Blue Lake Council to Consider 100% Renewable Energy for City Facilities

BLUE LAKE – Blue Lake Council will consider powering the city with 100% renewable energy.

Member Bobbi Ricca requested the discussion to better understand the financial implications of Shifting To Redwood Coast Energy Authority’s Re-Power program. According to a report from RCEA, the cost would amount to $3,100 annually.

The council will meet Tuesday, July 25. Please check back for updates on the city’s decision. 

Blue Lake Council to Consider 100% Renewable Energy for City Facilities, by Staff, News Channel 3, July 24, 2017.

Community Choice Energy Program Comes to Humboldt County

People who live in Humboldt County now have a choice when it comes to their electricity supplier.

Roger Engel is the director of power resources for the Redwood Coast Energy Authority (RCEA), a non-profit with a board made up of government officials from cities in Humboldt as well as the county board of supervisors.

“This year we have introduced a new program that’s called Community Choice Energy,” Engel said.  “It’s an alternative way of providing electricity service, so instead of PG&E being the only choice you have for electricity, you can now get your electricity through us.”

The program is “opt-out,” which means everyone within the RCEA region will automatically be switched to the new electricity provider, unless they request otherwise.

“It does automatically switch over if you don’t choose otherwise and that’s not something we made up,” Engel said. “That’s the state of California that set up these community choice energy programs so there is an opt-out program everywhere they operate.”

While state legislation created community choice energy programs, Engel said they are adopted on a smaller level. In this case, board members at the RCEA, which included representation from each city in California, decided what sources they wanted to get energy from.

“We provide local control because the governance of our program is through local governments. Here there’s a board that meets once a month and the public can and does show up at these meetings to express their opinions about where we should be getting our energy and how much it should cost,” Engel said.

The RCEA website says their electricity service is cheaper and cleaner than PG&E’s. However, PG&E will still be the main supplier of gas in the county. Deanna Contreras, a representative from PG&E said they will still have a big role in Humboldt County.

“PG&E has been working closely with the Redwood Coast Energy Authority,” Contreras said. “We are partners because PG&E will still be responsible for the transmission. It’s still our power lines, still our power polls.”

And Contreras said PG&E welcomes the alternate energy source.

“It allows choice and PG&E supports choice for its customers,” Contreras said.

Humboldt County residents that have PG&E as their energy provider will still receive one bill a month from PG&E, but the electricity portion will be replaced with the RCEA service.

Community Choice Energy Program Comes to Humboldt County, by Alex Hasenstab, KRCR, June 28, 2017.

Program Gives Users Option to Go Fully Renewable

Customers enrolled in Redwood Coast Energy Authority’s community choice energy program can “opt up” so that all the electricity coming into their home or business comes from 100 percent renewable sources.

“It’s a great, attainable way to fight climate change by reducing your carbon footprint,” Eureka City Councilman Austin Allison, who opted into the program this month, said.

“We offer repower as the base option which gets you to about 40 percent renewable energy,” RCEA community strategies coordinator Barbara Garcia said.

Opting into REpower+ moves that percentage up to 100, she said.

“We fill that 60 percent with renewable,” Garcia said.

RCEA executive director Matthew Marshall said the whole goal of the community choice energy and the repower program is to provide customers with more local renewable energy at rates comparable to those offered by the Pacific Gas and Electric Co. Biomass energy from generation plants in Scotia and Samoa is being used and power bills for CCE customers are slightly lower than before. Through REpower+ customers can opt to pay slightly more than their old PG&E bills to only be using renewable energy, he said.

“We’ve had several hundred customers opt up so far,” Marshall said.

He said he hopes even more people, businesses and entities sign up.

“That option costs a penny per kilowatt/hour more which amounts to a few extra dollars a month.” Garcia said.

“Those dollars that are generated by the program are what makes the project successful.”

Money generated by REpower+ customers goes toward maintaining the program, future renewable programs and developing new local renewable energy generation facilities, she said.

