Valley Clean Energy Alliance Powering up an Aggressive Schedule

Editor’s note: Elements of this story originally published on Thursday, July 27 were in error. This updated story corrects and clarifies those errors.

By Hans Peter @WDD_Hans on Twitter

In an effort to source cleaner energy for local customers, Woodland officially took part in their third meeting of the Valley Clean Energy Alliance this week.

The VCEA originally derived from the city of Davis and Yolo County in December 2016. Woodland joined the organization in June, adding mayor Angel Barajas and Councilman Tom Stallard to the board.

Joining means Woodland has plugged into Community Choice Energy. Under this system, involved customers — homeowners and business — may choose to opt “in” or “out” in regards to sourcing their electricity from a variety of companies, including wind and solar providers. The county would continue to use Pacific Gas & Electric infrastructure (transmission, billing services), but the power running through the lines to each individual home could be sourced from more renewable sources.

Should the VCEA favor some power sources over others, excess rate payer money will go toward expanding that power source locally.

The Alliance’s joint powers authority — which is made up of members from the county along with Davis and Woodland — laid out an aggressive timeline last year. Tuesday’s meeting was designed as a public hearings and information exchanged on where the program is headed.

Board members have yet to hire a chief executive officer, though that search has progressed recently, according to a staff update.

The light-speed schedule has encountered some issues, but board members, advisers and the general public alike agreed that additional public outreach needed to get underway before any large steps be taken.

“I have a lot of people who are skeptical already,” said Yolo District 5 Supervisor Duane Chamberlain, an acting member of the VCEA board. “I want to see some numbers.”

Chamberlain said most of the calls he’s received have come from those in unincorporated communities like Esparto, who have had less involvement in the setup of the project and less information regarding rates.

Granted, rates are subject to the market; projected energy rates could change between now and the “flip of the switch” June of next year. The VCEA must buy power contracts before implementing prices.

According to VCEA Chairman Don Saylor, recent projections suggest CCE contracted rates could be lower than existing PG&E rates. Moreover, customers may be able to choose from perhaps three different “packages” with different mixes of renewable and non-renewable energy; this could result in a more expensive bill, but some customers may pay extra to reflect their own priorities by choosing a 100 percent renewably-sourced package, for example. Granted, the VCEA has not formed such package options as of yet.

“We have to be priced competitively,” Saylor said. “Some (customers) will be making their decision solely on pricing.”

A company called “Circlepoint” will be in charge of outreach, creating the VCEA image that will reach the mailboxes of residents and ultimately, their power grids.

Before implementation, customers — all residents and businesses managed under the agreement — will be sent notification letters. Those letters allow residents to opt out of the agreement, meaning their power supply would continue normally.

“We do need to engage the people themselves,” said Saylor.

The VCEA is also working with public advisers, who are acting as sounding boards for public concerns.

Each element of the JPA appointed those individuals with hopes of creating a spread of experience and community voices in Davis, Woodland and countywide.

Those nine people also act as representatives for the affected communities.

At Tuesday’s meeting, some of those public representatives seemed concerned that without understanding the pricing and dates of the “switch,” residents will opt out instead of opting in.

Robb Davis, mayor of Davis, said the advisers would be key to the agreement’s success.

“I think the purpose of the advisory committee … is right on,” he said. “(They are a) critical accountability and transparency layer.”

Contact Hans Peter at 530-406-6238.

Valley Clean Energy Alliance Powering up an Aggressive Schedule, by Hans Peter, Woodland Daily Democrat, July 27, 2017.

Will Getting the Grid Ready for 100 Percent Renewables Spike Electricity Bills?

PG&E has been making improvements to its grid to meet the state’s mandate to provide 50 percent of electricity from renewable sources by 2030. This is one driver of recent rate increases.

Now, a bill (SB 100) that moves up the 50 percent renewable mandate to 2026 and sets a 100 percent renewable goal by 2045 may pass the state legislature.

Steve Malnight, Senior Vice President of Strategy and Policy at PG&E, discussed how the move to 100 percent renewable energy will impact the electricity grid in terms of reliability and costs to consumers.

