Riverside County Takes the next Step Toward Buying Electricity for Residents

A divided Riverside County Board of Supervisors voted Tuesday, Nov. 14, to take the next step in a process that could put the county in the power-buying business.

The 3-2 vote – supervisors Kevin Jeffries and Chuck Washington were opposed – allows county officials to submit a Community Choice Aggregation plan to the California Public Utilities Commission.

If the commission approves the plan, the county could start buying electricity at discounted rates for customers in unincorporated communities by next year. The county’s goal is to lower residents’ power bills and encourage economic development by offering cheaper power to businesses.

A feasibility study found aggregation could save the average customer 9 percent on electricity. Six California communities use aggregation through a process set up by state legislation in 2002.

Residents served by aggregation would continue to be billed for their use of electricity. The current power provider, Southern California Edison, would still maintain the grid.

Customers would be able to opt-out of aggregation if they wanted to stay with Edison, although missing a deadline to make that choice could incur a financial penalty.

The county has spent $250,000 to date pursuing aggregation, including hiring two private firms to write the implementation plan. Aggregation’s startup costs are estimated at $1.7 million with operational costs projected to be $1.67 million a year.

Tuesday’s vote doesn’t spend more money or commit the county to pursuing aggregation. Whether the county forges ahead could depend on the exit fee payable to Edison.

The commission, which sets the fee, could change how the fee is calculated. “If the changes negate the opportunity for ratepayer savings, then we will most likely not go forward with (aggregation),” Deputy County Executive Officer Brian Nestande said after Tuesday’s meeting.

Jeffries said the exit fee is “the only thing that is holding me up from continuing down this path.”

“It is a gamble,” Jeffries said. “It is risky to take our taxpayer funds and put it in something knowing that there’s a decision point coming up in seven or eight months that could throw all this out.”

Washington sounded skeptical about how much residents will save through aggregation.

“The estimates on the savings are high (and) estimates on costs are low,” he said. “I think that this approach we’ve taken is not thoroughly vetted and I don’t believe it serves the county as a whole.”

Supervisor Marion Ashley argued for taking the next step in the aggregation process. “Let’s get to that decision point and then make a decision,” he said.

In addition to Riverside County, the Western Riverside Council of Governments also is looking into aggregation and has developed a business plan for a program called Western Community Energy.

Talks with cities to gauge their interest are ongoing, said Jennifer Ward, the council’s director of government relations. The council hopes to move ahead with aggregation for five or six cities starting late next summer, she added.

Riverside County Takes the next Step Toward Buying Electricity for Residents, by Jeff Horseman, The Press-Enterprise, November 15, 2017.

Say Goodbye to Southern California Edison? Coachella Valley Eyes New Electricity Providers

Riverside County residents may soon be able to buy electricity from a government-run energy program, at lower rates than those offered by Southern California Edison — depending on what state regulators decide next summer.

The county’s board of supervisors voted Tuesday to submit a plan to state officials to start a community choice aggregator, or CCA, in which the county would buy electricity for residents and decide how much to charge. The program would cover unincorporated areas now served by SoCal Edison, including North Palm Springs and Snow Creek in the Coachella Valley. Palm Springs and Cathedral City are working to form their own CCA, with Palm Desert’s city council recently voting to join and a vote scheduled in Desert Hot Springs next week. Rancho Mirage is also developing its own program.

Community choice is an increasingly popular option for cities and counties looking to lower their electric bills and increase their reliance on climate-friendly energy sources like solar and wind. There are nine CCAs now operating in California, from Lancaster Choice Energy in the desert to Sonoma Clean Power north of the Bay Area. Investor-owned utilities like Edison and Pacific Gas & Electric still run the power lines that serve CCA customers and sometimes send out the bills, but they don’t play any other role.

Local officials hope to promote the growth of solar power, both on rooftops and through bigger solar plants. They think they can offer rates at least as low as Edison’s in large part because of the region’s abundant sunshine and the falling costs of solar power.