“We’re looking at a lot of potential solar sites through the county,” Garcia said this includes the county airport in McKinleyville.

But other renewable options are being explored too, she said.

“I know wind is something to be looked at in the future and wave energy as well,” Garcia said.

People can sign up by calling 1-800-931-7232 or 707-269-1700.

“We try and make it easy,” Garcia said about opting up.

The switch can also be made online at RCEA’s website. For more information, visit cce.redwoodenergy.org. REpower+ information can be accessed by clicking “options” under the “business and government” drop-down tab.

Program Gives Users Option to Go Fully Renewable, by Hunter Cresswell, Eureka Times-Standard, June 24, 2017.

Solar-Storage Microgrid Powering up Native American Reservation in California

A new solar-storage combination microgrid is now up and running to power government offices, businesses and American Red Cross shelter sites throughout a Native America reservation in northern California, partners in the project announced Thursday.

Blue Lake Rancheria launched its low-carbon community microgrid. The plant combines a 500-kW solar photovoltaic system built by REC Solar with a 950-kWh Tesla battery storage, all managed and controlled by Siemens’ Spectrum Power Microgrid Management System software.

“The Blue Lake Rancheria community is leading the way in its commitment to the environment,” said Alan Russo, senior vice president of sales and marketing at REC Solar. “We enjoyed working alongside a customer with shared values and a willingness to build such innovative energy solutions.”

The microgrid was developed in collaboration with Humboldt State University’s Schatz Energy Research Center, Siemens, Idaho National Laboratory and other partners. It is partially funded through a $5 million grant from the California Energy Commission’s Electric Program Investment Charge (EPIC) program.

The microgrid is anticipated to help Blue Lake Rancheria grow its clean energy job base by 10 percent and operate independently of the power grid while working in coordination with local utility Pacific Gas & Electric. The tribe could save more than $200,000 annually in energy costs while reducing at least 150 tons of carbon emissions per year, according to the release.

“At its core, this microgrid is an example of motivated governments investing in distributed grid improvements and low-carbon energy in a novel and replicable way,” said Arla Ramsey, Blue Lake Rancheria’s vice chair. “Our partners have contributed their expertise and goodwill far above what we expected. This partnership approach has transformed our energy sector with significant employment and other economic co-benefits.”

The software is able to accurately predict power needs through integrated weather data, load forecasting and load-shed scenarios. In grid-connected mode, the software will help the tribe reduce peak loads and conduct other energy management optimization to help relieve pressures on the larger grid, according to Siemens’ release. In cases of emergency when the larger grid is down, the system will operate in islanded mode. In both scenarios, the software prioritizes the use of the cleanest and most financially beneficial forms of energy, in this case solar and battery storage, within a portfolio of on-site generation sources.

“The continuing trend toward decentralized energy is made feasible in large part by the introduction of intelligent software to manage and control a vast array of energy resources,” said Pat Wilkinson, vice president at Siemens Digital Grid. “With our intelligent microgrid management software, Blue Lake Rancheria is able to rely on a complex mix of generation and storage to work together to deliver efficient, reliable and cleaner power for the Tribe’s government offices and other critical infrastructure.”

The Blue Lake Rancheria is a small reservation made up of Indians from the Humboldt Bay region who were forced out of their original lands. The site was set up by executive order in 1908 as a refuge for the homeless Native Americans, according to reports.

It was dissolved by the federal government in the 1950s and reinstated in 1983, according to the tribe’s website.

Solar-Storage Microgrid Powering up Native American Reservation in California, by Editorial Staff, Electric Light & Power, April 27, 2017.

Ferndale Joins CCA

The Ferndale City Council voted 4-1 to join the Redwood Coast Energy Authority’s community choice energy program. The program will roll in October in Ferndale. In other parts of the county, it began this month.