Malnight was part of a panel called ‘100% Clean Grid: Is It Possible?’ at an Advanced Energy Economy conference in Sacramento on June 21.

Malnight opened by saying he didn’t know if a 100 percent renewable-ready grid is possible, describing it as a move into “uncharted territory.”

“The grid of the future will look a lot different from today’s grid and will require new technology, particularly storage,” Malnight said. Distributed generation, electric vehicles and other storage systems will play an essential role.

Malnight spoke in favor of an integrated western regional power market, so that utilities and other power buyers in California can purchase power from generators in other western states to help

balance electricity demand and supply. This will help with both reliability and prices. He said the state would be missing an opportunity if it chooses to pursue the 100 percent renewable goal as an “island economy.”

Malnight noted that utilities today are basically grid providers that resell electricity from third-party generators at zero profit. He explained that while grid charges are currently wrapped into the kWh rate, future pricing needs to separate out grid charges from electricity charges.

“Grid reliability is a service that must be priced accurately,” he said. He emphasized that pricing must support grid investments, but did not say much PG&E may have to spend to upgrade its grid or how rates would be impacted.

This is probably because the calculation is next to impossible at present. Experts say a lot will depend on the costs of storage technology and the relative costs of renewable versus natural gas. One state study estimated the cost to meet the current 50 percent mandate would be in the billions of dollars. It’s hard to believe this would not increase electricity rates.

The Valley Clean Energy Alliance (VCEA), our area’s new community choice aggregator will benefit from a grid that can handle more renewables but will also have to compensate PG&E for grid improvements.

Yolo County and the City of Davis are the current members of VCEA with the City of Woodland joining in the near future.

When VCEA roles out in 2018, PG&E customers will be automatically enrolled in VCEA but will have the choice to opt out and return to PG&E.

PG&E remains the owner and operator of the grid and will charge for its use. Grid usage charges will be the same, whether a customer is with VCEA or PG&E. So, these costs will not cause any price difference between VCEA and PG&E rates.

But, there is another charge, called the ‘Power Charge Indifference Adjustment’ (PCIA), that will cause price differences between PG&E and VCEA. This is because only VCEA customers will pay the PCIA.  The PCIA is not related to grid costs, but rather to PG&E legacy power procurement costs.  We will cover the PCIA in a future article.

Bottom line – grid improvements will increase rates, but it’s too early to know by how much. We also can expect to see separate electricity and grid usage charges on our bills in the future, which should make rates more transparent. But this will take time, because PG&E must get its rates approved periodically by the state Public Utilities Commission, and the current rates combine electricity charges with grid charges.

Will Getting the Grid Ready for 100 Percent Renewables Spike Electricity Bills?, by Leanna Sweha, The Davis Vanguard, June 26, 2017.

Saylor Slashes Energy Costs with Solar Following Energy Retrofit

Yolo County Supervisor Don Saylor and his wife adopted solar energy in December 2013 motivated by high power bills and a desire to lower their carbon footprint. Their total energy bill was peaking at about $400 a month which was unsustainable to them on several fronts.

The family was well aware that there are two steps to get the job done: Reduce overall consumption and decrease the cost of the energy by installing solar panels.

Leading the way with reduced consumption

The Saylor family had access to a lot of information about energy conservation via Cool Davis events and communications, so they had a good idea of the direction they wanted to head in. To start they

  • Added insulation in the attic
  • Installed solar tubes to bring sunlight into dark corners
  • Adopted a “Night Breeze” system developed by our local Davis Energy Group to automatically pull in cool night air through dedicated vents, like a whole house fan but without the need to open and shut windows or remember to turn the fan on
  • Replaced the single pane aluminum windows and sliding doors in their 1970’s era house with dual pane vinyl upgrades
  • Put up exterior shades on west facing windows, and
  • Switched out incandescent and fluorescent light bulbs and fixtures with more energy efficient options.
Don Saylor's Super Insulated Attic 2016

Don Saylor’s Super Insulated Attic. Credit Johan Verink.

Retirement investment hedges against potential rising energy costs

The Saylor family selected a 4.2 kilowatt (kW) system with SunPower components and had it installed by a solar contractor, The Solar Company. Even though the SunPower modules were not the cheapest, the company has a strong reputation for quality and reliability.