“We fully envision having a 100 percent renewable option, so people can opt up to 100 percent percent renewable if they want to. And that kind of goes along with the benefit of CCAs in general. It’s providing a choice,” said Isaiah Hagerman, director of administrative services for Rancho Mirage. “Before you had none, you were with Southern California Edison. Now you have a choice.”

study prepared last year by EES Consulting found that a community choice program run by the Coachella Valley Association of Governments could offer a 50 percent renewable energy mix while cutting electricity costs by 2.1 percent in 2018. Riverside County’s proposed CCA would save the average home between $50 and $55 annually, according to Good Energy, a consultant the county has hired to run its energy program.

But the California Public Utilities Commission could still throw a wrench in the works.

CCA customers are required to make a monthly payment known as the “exit fee” to their former investor-owned utility. Edison and other utilities sign long-term power contracts based on the amount of electricity they expect they’ll need to provide to their customers, and when they lose customers, suddenly they don’t need some of that power. State regulators allow investor-owned utilities to charge CCA customers for some of that contracted energy, so the utilities don’t have to raise rates for their remaining customers.

But Edison, PG&E and San Diego Gas & Electric don’t like how the exit fee is currently calculated. They think the formula doesn’t allow them to recover enough of their costs. In June, the public utilities commission opened a rulemaking process to reconsider the exit fee formula, with a timeline that calls for making a decision by July 2018.

In a filing to the utilities commission earlier this year, Edison, PG&E and SDG&E said the exit fee formula “is not fair, just, or reasonable” to their customers.

“The current methodology is broken and must be fundamentally reformed to prevent cost increases to (remaining) customers,” the investor-owned utilities wrote.

Say Goodbye to Southern California Edison? Coachella Valley Eyes New Electricity Providers, by Sammy Roth, The Desert Sun, November 14, 2017.

Solar Alliance to Build Project for California Cannabis Grower

Solar provider Solar Alliance Energy Inc. has signed an agreement with Coachella Brands Inc. for the design and construction of a 600 kW ground-mounted solar project at a new legal cannabis growing and processing facility in California.

Solar Alliance says its engineering team analyzed Coachella’s requirements and designed a system that will offset a large portion of the facility’s electricity needs with lower-cost renewable energy.

“It has been estimated that one percent of America’s electricity generation is used by cannabis growers, a very significant figure given growth projections. The signing of this commercial solar project agreement with Coachella Brands provides an entry into an extremely attractive and developing market with an aggressive growth curve,” says Jason Bak, chairman and CEO of Solar Alliance.

“The rapidly growing cannabis industry is energy intensive, and the current power infrastructure is not yet sufficient to supply demand in many areas,” he adds. “By removing power as the constraint to growth and offering financing products tailored to the industry, we are planning to have Solar Alliance become the solar provider of choice for cannabis facilities.”

Solar Alliance says the next stage in the project’s development is to complete a final feasibility study, which will consist of system design, grid interconnection/utility meter connection point, construction and technical requirements, permitting requirements, safety requirements and any additional modifications required to support the project. The preliminary schedule for the project anticipates construction commencing in January 2018.

Solar Alliance to Build Project for California Cannabis Grower, by Joseph Bebon, Solar Industry, October 30, 2017.

Board Prepares to Move Ahead with Energy Purchasing Plan

RIVERSIDE COUNTY, CA — A divided Board of Supervisors Tuesday tentatively scheduled a Nov. 7 public hearing to weigh the pros and cons of creating a “Community Choice Aggregation” system under which Riverside County would purchase electricity on the open market, competing with utilities to deliver power to residents in unincorporated communities at, ideally, lower prices.

In a 3-2 vote, with Supervisors Kevin Jeffries and Chuck Washington opposed, the board took the next major step toward submitting a plan to the California Public Utilities Commission seeking to create a CCA that would offer residents an alternative to Southern California Edison.

Jeffries said he was uncomfortable committing to the enterprise out of concern the county would have trouble justifying the eventual expenditure of $1.7 million in startup costs, as contentious contract talks drag on with multiple unions.

“This seems a bit risky,” the supervisor said. “I say we let the public utilities commission make a a decision first before we start spending tax dollars we don’t have today.”

Supervisor Marion Ashley acknowledged that he, too, was worried about committing revenue without knowing all the details and future risks, but felt it was important to “keep going through the process” and laying the groundwork for a debate during the initial public hearing.