The Ferndale City Council voted 4-1 to join the Redwood Coast Energy Authority’s community choice energy program. The program will roll in October in Ferndale. In other parts of the county, it began this month. Hunter Cresswell — The Times-Standard

The final Humboldt County holdout in the Redwood Coast Energy Authority’s community choice energy voted to join the program.

The Ferndale City Council voted 4-1 to get on board with Mayor Don Hindley dissenting.

Ferndale was the only city not already on board with RCEA’s plan to supply Humboldt County with more local electricity at a lower cost than Pacific Gas and Electric Company rate.

“It’s nice to have it be consistent across the county,” RCEA Executive Director Matthew Marshall said after the decision was made.

The plan went online for all the cities and unincorporated county communities this month but will be rolled out in October for Ferndale.

All councilmen were present for the meeting. Hindley did not give any reasons as to why he voted against the plans on Wednesday but during past meetings he expressed concern that customers are automatically opted into the program and must choose to opt out.

“I should have received four notices by now but I’ve only received one,” Hindley said of his two electrical billing addresses in the unincorporated county.

The one he did receive he said looked like “junk mail” and he is concerned that Ferndale residents may not be properly notified and educated on the program before it goes into effect. Hindley said including information on the program with current power bills may be better to reach everyone.

“I think that would be much more effective,” he said.

“The risk there is because PG&E can choose to bump it,” Marshall said.

He added that given the length of time before the program rolls out in Ferndale, RCEA should be able to organize this. But if PG&E would rather mail something out along with the bill they have priority over what RCEA wants to send along with the bill.

Councilman Michael Sweeney said if the city and RCEA work together to inform Ferndale residents, the residents would then be more responsive and educated.

“They’re more likely to say, ‘Okay I know what’s coming,’ ” he said.

After the meeting, Marshall said the program could bolster the local community with jobs because more money would go to local power generation. According to RCEA, bill savings should amount to a few dollars every month per household but overall that can total in the millions.

“We are on track for around 1 to 2 million in countywide savings,” he said.

Marshall added that as of Monday only 3 percent of customers have opted out of the program.

“So far, the rollout’s going well,” he said.

The next regular Ferndale City Council meeting is scheduled for June 21 at 7 p.m. in the Ferndale city hall council chambers at 834 Main St. More city information and meeting agenda packets are available at ci.ferndale.ca.us.

Ferndale Joins CCA, by Hunter Cresswell, Eureka Times-Standard, May 17, 2017.

Sonoma Clean Power Play

What if the revolution came, and we missed it because we tossed out the announcement? Seems like that’s what happened last month, when PG&E customers in Mendocino County got word that the utility no longer has a monopoly on selling us electricity.

Most people I talked to don’t remember getting the letter, didn’t read it, or didn’t realize what it meant. The reality is, this change matters to you for three reasons: your democracy, your climate, and your money. I don’t know about you, but those three are pretty high on my list of concerns these days.

You’d think the folks bringing us this change would have prepared us a little better, but hey, we’re the ones who decided to live in the deep countryside. So the best we can do is catch up with the story and make good choices about it. Let’s start with what the letter explains (which is not much). Then we’ll look at what’s behind it.

On June 1st, an outfit called Sonoma Clean Power will take over generating and sourcing the electricity that comes into our homes and businesses. PG&E will still deliver that electricity, take care of all the power lines, send us the monthly bill, and take our calls if power goes out. Unlike PG&E, which charges us enough to earn generous profits for the investors who own it, Sonoma Clean Power (SCP) is a non-profit aiming to save us money.

The other big difference is that we now get to choose how much renewable electricity we receive. With PG&E, less than 30% of the electricity we get comes from renewables such as solar, wind, geothermal, and hydroelectric. With SCP, that immediately goes up to 36% for the base service called “CleanStart.” You’ll get this base service automatically if you do nothing.

You can also choose a higher tier, called “EverGreen,” that gives you 100% renewable electricity. This is a good deal if you’re into climate protection, because you pay 11% more (less than $10 for most people) to get 177% more renewable electricity, and the carbon emissions associated with your electricity drop to nearly nothing. SCP says it is sourcing this green energy in its “local territory,” including geothermal power from The Geysers near Cloverdale.