The family looked on solar as a retirement investment and purchased the system outright figuring that electric rates are not likely to go down in the future.

Supervisor Saylor emphasized that financing is an individual decision with several options available to fit particular circumstances. For some families, financing through a home equity loan or other arrangement may make the most sense. For others, leasing the equipment may be the best approach.

The total system cost in 2013 was $23,000, after the 30% federal tax credit, the final cost was $17,000 installed. Given that the cost of solar panels has continued to fall, it’s probable that a comparable system would cost even less today.

The family’s total energy bills have come down significantly. The monthly cost for electricity alone peaked at $157 in July 2013. This year, the highest monthly charge was $66.

Solar system was sized to fit demand

Since the system often produces more electricity than the home uses, it feeds the grid for PG&E credits reducing yearly energy costs even more. However, the system was not designed to offset all of the home’s electrical power use. The economics seemed most advantageous if they planned to conserve first then produce adequate solar power to avoid the higher two tiers of PG&E’s rate structure.

Don Saylor Residential Solar System 2016

Don Saylor with His Residential Solar System. Credit Johan Verink.

Saylor monitors production and usage over time

Supervisor Saylor has found “feedback” on electrical production and usage to be particularly helpful. He monitors electrical production of his panels day to day and month to month. More importantly, through PG&E’s web site, he can see how his total electrical power use compares over time. He likens this to the gas efficiency gauge on his Prius. Regular feedback is a useful tool to remind us to use resources wisely.

So far the system has required virtually no maintenance except for hosing off the panels every few weeks since built up dust and debris can reduce panel productivity.

Proposed Clean Energy Alliance

Being a County Supervisor puts Saylor in a unique position to understand local and countywide community needs for clean, affordable electric power.

He is currently working hard to establish a community choice electrical system (Community Choice Energy or CCE) that will be known as the Valley Clean Energy Alliance (VCEA) to be established through a joint powers agreement between Davis, Woodland, and Yolo County.

The target is to initiate service no later than the spring of 2018.


The goal is to provide residents with options to purchase power generated by more sustainable means at several different rate points but at a lower price than PG&E overall. VCEA will still utilize PG&E’s transmission system but not its production although residents will have the opportunity to opt out and stay with PG&E. One expected outcome, that should help those with rooftop solar, is that VCEA would pay more for excess power produced by a home solar system than the current rate paid by PG&E.

The community choice system will mark a milestone in a long line of steps toward renewable energy. Supervisor Saylor was instrumental in supporting Yolo County’s installation of solar panels on several county facilities, which now produce more electrical power than they consume, and predicts that “Energy independence is not going to be driven by fossil fuels.”


Saylor Slashes Energy Costs with Solar Following Energy Retrofit, by Mike Kluk, Cool Davis, October 3, 2016.

SMUD’s Holistic DER Planning Process Could Set New Standard for Utilities

Britain ruled the world on its army’s adage that “proper planning prevents poor performance.” California’s Sacramento Municipal Utility District (SMUD) is taking that idea to its distribution system.

A recent SMUD estimate found customers and third-party developers spend from $150 million to $200 million annually on distributed energy resources (DERs) in its territory, which is more than the utility is investing in utility-scale renewables to meet the state’s 50% renewables by 2030 mandate.

As DERs proliferate, SMUD, the sixth-largest municipal utility in the nation, is now testing new planning methods to maintain reliability and control costs, incorporating five steps laid out in a 2016 white paper from the Smart Electric Power Alliance (SEPA) and consultancy Black & Veatch.

In a follow-up study, SEPA and B&V summarized what SMUD gained from integrated DER planning, which includes combined heat and power, distributed photovoltaic solar, energy efficiency, behind-the-meter energy storage and electric vehicles.

“To now, we have only seen impacts of DER individually. This showed how they fit together at the distribution system land bulk system levels,” said SMUD DER manager Obadiah Bartholomy. “Seeing the interactive effects and what the net effects are was powerful.”

SMUD may be the first utility to have gone through such a comprehensive planning process, according to SEPA.