County Legislative Affairs Director Brian Nestande assured the board that the $250,000 expended to date on the CCA concept would be the final financial commitment until the CPUC completes a review of the board’s proposal, which could take up to three months.

“Studies and surveys show our electricity rates in California are some of the highest in the nation,” Nestande said. “This is a tool to bring rates down for residents and businesses.”

He noted that there are six CCAs in operation statewide, and both the Coachella Valley Association of Governments and the Western Riverside Council of Governments are on track with proposals of their own.

“We have an opportunity for reducing costs to residents,” Nestande said.

A summary report on the downside risks to starting a CCA, which would function similar to a municipally owned utility, indicated that CCA opt-outs could be costly.

Under the CCA structure, residents and business owners in unincorporated areas would be notified that they would be part of the county electricity distribution program unless they opted out. If enough people stay in, the program would be cost-neutral to the county. However, if people begin flocking back to SCE after the county has sealed futures contracts to procure power, the program could run into the red, according to the report.

The county would additionally have to employee people to operate the CCA, increasing outlays for salaries and benefits.

New York City-based Good Energy and Oakland-based Keyes, Fox & Wiedman created an implementation plan and model ordinance detailing how the prospective CCA would work.

Nestande introduced the CCA concept in January 2016, which culminated in the hiring of Good Energy.

The company’s research suggested that by converting to a publicly-run energy program, residents could net a total $7.75 million in annual savings on electricity costs — or about 9 percent off each resident’s power bill in the unincorporated communities. The study also indicated that commercial customers could shave up to 10 percent off their bills, though figures tended to fluctuate depending on the nature of the enterprise.

According to the study, the county would have the opportunity to tap a variety of energy sources for delivery to customers, making block purchases at preferred rates.

In addition to California, CCAs have sprouted in parts of Illinois, Massachusetts, New York and Ohio.

In Riverside County, Good Energy mainly examined the service delivery and costs borne by SCE customers.

Households consumed the highest volume of electricity — 34 percent — followed by large industrial operations at 28 percent. The cumulative total electricity used in the unincorporated areas came to 2.1 billion kilowatt-hours in 2015, according to Good Energy.

The study found that shifting to a market-driven purchasing plan under a CCA would result in “clear savings” to a high number of customers. However, utility rate structures that rely on “load factor” to determine a customer’s monthly bill might be more beneficial to some electricity consumers who tend to need greater wattage.

Ratepayers currently served by municipalities with their own utility companies, like the city of Riverside, would not be able to participate in the CCA.

Board Prepares to Move Ahead with Energy Purchasing Plan, by Staff, Patch, October 25, 2017.

Here’s Why Riverside County Could Decide to Buy Electricity for Unincorporated Areas

Providing cheaper power to parts of Riverside County is the goal of a program being considered by the county Board of Supervisors on Tuesday, Oct. 24.

The board is scheduled to vote on whether to take the next step toward Community Choice Aggregation, which would allow the county to buy electricity from power providers for use by residents and businesses in the county’s unincorporated communities.

Customers in unincorporated areas would continue to be billed for their power usage.

If the board agrees, a public hearing on the aggregation plan would take place Nov. 7, after which the board could vote to press on with aggregation or abandon the idea.

Officials said aggregation could save residential customers an average of 9 percent on their power bills, and cheaper electricity could lure business to the county.  Before his death in December, Supervisor John Benoit suggested local wind and solar energy providers could benefit through aggregation by selling their electricity to the county.

Customers served by aggregation would be able to opt-out and continue to receive power through Southern California Edison. But there could be a financial penalty if a customer waits too long to opt-out.

Edison would still be responsible for maintenance and responding to outages if the county moves forward with aggregation, according to a county staff report. The county’s plan does not involve building or buying power plants or utility lines.

Aggregation has been on the county’s drawing board since 2015. Planning efforts have cost $250,000 to date and startup costs could be $1.7 million, with staffing and operational costs estimated at $1.67 million a year.

Before it can buy power, the county would need approval from the California Public Utilities Commission. One issue needing resolution would be the size of the exit fee charged by Edison.

“The current exit fees are used to determine the projected savings,” a county staff report read. “However, (the commission) might allow for larger exit fees in the future thereby wiping out potential savings.”