The third option available is to “opt out” of SCP and stay with PG&E for everything. (If you’re wondering why anyone would do that, keep reading.)

There’s almost nothing in the letter from SCP power about what we will actually pay. It mentions “great rates” that are “competitively priced,” but you won’t find a figure. More on that in a moment.

Whatever we choose, the transition is going to be pretty much seamless. If you get discounts from PG&E now, you’ll get those with SCP. If you’re already generating solar energy that goes into the PG&E grid, you will still get credit for that (and it will be more advantageous). There will be a small change for people using the “Balanced Payment Plan” from PG&E, which averages out electricity usage through the year so people can pay the same amount every month. The charges for delivery from PG&E will still be averaged in the Balanced Payment Plan, but the charges for the electricity from SCP will vary from month to month depending on your usage.

Okay, that’s the news, at least according to what SCP wrote us in the letter. Now we get to democracy, the climate, and your wallet.

Hardly anyone remembers, or ever knew, that California passed a law back in 2002 to create a competitive market for electricity. This legally broke the regulated monopoly enjoyed by PG&E and other investor-owned utilities in the state. It happened because PG&E had laughably failed in its obligations to customers in the years before that, getting famously screwed by Enron and others who were manipulating the energy market. So state legislators had a window of political opportunity to inject democracy into the state’s electricity market, against the wishes of big, wealthy utilities with decades of entrenched political power.

PG&E used that influence to keep democracy from actually happening until 2008, when communities in Marin County banded together to create Marin Clean Energy (MCE). This was the first “community choice aggregation” organization, or CCA, meaning that communities were using the law to pool their purchasing of electricity and then choosing to buy it from someone other than the monopoly utility. In Marin’s case, that meant PG&E.

Back in 2002, state legislators had recognized that the big utilities were not going to like this, so they wrote the law in a way that allowed communities with elected local governments (city councils and boards of supervisors) to choose the CCA route. No special elections would be required, because the elected leaders would be acting on behalf of their constituents. Furthermore, the change would be automatic for customers – they would not have to do anything to benefit from the CCA once it was established.

PG&E really hated that part. It responded by putting a misleading proposition on a state ballot in 2010 and spending $46 million on advertising for it. The proposition would have changed the 2002 law to require elections won by a super-majority of more than 60% of voters before communities could escape PG&E’s clutches. This sick move backfired – voters figured out whose wallets that $46 million came from – and the proposition failed. MCE was able to go ahead and pioneer the CCA approach, and it’s already grown beyond Marin County to include communities in Contra Costa, Napa and Solano Counties.

SCP got rolling in 2014, to serve cities and unincorporated areas of Sonoma County. The cities include Cloverdale, Cotati, Petaluma, Rohnert Park, Santa Rosa, Sebastopol, Sonoma, and Windsor. Healdsburg has its own electrical utility, as does Ukiah, and they’re staying independent. The cities and counties operate under a “joint powers authority” that allows them to operate collectively with regard to electricity, and the board of directors of SCP is made up of elected officials from participating communities.

Starting in 2015, Mendocino County entertained proposals from a number of CCAs and other groups proposing to become Mendo’s alternative to PG&E for electricity (not transmission). Last summer the county’s Board of Supervisors accepted a proposal from Sonoma Clean Power. Our own 5th District supervisor, Dan Hamburg, was instrumental in getting Mendocino to study SCP’s success – a third-party study showed that it has saved Sonoma residents and businesses $70 million in its first few years of operation – and he now represents Mendocino County on SCP’s board of directors.

“The Board of Supervisors looked at this opportunity carefully from multiple perspectives, including creating a separate CCA for Mendocino,” he says. “In the end, we chose Sonoma Clean Power because they were so committed to the big benefits of lower electricity rates, lower greenhouse gas emissions, and more local investment in clean power. There was no hard sell. They just wanted to help, even if we took another route.”