SMUD “took that more holistic view, instead of, like a lot of utilities, doing only individual pieces,” said Dan Wilson, one of the paper’s co-authors.

The analysis starts with a customer adoption forecast, Wilson said, and then looks at how customers will use new technologies, and what their impacts on the grid and utility finances will be.

It’s a planning procedure so comprehensive that even solar advocates are taking notice, arguing the process could provide lessons for utilities nationwide.

Five steps to DER success

The first white paper offered a five-step blueprint for utilities contending with rising customer demand for DERs.

The first step in the distribution system planning process was a comprehensive system assessment from the customer’s point of view. The utility not only needs to forecast load, but also the technical, economic, and achievable DER deployment potential, as well as the likely customer demand.

The second step was estimating the derived net load and impact of the DERs profile on the transmission and distribution systems. The third step was applying a similar analysis to the utility’s bulk power generation and transmission systems to get an understanding of what is coming at the distribution system.

The fourth step was a comprehensive assessment of the utility’s financials, rates and regulatory responsibilities. That would include the locational costs and benefits of DER, how they might defer or avoid traditional investments, and what new policies would grow DER at the right place and right time. The fifth step was developing a DER strategy and putting that strategy into operation.

“SMUD is one utility making changes in distribution planning and ‘one size does not fit all,’” said Daisy Chung, a SEPA Research Manager and paper co-author. “But the more ready a utility is to proactively look at distribution planning from the customer level, the more it will benefit from DER.”

Offering a series of recommendations, the paper says DER planning should be part of the regulator utility planning processes, like the Integrated Resource Plan (IRP).

To most effectively integrate DERs, a utility should have a “multidisciplinary analysis team” and should build “a robust DER customer database.” It should also “model the entire distribution system, rather than a subset of feeders” to better understand impacts and mitigations.

Planning must include statistically valid assumptions and datasets so analysis of rate design impacts on customer adoption can be accurate, the paper added.

With this kind of analysis, a utility like SMUD can target and develop of new programs, products, and services. It also enables utilities to track how much load they can lose to grid defection before there are significant financial implications.

With these datasets, utilities can accurately pinpoint where DERs can serve as non-wires alternatives to defer costly upgrades to its system and where DER penetration is high enough to provide ancillary services. What’s more, utilities can use these numbers to figure out how to structure rates and incentives that spur DER deployment from consumers and third-party developers.

“Utilities are very good at predicting load growth but with the pace of DER coming into the grid, traditional planning does not give them visibility into how customers will make choices about DER,” SEPA’s Chung said. “This type of planning will allow them to see at a very granular level how and where customers may be adopt DER.”

Detailed DER analytics can guide new infrastructure builds and better DER adoption forecasts, the paper concludes. The forecasts will allow the utility to plan deployment of system software, it adds.

“It is statistical modeling,” B&V’s Wilson said. “The analysis is to figure out what the well-known S-curve of adoption might look like, based on empirical specifics about SMUD’s service territory and how quickly these technologies have been adopted in the past.”

B&V statistician Elizabeth Warden said there was greater certainty about DER technologies like rooftop solar because there is historic data. Emerging technologies like electric vehicles and storage required “more forward-looking assumptions.”

The planning process being pioneered by SMUD has “broader implications for the electric utility industry,” according to the paper. It introduces into planning DER locational benefits and cost-benefit analysis for NWAs and for distribution system IT. It also introduces into planning utility human resources, utility-customer engagement, and the DER marketplace.

Finally, the integrated DER process faces up to the evolving utility business model and the utility’s role in managing “the grid of the future,” the paper reports.

But what will it cost?

Customer demand for DERs in SMUD’s territory has accelerated in recent years, especially since 2016. The growing volume of interconnection requestions was a key driver, for SMUD’s planning, magnified by legislative and regulatory policies designed to boost DER deployment.

But integrating DERs is not cheap, and, in fact, could exceed the benefits to utilities, the white paper warned. In a scenario with high DER penetration, the cumulative cost of lost revenues and DER integration through 2030 could reach more than $100 million.

SMUD’s current rates are inadequate to recover those levels of lost revenues and integration costs.

These estimates came after SMUD quantified DER potential and adoption for each customer based on technical and economic potential various DER technologies, analyzing 65 in all.

