as solar and wind power by 2030. Senate Leader Kevin de Leon has proposed legislation to move to 100% clean energy by 2045.

Critics of the proposed natural gas projects argue that adding more fossil fuel facilities doesn’t make sense when solar, wind and energy storage have become viable alternatives to plants that emit greenhouse gases.

Agency to Study Oxnard Power Plant AlternativesVentura County Star, June 17, 2017.

 

Santa Barbara County Energy Choice Forum

On June 7, 2017, Santa Barbara County Energy Choice held a Community Choice Energy forum at Faulkner Gallery in the Santa Barbara Public Library.

This free public event was hosted by Santa Barbara Energy Choice and included the following speakers,

Cathy DeFalco from Lancaster Choice Energy, J.R Killigrew from Marin Clean Energy, Joe Galliani from South Bay Clean Power Advisory Committee, Jennifer Cregar from the County of Santa Barbara, and Gary Gero from the County of Los Angeles.

Please click here to check out videos and materials presented during the forum.