Time and money were also big factors in the decision. It would have taken at least two years and could have cost up to a million dollars to establish a separate CCA, and our County has a spotty record on big projects with long timelines. Turns out even our Supervisor knows this. “Playing in the competitive market for electricity is the kind of big, long-term decision we really need to get right,” Hamburg says, “and I think we checked all the boxes by choosing Sonoma Clean Power.”

There were five operational CCAs in California in 2016, with four more set to go live this year. Another five are expected to follow in 2018, and at least 15 additional cities and counties are in the early stages. Six states besides California have passed CCA legislation in recent years: Illinois, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Ohio and Rhode Island. Cities and counties in those states are pushing the movement as hard or harder than those in California. For example, the Local Energy Aggregation Network (LEAN), an industry association, reports that more than 700 communities in Illinois were looking at CCA options as of last month.

This is democracy in action: giving us a choice, at the community level, about who provides our electricity, how clean it is, and how much we pay for it. It’s also a great way to slow the growth of carbon emissions.

“Until Mendocino provided this option [SCP], the only way to get cleaner power was to put solar on your property,” says the company’s CEO, Geof Syphers. “That is still an excellent option, but SCP makes it possible for everyone to get cleaner power, even if they can’t install solar. It also makes it possible for Mendocino County to receive renewable power day and night with EverGreen, which solar by itself can’t provide.”

He doesn’t mention fighting climate change, but he doesn’t have to. If you follow the news about environmental sustainability at all, you know that government is rarely the solution (even before the current crowd took over in Washington, D.C.) Take organic foods. The government provides some complicated, often opaque or inexplicable regulations on organic food labeling, and that’s it. Thanks a lot.

It’s when consumers vote with their dollars that things change. Say what you want about Whole Foods, but it was customers of “Whole Paycheck,” willing to pay top dollar for organics, that woke up the sleepyheads at Safeway and Walmart. Now those companies sell so much organic food that Whole Foods has to lower its prices. Organic farmers are expanding nationwide to keep up with the demand.

CCAs, including SCP, give us the same process with electricity. If enough of us vote with our dollars for clean energy, our capitalist economy is going to give us more clean energy, at lower prices than before. The more CCAs there are, the more robust this process gets. Yes, investor-owned utilities around the country are tugging against it. But the genie is not going back in the bottle, because no matter who is in the White House or Congress, this country follows the money.

And that’s the third reason to care about SCP: it wants to save you money. It’s a non-profit public agency, run by our communities, for us. It’s not owned by institutional investors that collect the profits. We’re the investors in a sense, because we invested in living here and elected supervisors who got us a CCA.

The biggest savings over time should come from lower rates for electricity, because there will be more clean power generated to meet the demand. Not only that, CCAs can invest locally to create the power they need. “As a public agency, Sonoma Clean Power must use any net income from operations for the benefit of the public,” notes Syphers. For example, Marin Clean Energy built a solar installation at Marin’s local airport, which is paying for itself in a hurry. Last fall, SCP launched a $2.5 million venture to help people in Sonoma County purchase electric vehicles and install at-home charging stations.

It’s even possible to imagine shopping malls roofing their parking lots with solar panels to make their electricity costs disappear. You think a CCA county is going to complain? You think local SCP customers are going to complain? Okay, in this county we know that someone is going to complain, but a lot of other people are going to be watching happily for another reduction in their electricity bill – and another reduction in carbon emissions.

The bad news is that SCP and other CCAs in California are currently handcuffed in how much they can reduce electricity rates. Please don’t grind your teeth when you find out why. PG&E is so blindly opposed to the growing democracy in the electricity market that is has purchased way too much conventional electricity – and is legally allowed to make CCA customers pay for it.