The analysis forecasted DER adoption to be widespread throughout SMUD’s territory, but uneven and clustered by “demographics, and technical and economic factors.” Planning based on this profile would look for mitigations to locational overloading, the paper reported. Those could be customer-focused DER rates and incentives or programs like community solar and strategic EV charger deployment.

SMUD ran scenarios for the impact of each DER independently, the paper reported. Meanwhile, a “combined case” scenario modeled “the blended impacts of a high DER adoption scenario.”

The combined case found a “1,000 MW reduction in the system peak net load on highest load days in 2030” and “reduced average ramp rates.” Peak demand shifted toward later in the evening and was flatter, requiring less use of natural gas peaker turbines.

“This integrated DER process gives us some important insight into how the Duck Curve will be affected by the combined impacts of DER,” said SMUD’s Bartholomy. “High PV penetration may cause midday solar overgeneration that exacerbates the Duck Curve but combining it with storage can shrink the Duck Curve and help us reduce peak demand.”

Though he expected “a lot more ramping from having a high penetration of solar,” there was actually less ramping needed with a high penetration of all the technologies.

The other key aspect of the DER planning is modeling the financial impacts, the study said. SMUD found DERs provide production cost savings that range from $70/MWh to $100/MWh, while program costs range from $1/MWh to $17/MWh. The result is revenue losses to SMUD.

More analysis is needed for newer demand resources like dispatching utility demand response, customer demand response, customer energy storage and utility-owned energy storage, the study concluded. “Current DR programs may be cost effective under the 2017 rate structure, but changing rate structures could impact their net value.”

For rooftop solar, the integration cost is $0.08/watt and it is $100 per EV, SMUD’s Bartholomy said. “That is a pretty significant cost.”

Though the benefits of single technologies do not justify that cost, planning provides a different cost-benefit perspective, he added.

With SMUD’s rising DER penetrations, a diversified DER portfolio “likely causes rate increases, but it causes a lower overall total cost of energy and a lower overall electricity bill,” Bartholomy said.

That situation is the result of two forces acting on rates. As DERs undermine electricity sales, rates are pushed higher. But if DERs relieve the need for new grid or generation infrastructure, they can relieve upward pressure on rates.

Even so, other questions remain

“With this integrated DER work, you can see those impacts on the bulk system but the question becomes whether it can be predicted accurately enough at a feeder or circuit level to avoid a specific investment,” Bartholomy said.

The big endorsement

Even with these questions remaining, the paper attracted the endorsement of major solar advocacy group Vote Solar.

It’s rare when a solar advocate endorses utility planning. But Vote Solar’s Ed Smeloff, the  regulatory team managing director, said the SEPA/B&V white paper is “forward-looking in its embrace of DER technologies and the opportunity they offer.”

SMUD’s financials as a public power company might make it easier to accommodate an accelerated DER uptake than it would be for an investor-owned utility said Smeloff. But, like other utilities, SMUD is faced with the challenge of planning for the decisions of its customers, anticipating potential bottlenecks and ensuring fair allocation of costs.

Despite these challenges, SMUD’s planning process recognizes the importance of rate design and procurement on managing DER growth, he added, while anticipating the need for forecasting, planning, operations, and financial tools necessary to integrate DERs.

“The paper acknowledges that there is a need to model the entire distribution system, feeder by feeder and substation by substation, rather than make generalizations about grid impacts from sample sections of the grid,” Smeloff said. “This study should be on the reading list for utility executives across the country.”

SMUD’s Holistic DER Planning Process Could Set New Standard for Utilities, by Herman K. Trabish, UtilityDive, June 16, 2017.

City Files Papers to Join Valley Clean Energy Alliance

Believing it’s the “right thing to do,” Woodland’s City Council is taking steps to link up with the Valley Clean Energy Alliance as a way of not only using more renewable energy but cutting costs as well.

Following a presentation last week, the council took formal action to join the Energy Alliance in hopes they can over the next several years see rate reductions of more than 3 percent.

The Yolo County supervisors are scheduled to hear the application and most likely accept it when they meet on Tuesday. The Davis City Council — the other participant in the Energy Alliance — accepted the application during a meeting last week.