Startup and exit fees would be passed along to customers served by aggregation.

Another risk is a large number of customers opting out, according to the report. “As customers leave the cost increases for the remaining customers,” the report read. “If the (aggregation program) completely folds then the county is responsible for the energy contracts.”

That said, officials believe aggregation is worth the risks, noting at least six aggregation programs have operated in California for years.

“Prices have constantly dropped over the last five years and the percent of customers opting out is small,” the report read.

PUBLIC MEETING

The Riverside County Board of Supervisors will decide whether to schedule a public hearing, and later vote, on a plan to provide electricity to the county’s unincorporated areas through a concept called Community Choice Aggregation.

When: 9 a.m. Tuesday, Oct. 24.

Where: First-floor board chambers, County Administrative Center, 4080 Lemon St., Riverside.

Here’s Why Riverside County Could Decide to Buy Electricity for Unincorporated Areas, by Jeff Horseman, The Press-Enterprise, October 23, 2017.

 

UC Riverside No. 2 Systemwide for Renewable Energy

UC Riverside is serious about its zero carbon footprint goal.

For the past month UC Riverside has been installing more than 9,600 solar panels in two campus parking lots, a 4.3 megawatt project that puts UC Riverside in the number two spot — at the UC systemwide level — for on-site renewable energy, just behind UC Davis.

The solar panels installed at parking lots 30 and 32, located at the intersection of Martin Luther King Boulevard and Canyon Crest Drive, are part of UC Riverside’s zero carbon footprint goal under the Carbon Neutrality Initiative launched by UC President Janet Napolitano four years ago. The initiative commits UC to emitting net zero greenhouse gases from its buildings and vehicle fleet by 2025.

“This project demonstrates UC Riverside’s commitment to being cleaner and greener as a campus,” said UC Riverside Chancellor Kim A. Wilcox. “Every solar panel we install is another victory in the fight against global warming and a step toward achieving our goal of carbon neutrality.”

The construction project, built and fully financed by SunPower, is expected to cost $14.4 million. UC Riverside does not own the solar canopies, and will purchase the generated electricity from SunPower.

The graphic shows how solar energy is converted into electricity. Credit: UC Riverside

“This is the most effective solution for the campus to reach its carbon neutrality standard,” said Nathan Griset, director of sales for SunPower.

The solar canopies are the third UC Riverside project for SunPower. The first was a 3.4 megawatt solar farm built in 2013, next to UC Riverside’s Community Garden near parking lot 30. The second is a smaller solar parking canopy at the UCOP IntelliCenter (UCPath Center) at Meridian Parkway in Riverside.

“We are a growing university; buildings are coming up. These panels will support the added power demand,” said John Franklin, UC Riverside’s project manager with Architects and Engineers.

The work in lots 30 and 32 did not eliminate any of the 2,450 existing parking spaces. Major construction is expected to be completed and the parking lots will be open by September 28, the first day of instruction, said Andrew Stewart, superintendent with UC Riverside’s Transportation and Parking Services.

Partnerships and collaborations between Riverside Public Utilities, SunPower, UC Riverside’s Business and Administrative Services, and Research and Economic Development, were key to the success of this eight-week project, Franklin said.

By the numbers

  • 2,450 parking spaces
  • 9,600 solar panels
  • 4.3 megawatts of solar energy
  • The system is expected to generate about 7.6 million kWh in the first year of operations, equivalent to powering 788 homes
  • Expected capital cost of the system is about $14.4 million or about $3.35/W

(Left to right) Nathan Griset, Jay Hover, John Franklin, Andrew Stewart and Sean Mantucca visited the solar panel construction site on lot 30 on Monday, August 28, 2017. Credit: Sandra Baltazar Martínez

UC Riverside No. 2 Systemwide for Renewable Energy, by Sandra Baltazar Martínez, University of California, September 8, 2017.

Riverside County Solar Project Scores $131-Million Deal with Central Valley Farm District

California Gov. Jerry Brown couldn’t get a 100 percent renewable energy mandate across the finish line in Sacramento this month, and the Trump administration is eyeing protectionist trade policies that critics say would drive up the price of solar panels.