CCAs now account for a big chunk of the state’s electricity needs, but PG&E continued entering into long-term contracts to purchase electricity for its whole territory anyway. Now it says it’s stuck with energy it can’t sell. So it’s charging SCP customers $13 dollars – every month – to pay for that bad management. It’s like making us pay the tobacco companies if we quit smoking, because (sob!) they’re losing customers.

The law allows this for now, but it’s under assault. California’s CCAs have their own lobbying association, CalCCA, and it is energetically active in Sacramento. The state legislature seems open to changing the rules. In a future article, we’ll bring you a lot more blow-by-blow on how the CCA movement is advancing both politically and economically.

For now, it’s pretty clear that SCP gets a big influence boost from signing up (most of) another whole county. According to Syphers, “Adding Mendocino County helps our advocacy for public interest at the state level in Sacramento. Each new community choice program that emerges helps add to the voice for public power, and Mendocino has a special place because of its long-standing support for solar energy and because many lawmakers have vacationed in the County and have good associations with the area.” SCP estimates that about 30% of California will be served by CCAs within the next five years.

Meanwhile, it’s finding other ways to cut rates. The best is paying more for the solar power we generate on our own panels than PG&E did. It can do this because getting power locally is cheaper than buying hydroelectric from a dam 500 miles away. SCP also says it will write us a check in May every year that we generate at least $100 more electricity than we use; below that, we still keep the credit against future electricity use. PG&E, in contrast, zeroes out our excess solar power generation every year and doesn’t pay us a dime.

What all this means is that we now have stronger and more direct economic incentives to use and generate clean power. This is absolutely vital to slowing the progress of climate change. The Paris Climate Agreement is a wonderful thing, but it’s not binding on the U.S. or any other country. For most of us individuals and families, electricity is binding. We’ve got to have it, and if enough of us use our purchasing power to make it cleaner, the climate will benefit.

I mentioned earlier that some people will decide to opt out of SCP. So-called “opt-out rates” were surprisingly high in the early days of CCAs – more than 10 percent – but they are coming down fast. The CCA in Santa Clara County that launched last month, for example, reports opt-out rates under 1%. This is probably the more likely figure long-term. Some people will resist anything new, even when it benefits them and pays for itself. But with every new CCA it becomes easier to cut loose from the past and embrace the future. As Hamburg puts it sardonically, “When did people ever fall in love with their investor-owned utility?”

Oddly enough, there are some people who oppose CCAs because they are not green enough. These are the folks who point to nuclear energy as the only source that can deliver enough carbon-free electricity to stop global warming. They believe that promoting any other form of clean power is a snare and a delusion that keeps us from the Promised Land. This is a respectable if extreme position, and I urge you to be gentle with those who espouse it. (For example, don’t mention Chernobyl, Three Mile Island and Fukushima right away.)

For now, go find that letter from Sonoma Clean Power if it’s still in your mail stack or recycling bin. Read it (again) carefully, and also the companion letter that came if you have your own grid-connected solar system. If you can’t find the letters, point your browser to sonomacleanpower.org. By opting in – which means doing nothing – you will help bring more clean power and a smaller carbon footprint to Anderson Valley and the Highlands. If you can afford it, opt for 100% renewable; the monthly cost should be about the same as for a nice cocktail at the Buckhorn, which you will richly deserve.

Sonoma Clean Power Play, by Thom Elkjer, Anderson Valley Advertiser, May 10, 2017.

Mendocino County Residents Getting New Electric Provider

Some Mendocino County residents may be wondering about coming changes to their electric bills. Sonoma Clean Power, which became the county’s main electric supplier last August, has mailed its first round of notices explaining its service that residents will automatically be enrolled in on June 1.

Starting in June, all homes and businesses (except those in the City of Ukiah, which has its own electric provider) will receive the power agency’s default service, which runs on 36 percent renewable power, compared to PG&E’s 27 percent.