Serving as the city’s representative on the governing board of the Energy Alliance will be Mayor Angel Barajas and Councilman Tom Stallard.

The action took place last Tuesday following a presentation by Roberta Childers, the city’s environmental sustainability manager, and Public Works Director Greg Meyer. A formal request to join the alliance had been expected after weeks of research and discussion by city staff and the council.

“I think it’s the right thing to do,” said Councilman Skip Davies, who argued six months ago that the city should take a cautious approach to any type of merger.

Davies has noted some companies already purchase their power independently of PG&E and that having other businesses and residents in the community doing the same made sense, but also posed problems if not done correctly.

Davies was primarily concerned about whether the estimated savings could be obtained and on Tuesday he said it would be hard to reach the projected cost savings of 2 percent to 3 percent “initially” because it would take time to set up the agency. Other projections have seen a rate drop of between 4 percent and eight percent, showing how much the estimates vary.

The Energy Alliance was developed under a statewide Community Choice system, which allows local governments to buy develop power on behalf of their public facilities, residents, and businesses. The aims are to increase local choice in energy supply and provide electricity with high renewable energy content at electric rates that are competitive with those of the incumbent investor-owned utility, such as PG&E.

PG&E would still continue to provide power as well as maintain power-transmission systems, but the decision on where the power comes from falls to individual entities. Some county’s, such as Marin, already have Community Power systems in place.

Initially, the council had some reservations on linking up with the Energy Alliance, based mainly on cost, but those fears seem to have eased. The $500,000 initial investment, Childers told the council earlier, does represent a financial risk. But it could also easily be made up in terms of overall energy savings by both the city itself and PG&E customers.

Councilwoman Xochitl Rodriguez said she was excited to be joining the Alliance while Councilman Enrique Fernandez thought it would not only be “great for the county but for California.

“The environmental and financial savings are clear,” he said.

“I hope our community understands we really want to do this but to some extent we’re compelled to do this,” said Councilman Tom Stallard. “It’s important for use to remain competitive. It’s also a trend of what’s going on around the stgate. It will give us more control over our ‘energy destiny.’”

The switch-over to the Energy Alliance may not occur until February 2018.

Earlier, Childers told the council that typically customers are given an option of deciding whether their want their power to come from 50 percent, 75 percent or 100 percent renewable energy sources, with rate structures reflected in their picks.

The specific types of energy sources have not specified, although utilities have been moving more heavily toward solar, wind and other alternative methods rather than hydroelectric within in California.

The steps being taken toward reducing the carbon footprints of California cities has been underway since 2015 when a “people’s power” movement began.

From a local viewpoint, people can see the effects everywhere. Private homeowners are being besieged by calls from solar-power companies promising access to cheap — or no cost — energy. Meanwhile, cities, school districts and even private individuals are installing solar-power collectors in parking lots that also serve as sunscreens or on rooftops.

To its proponents, installing solar-energy panels is a no-brainer. But to its critics, it’s just a lot of hype — a feel-good solution that will lead to unstable prices, empty promises and — at least for the time being — no additional green energy and no reduction in global warming.

Overseen by a team of energy experts and a board of elected officials, new community-run utilities are buying power from the grid, procuring a higher percentage of renewable energy — think solar and wind, as well as methane from dairy cows — than PG&E, while aiming for a price around or even below the giant utility’s rates. The new power systems also are charged with developing more local renewable energy.

California’s pioneer of “community choice” utilities was Marin County, which launched Marin Clean Energy in 2010. Sonoma County followed in 2014.

From 2010-13, Marin Clean Energy claims, its customers reduced cumulative greenhouse gas by 63,482 metric tons, equivalent to removing 13,365 cars from the roads each year.

Critics, however, have said the figures are misleading because the new companies are simply buying power from the grid that would have been purchased by giant utilities like PG&E anyway. And until the new utilities begin generating their own power, critics say, “community choice” power is essentially a paper transaction.

The groundwork for the California movement began two decades ago, largely related to the failure of energy deregulation that led to rolling blackouts several years later. That prompted the 2002 passage of state legislation, Assembly Bill117, directing California’s Public Utilities Commission to facilitate the creation of “community choice” power.