But despite those headwinds, clean energy is still a hot commodity.

Modesto Irrigation District, which provides energy and water to farms and cities in California’s San Joaquin Valley, approved a $131-million contract this week to buy more than 2.5 million megawatt-hours of electricity over 20 years from a solar farm in eastern Riverside County, near the Arizona border. That’s enough electricity to supply roughly 18,000 average homes, or nearly one-fifth of Modesto’s residential customers.

The $131-million deal brings NextEra Energy Resources one step closer to finishing its Blythe solar project, which at 235 megawatts is already one of the country’s largest solar farms. The Florida-based developer says the solar project, outside the city of Blythe, will ultimately cover 4,000 acres of California desert with 485 megawatts of solar panels.

Read more by Sammy Roth at The Desert Sun by clicking here.

Riverside County Solar Project Scores $131-Million Deal with Central Valley Farm District, by Sammy Roth, The Desert Sun, September 29, 2017.

Valley Voice: Palm Springs solar ordinance the right move

Ellen Lockert

Ellen Lockert

This has been a season of unimaginable loss.

We have seen multiple epic storms, unprecedented rainfall and floods that devastated major cities and island nations. Warmer waters strengthened storms and warmer air carried more rain over land.

A city in near Houston reported 52 inches of rain from Hurricane Harvey. The west was on fire with raging wildfires from British Columbia to Los Angeles. Ashes from Oregon fires fell on Seattle. People in Montana had trouble breathing through the smoke. Fires still threaten Los Angeles neighborhoods.

This is the face of human caused climate change. This will become the new normal unless we take action. The choices we make over the next few years will be vital.

We must take aggressive action to counter this threat. We know that climate change is exacerbated by burning fossil fuels. These fuels create the greenhouse gases (GHG) that are warming our planet. To mitigate the worst impacts from climate change, we must transition rapidly from fossil fuels to renewable energy.

The good news is that we can do something about this threat here in the Coachella Valley. We don’t need to wait for Sacramento or Washington, D.C. We can create common sense policies that will cut our greenhouse gas emissions and inspire other cities worldwide.

In Palm Springs, our leaders have taken the lead in addressing the threat of climate change with the following actions:

In 2016, the council mandated strict energy guidelines for a portion of the new downtown development.

In June, the council voted to meet the goals of the Paris Climate Accord. That means limiting temperature increase below 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels.

In July, the council authorized implementation of a Community Choice Aggregation program. This will be launched in 2018 and provide consumer choice to Palm Springs residents who want to use renewable energy. Power will still be delivered by SCE but will feature renewable energy. Other desert cities adopting this program are Blythe, Cathedral City, Desert Hot Springs, Indian Wells and Palm Desert.

Also in July, the council voted to ban the use of gasoline powered leaf blowers. These inefficient machines generate significant emissions.

As we consider next steps, our first priority must be to stop adding new GHG emissions to our environment. That means building smarter.

On Oct. 4 the Palm Springs City Council will be introducing an ordinance requiring installed solar on all new residential construction and major remodels. This common sense ordinance is based on similar ordinances in six other California cities. If we are serious about transitioning to clean, safe renewable energy, this is the right move at the right time.

The successful passage of this solar ordinance will require citizen engagement. Please plan on attending the 6 p.m. Oct. 4 hearing at City Hall and express your support of this vital ordinance. You must sign in before meeting to speak

It is the job of leaders to solve problems. Climate change may be the biggest problem any of us will face in our lifetimes. The impressive actions taken by the Palm Springs City Council have begun the hard work of cutting the GHG that cause climate change. Let’s take the next step and pass the solar ordinance.

We can do this. We must.

Valley Voice: Palm Springs solar ordinance the right move, by Ellen Lockert, The Desert Sun, October 2, 2017.

Jerry Brown’s Western Grid Plan Is Dead in Sacramento, at Least for Now

Gov. Jerry Brown’s grand plan to bring Wyoming wind power to California and export solar power to neighboring states won’t get a vote in Sacramento before the legislative session ends Friday, following opposition from ratepayer watchdogs, labor unions, the utility industry, community choice advocates and even some environmental groups.