The Mendocino County Board of Supervisors voted in August to join SCP in offering cheaper energy. Local governments have the right to buy electricity on their jurisdictions’ behalves under a California Assembly bill called the “Community Choice Aggregation Law,” passed in 2002. It was passed in order to prevent illegal energy market manipulations, like those that lead to California’s 2001 energy crisis. Under the law, Community Choice programs, of which SCP is one, become the default provider once they are formed.

Supervisor Dan Hamburg, who serves on SCP’s board of directors, said the Board of Supervisors chose to join SCP partly because of the level of local oversight; the board is made up of elected officials from surrounding cities, including Cloverdale and Fort Bragg. He also liked the fact that SCP was able to offer lower rates than PG&E and still make a profit, he said, which it uses to fund local energy projects, like one to build a solar array over a water plant in Santa Rosa.

“We felt that of all the options we looked at, that SCP seemed to be the one that was having the greatest success,” he said.

The public but privately-funded agency, serving Sonoma County since 2014, boasts locally-sourced, cleaner power and lower prices than PG&E, acting as its “competitive partner,” according to spokeswoman Kate Kelly. The two compete on the delivery side, but not on the generation side (collecting the energy from the source), and they share customers.

Residents have the option to opt out of the new service for free within the first 60 days if they’re concerned about reliability, which some Sonoma County customers cited as their reason for declining the service, SCP’s CEO Geof Syphers told the Santa Rosa Press Democrat in 2014. He said then that reliability would remain the same, because services like billing, metering and grid maintenance did not change hands. The agency’s participation rate (customers that have not opted out) in Sonoma County was 88 percent as of March, Director of Customer Service Erica Torgerson said in an email last month.

SCP’s total electric bill rates are about 1 percent lower than PG&E across the board, based on March 2015 estimates. SCP claims to have saved customers more than $70 million on their bills since 2014. Customers will be given a comparison of rates between SCP and PG&E based on average usage but not on individual bills.

Everyone will still receive only one electric bill, but it will look a little different. For one, a “generation credit” will show what PG&E would have charged for electric generation, which can be used to calculate the cost difference with SCP. PG&E will stop charging for collecting the energy (now a separate charge named the “Sonoma Clean Power generation charge”) and will continue to charge the delivery fee (along with other regular fees). Any discounts customers receive from PG&E will stay in place. And a “vintage power charge indifference adjustment,” a fee required by PG&E, makes sure customers who switch to SCP pay for the above-market cost of energy PG&E bought on their behalf before changing service. Although, Torgerson told the Willits City Council last month the vintage charge is calculated in a “black box,” so it is not easily understood and could take up to 30 years to go away.

An upgrade to SCP’s ultimate eco-friendly service, which uses 100 percent renewable power, costs about 1 percent, or $13 more, per month. The agency also provides incentives for solar customers, offering them the chance to earn credits on their electricity bills by contributing to the grid with solar panels or wind turbines.

In case of outages, PG&E is still the company to call. SCP representatives has held 12 public meetings so far to explain the changes, and will have more throughout the summer. The next one is 6 p.m. on Thursday at the NEM Presentation Coast Community Library in Point Arena.

Mendocino County Residents Getting New Electric Provider, by Ashley Tressel, Ukiah Daily Journal, April 26, 2017.

Community Choice Energy Great Idea for Humboldt County

You’ve probably received a couple of mailers by now about the Community Choice Energy program that Redwood Coast Energy Authority is launching in Humboldt County in May. Likely you’ve also seen the ads describing the program in our local media. I’m part of the Community Advisory Committee providing input on the development of this program, and I’d like to offer answers to some questions I’ve been hearing from friends, neighbors, and business associates.

Why change our electricity service?