California’s landmark 2006 climate legislation — which requires utilities to buy 33 percent of their electricity from renewable sources by 2020 — further spurred the trend. That led to cities and counties developing “climate action plans,” which included exploring “community choice” systems.

Woodland passed its own Climate Action Plan as part of the 2035 General Plan this last week. That plan calls for eventually making the city a “zero net energy user,” meaning all of its power will come from renewable sources.

And i 2015, the Legislature dialed up the number with Senate Bill 350, which requires utilities to buy 50 percent of their electricity from renewable energy resources by 2030.

As of 2016, 27 percent of PG&E’s power comes from renewable energy. By comparison, Marin Clean Energy’s renewable energy portfolio is at least 50 percent, and Sonoma’s is 36 percent.

Even with the creation of the new utilities, PG&E continues to deliver the electricity, maintain power lines, send bills and provide customer services. But since these new local utilities are able to buy electricity now — with wholesale energy prices historically low — they are able to sell it to their customers at lower rates than PG&E, which locked up its energy contracts years ago when prices were higher.

That’s why PG&E also gets to charge customers who bolt a monthly exit fee, which helps PG&E make up for the energy contracts it purchased years ago to cover areas such as Marin and Sonoma that now have their own power systems.

While energy experts say the exit fee will disappear over time, until that happens the cost of the fee will fluctuate, reflecting the difference between the market price of energy when PG&E signed its contracts compared with the price of energy today.

Marin Clean Energy is also committing more than $500 million in new projects, including $24 million to build a 10.5-megawatt solar project in Richmond. And Sonoma Clean Power has contracted to develop 86 megawatts of new solar power.

It’s hoped that any energy savings achieved by the local Energy Alliance will eventually do the same thing in Yolo County, meaning that even more renewable energy will be available for purchase in the future.

The Bay Area News Group contributed to this story.

City Files Papers to Join Valley Clean Energy Alliance, by Jim Smith, Woodland Daily Democrat, May 21, 2017.

Woodland Joins Community Choice Energy Program

Davis’ Community Choice Energy program is gaining momentum, after officials announced last week that Woodland will join the partnership between the city of Davis and Yolo County.

Last Tuesday, the Davis City Council unanimously approved Woodland’s request to join the program. Final approval is pending a vote by the Yolo County Board of Supervisors at its next meeting.

The program — now dubbed the Valley Clean Energy Alliance — was originally approved in March 2016, and aims to bring locally controlled, sustainable energy to the region. Customers will have the option to purchase more of their electricity from renewable sources.

Davis is part of an increasing pool of cities across the state that are starting their own energy programs. Over the next 10 years, California could see more than 50 programs established across the state, said Mitch Sears, sustainability manager for Davis and staff liaison for the program.

“There’s a real groundswell of these programs across the state because of the value that they deliver,” Sears said.

Seeing Woodland join the Valley Clean Energy Alliance will increase the total number of customers by roughly one-third, with users in Davis and unincorporated Yolo County comprising similar portions of the customer base.

Increasing the alliance’s size will spread out the overhead costs among more customers, thereby improving the revenue returns expected for local communities.

Adding an estimated 23,000 customers from Woodland would spread costs over more customers, decreasing overhead from $9.49 million to $6.88 million per megawatt-hour. The cost to supply extra amounts of green energy to the larger customer base, meanwhile, would see a slight uptick.

Woodland’s entrance into the alliance also is expected to see revenues rise from $7.6 million — for a Davis and Yolo County CCE program — to  approximately $14.7 million for all three jurisdictions, according to financial models.

Currently, Woodland is the only other city in Yolo County mobilizing to join the partnership, though the framework is in place to allow West Sacramento or Winters to join at a future time, Sears explained.
“There’s other programs like Marin Clean Energy in the Bay Area that have gone through this process of growing and adding new jurisdictions. … We’re following that lead,” Sears said.

Woodland has committed $500,000 toward the program’s startup costs. The city of Davis and Yolo County approved identical amounts of funding when the program was first approved. As it currently stands, “very little” of those funds have been spent yet, as the program awaits hiring a CEO and other costs.