Assemblymember Chris Holden, a Pasadena Democrat who chairs the Assembly’s energy committee, said his legislation to make good on Brown’s plan is being tabled until next year. In a statement, Holden said lawmakers “will continue our work on the issues over the fall and likely revisit it in the second half of this two-year session.”

Click the link below to read more

Jerry Brown’s Western Grid Plan Is Dead in Sacramento, at Least for Now, by Sammy Roth, The Desert Sun, September 13, 2017.

Energy Bill Could ‘Squash’ Coachella Valley’s Plans to Ditch SoCal Edison, Critics Say

Coachella Valley governments have been working to give homes and businesses an alternative energy provider to Southern California Edison — but a last-minute bill in Sacramento could bring those efforts to a screeching halt, critics say.

Local government agencies have been working to form a community choice aggregator, or CCA, which would allow participating cities to ditch Edison and buy electricity directly from power providers. The goal is to reduce electricity rates and increase the valley’s use of climate-friendly solar energy, which is abundant in the sunny California desert. When a CCA forms, investor-owned utilities like Edison still operate the transmission system and sometimes send out the electricity bills, but they don’t play any other role.

Palm Springs and Cathedral City have already voted to join the CCA being developed by the Coachella Valley Association of Governments, and city councils in Desert Hot Springs and Palm Desert could vote in the next few weeks. Riverside County is working on plans for its own CCA, which would cover unincorporated parts of the county.

But as community choice has gotten more popular, utilities have grown alarmed about the perceived threat to their business model. And now a bill in Sacramento — being debated during the final week of the legislative session, which ends Friday — could undermine the economics of forming a CCA, critics say, threatening community choice initiatives in the Coachella Valley, Los Angeles County, San Diego and elsewhere.

The bill from Assemblymember Chris Holden, D-Pasadena, is designed to speed up the development of solar and wind farms in time to take advantage of federal tax credits that are set to decline over the next few years. The bill would require large utilities to buy additional renewable energy by the end of 2018, beyond what state law currently mandates, in amounts to be determined by the California Public Utilities Commission.

Some CCA advocates say those additional purchases would hamper community choice. That’s because when local governments form CCAs, customers are still required to pay monthly “exit fees” to their former utility, to cover the cost of long-term power purchase contracts the utility had signed based on expected power demand.

If utilities sign additional solar and wind contracts next year to take advantage of federal tax credits, customers of newly formed CCAs could be stuck paying for that energy through their exit fees. Those additional costs would “effectively freeze development of CCAs,” the California Community Choice Association wrote in a letter to Holden over the weekend.

RELATED: California energy bill might also support Salton Sea geothermal

Part of the reason some community choice advocates are concerned is because they think renewable energy is more expensive now than if utilities wait a few more years.

“Every calculation is different. Every community choice program is different, has different economics. But at the end of the day, that much power being procured at the price right now… it would just squash community choice,” said Nicole Capretz, executive director of the Climate Action Campaign, which has lobbied for community choice in San Diego.

California’s big investor-owned utilities also oppose the bill, but for a different reason.

The utilities say the required purchases aren’t needed to meet California’s current target of 50 percent renewable energy by 2030, and may lead to higher-than-necessary energy costs for customers. In a letter to Holden, they wrote that “even the possibility of expiring tax credits does not justify a procurement mandate when it is unclear that such a mandate is the least-cost manner in which to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.”

“Costs for renewable energy have continually fallen over the last several years. It is possible that future procurement, even with lower tax credits, could still be cheaper than procurement today,” the utilities wrote in the letter, which was signed by executives from Southern California Edison, San Diego Gas & Electric and Pacific Gas & Electric.

The main purpose of Holden’s bill is to allow California to expand its power grid across the western United States — a controversial proposal whose supporters see it as a way to share renewable energy across state lines and save billions of dollars for California consumers, and whose critics fear it will actually lead to higher costs and a greater reliance on coal-fired power plants in the West. Gov. Jerry Brown favors the idea. But labor unions have fought it, since it would lead to California importing more clean energy from other states, which could mean fewer jobs building solar and wind farms here.

The provisions to speed up solar and wind development are designed in part to mollify unions, by giving them a guarantee of more construction jobs over the next few years.