It’s simple — lower electricity bills, local control of where we get our electricity, and keeping some of the money that has been going to Pacific Gas and Electric Co. investors in our community instead. Investor-owned utilities like PG&E have enjoyed a corner on the market for electricity in most of California since they were formed. They handle both power procurement and distribution, along with maintaining the power lines, and no doubt about it, the reliability has been great. But decision-making about rates happens in distant boardrooms and Public Utilities Commission hearings, and most of the money we pay on our utility bills leaves the county. In 2002, legislation was enacted that allows local jurisdictions to procure the electricity, while PG&E remains responsible for delivering it, maintaining the power lines and infrastructure, and doing the billing. With Community Choice Energy, our own Redwood Coast Energy Authority will take on the power procurement part. Our power will cost less, where we get it will be controlled locally, and more of the revenues will stay here in the county.

Who will control the Community Choice Energy program?

The Redwood Coast Energy Authority (RCEA), located in Eureka, is in charge. RCEA’s board is made up of representatives from each of the member agencies’ governing bodies — our locally elected officials — people you know and can call on the phone. And everyone is invited to the public Board meetings. In other words, there is no “they” somewhere far away… it’s us. The RCEA Board has committed to keeping our electricity rates below PG&E’s, having more renewable energy in our power mix, and supporting local energy production including solar and wind. You’ll actually be paying less while reducing greenhouse gas emissions, because the Community Choice Energy mix has a lower fossil fuel content.

What do I have to do to sign up?

The California legislation enabling Community Choice Energy for local governments specifies that we are automatically enrolled. The legislation also requires that everyone will receive multiple notifications about the program, both before and after it starts. And most important, if you don’t like it for any reason and want to go back to having PG&E buy the power for your home or business, you can opt out at any time.

It sounds too good to be true. What’s the catch?

There isn’t one. There are over 1,000 Community Choice Energy programs in the U.S. In California, programs like ours are already operating in Marin, Sonoma, San Mateo, Santa Clara, and San Francisco counties, with many more just starting up like us. Those programs are saving their ratepayers money, creating jobs close to home as they reinvest revenues in local renewable energy generation, and operating other programs benefitting their communities. And there’s no risk for the customer, since you can opt out of the program at any time. All of unincorporated Humboldt County and every city (except Ferndale, which has not yet elected to participate), will be automatically transitioned to Redwood Coast Energy Authority’s Community Choice Energy program in May. If you have any questions or comments about the program, you can contact RCEA at 707-269-1700 or info@redwoodenergy.org, or visit www.RedwoodEnergy.org. RCEA’s Board meetings are open to the public and occur on the third Monday of each month at 3:15 p.m. at the Humboldt Bay Municipal Water District office at 828 7th St. in Eureka. You can also contact me or any of the other Community Advisory Committee members listed on the Community Choice Energy information letters you receive.

Kit Mann is a Blue Lake resident, a member of Redwood Coast Energy Authority’s Community Advisory Committee and a co-owner of Kokatat Watersports Wear.

Community Choice Energy Great Idea for Humboldt County, by Kit Mann, Eureka Times-Standard, April 14, 2017.

Community Choice Energy Coming in May

Community Choice energy is rolling out in Humboldt County next month, bringing customers cleaner electricity at a lower price.

Redwood Coast Energy Authority recently sent out notices to PG&E customers letting them know that in May their services will switch over to Community Choice. Monthly bills will still come from PG&E, but the program will automatically enroll existing customers in the “REpower” program, which provides electricity from 37 percent renewable sources.

RCEA says that’s because PG&E will still maintain power poles and lines, fix outages and deliver monthly bills — and because community choice will honor discount programs like CARE, Medical Baseline and FERA — customers won’t notice a difference, other than possibly “a slight decrease in your electricity bill.”

Customers have the option of opting out of the program — by calling RCEA or visiting its website — but they also have the option of opting up to “REpower+,” which offers customers 100 percent renewable electricity for an additional charge of 1 cent per kilowatt hour. That works out to about $5 extra a month for the average California household.

For more information on the program, or on how to opt out or opt up, visit RCEA’s website here. Check out past Journal coverage of Community Choice here.

Community Choice Energy Coming in May, by Thadeus Greenson, North Coast Journal, April 8, 2017.