READ MORE: California lawmakers debate western grid plan in 11th hour of session

Many renewable energy advocates see that accelerated development as a boon for California ratepayers — and not something community choice supporters should be especially concerned about. In a letter last week to state Sen. Ben Hueso, a San Diego Democrat who chairs the Senate’s energy and utilities committee, a coalition of environmental groups and renewable energy companies said continued declines in the cost of solar and wind “will not compensate for the loss of the federal tax discount.”

The letter was signed by the Environmental Defense Fund and the Clean Power Campaign, whose backers include the Natural Resources Defense Council, Environment California, the developer EDF Renewable Energy and Warren Buffett-owned Berkshire Hathaway Energy Company.

READ MORE: Why federal tax credits for renewable energy are going away

Preliminary data released by California Public Utilities Commission staff in July, meant to help inform long-term planning decisions, found that Californians could save $633 million if utilities buy an extra 4,000 megawatts of solar and wind before 2020, when the solar investment tax credit begins to drop and the wind production tax credit disappears.

In the Coachella Valley, community choice could bring significant economic benefits while boosting reliance on climate-friendly energy, a goal of many local officials.

A study prepared last year by EES Consulting found that a community choice program run by the Coachella Valley Association of Governments could offer a 50 percent renewable energy mix while cutting electricity costs by 2.1 percent in 2018. CVAG could also give customers the option of a 100 percent renewable energy mix, which the study estimates would cost 6 percent more than the electricity provided by Edison in 2018.

Those numbers could change slightly depending on how many customers the CCA has.

Officials in Rancho Mirage — who have feuded with CVAG over the CV Link project — voted earlier this year to explore forming their own CCA. Indian Wells also put consideration of community choice on hold last week. The east valley cities of Coachella, Indio and La Quinta wouldn’t be eligible to join because they’re served by the publicly owned Imperial Irrigation District, rather than investor-owned SoCal Edison.

That leaves the possibility of a four-city CCA involving Palm Springs, Cathedral City, Palm Desert and Desert Hot Springs, which would have nearly 113,000 customers.

READ MORE: Will Riverside County ditch Southern California Edison?

Riverside County’s proposed CCA would save homes and businesses in unincorporated areas nearly $8 million annually, according to a study commissioned by the county. The average home would save between $50 and $55 annually, the study found.

County supervisors could vote to move forward with community choice as soon as next week, after which the county would file a CCA application with the California Public Utilities Commission. CVAG hopes to file an application this year and launch its program next summer, according to Katie Barrows, CVAG’s director of environmental resources.

Homes and businesses would have the chance to opt out if they want to stick with Edison.

“The Coachella Valley is burdened with extremely high energy bills, and one benefit of a CCA is the opportunity for competitive and possibly lower electricity rates,” Barrows said.

The Western Riverside Council of Governments is also working on a community choice program with plans to launch next year. CVAG has had talks with Riverside County and the western riverside council about forming a joint program, which could lead to lower costs all around due to the economies of scale of buying electricity in bulk. But at least so far, the three government agencies have chosen to move forward separately.

There are already nine community choice programs operating in California, according to Shalini Swaroop, deputy general counsel for one of those CCAs, Marin Clean Energy. The trend started in the Bay Area but has slowly moved downstate, with the desert cities of Lancaster and Apple Valley launching CCAs in 2015 and 2017, respectively.

More CCAs are in the works, as local governments look for ways to reduce electricity rates and switch from planet-warming fossil fuels to clean energy faster than utilities are required to by state law. Swaroop said she expects at least six CCAs to launch in the next year, including a Los Angeles County program whose initial members will include the cities of Calabasas, Rolling Hills Estates, South Pasadena and West Hollywood.

Those CCAs might have trouble launching if they’re forced to help pay for the solar and wind energy utilities would be required to buy under Holden’s bill, Swaroop said.

“Any community choice aggregator that wanted to launch that was subject to these fees would probably have a significant delay in order to determine how these fees would affect their costs to ratepayers,” she said.

Energy Bill Could ‘Squash’ Coachella Valley’s Plans to Ditch SoCal Edison, Critics Say, by Sammy Roth, The Desert Sun, September 12, 2017