“It is important … that those initial startup costs funded by local jurisdictions are reimbursable,” Sears said.

Woodland also will add two members to the VCEA board as well as three residents to the program’s advisory committee. The board currently includes Davis Mayor Robb Davis and City Councilman Lucas Frerichs and Supervisors Don Saylor and Duane Chamberlain.

The Valley Clean Energy Alliance is expected to see its largest boost once a CEO is selected. The decision is expected the next month, Sears said.

“The search is winding down,” he said. “Once the CEO is chosen they’ll move more into deciding where the energy will be procured from and what personnel will be added to the team.”

The latest timeline for the program anticipates that electricity deliveries will begin by spring 2018. All residents will be automatically enrolled in the program, but will have ample opportunity to opt out and remain with PG&E.

PG&E will continue to transmit and distribute the electricity, provide natural gas, and handle the billing and maintenance of the grid.

Woodland Joins Community Choice Energy Program, by Felicia Alvarez, The Davis Enterprise, May 21, 2017.

Woodland Closer to Fusing with Valley Clean Energy Alliance

A little more energy — and a lot more money — by the city of Woodland could see a drop in energy costs.

The Woodland City Council is on the verge of finishing an arc of study on becoming a member of the Valley Clean Energy Alliance with Yolo County and the city of Davis, an effort of which could give power customers more choice in where their power originates.

Acting last Thursday, the council gave what could be its last informal blessing with preparing the paperwork and moving ahead with formal linkage to the Energy Alliance. All that’s needed now apparently is some paperwork and $500,000 toward startup costs, according to the city’s Environmental Sustainability Manager Roberta Childers.

The city has been studying the issue for the last six months or more and now seems ready to make the investment. About two weeks ago, the council received a report from Tom Flynn, chairman of the city’s Community Choice Energy Technical Advisory Committee, recommended onto the program after months of research and study.

If implemented, it is estimated city energy users could see rates drop between 4 percent and 8 percent compared to those of PG&E. For the city of Woodland — which also buys its power from PG&E — the savings could be reinvested back into additional energy conservation programs or used for other purposes.

Action is need now so Woodland could secure at least two seats on the board of the Energy Alliance in order to have a say where power is purchased and for how much. The switchover to the Energy Alliance might still not occur until February 2018.

The Energy Alliance was developed under a statewide Community Choice system, which allows local governments to buy develop power on behalf of their public facilities, residents, and businesses. The aims are to increase local choice in energy supply and provide electricity with high renewable energy content at electric rates that are competitive with those of the incumbent investor-owned utility, such as PG&E.

PG&E would still continue to provide power as well as maintain power-transmission systems, but the decision on where the power comes from falls to individual entities. Some county’s, such as Marin, already have Community Power systems in place.

Initially, the City Council had some reservations on linking up with the Energy Alliance, based mainly on cost, but those fears seem to have subsided. The $500,000 initial investment, Childers told the council, does represent a financial risk. But it could also easily be made up in terms of overall energy savings by both the city itself and PG&E customers.

“The financial projections by Yolo County and subsequent projections for Woodland’s efforts,” Childers explained, “showed the likelihood of substantial economic benefits that would benefit the entire community. Davis and Yolo County would not have decided to go forward with a VECA recommendation if there weren’t the expectation of good customer rate savings or at least competitiveness with PG&E rates and healthy rate savings.”

Childers said the $500,000 could be reimbursed within one or two years after the Energy Alliance was formed.

Council members were supportive with Skip Davies — who said he liked the concept about nine months ago although he had questions about cost — now “fully supports the project.” Davis in the past has noted that some businesses in town already purchase their power independently of PG&E.

One other risk is for customers, noted Childers and City Manager Paul Navazio. Those who did not want to participate in the Energy Alliance would have to “opt out” of the program and pay a fee of an as yet undetermined amount.

Childers said there is a “lot of discussion” underway between PG&E, Public Utilities Commission and other investor-owned utilities on how to “better calculate the exit costs of customers and how to make those fees more predictable.”

Nonetheless, Councilman Tom Stallard — a longtime supporter of renewable energy — said it was “important (to note) there’s no stated position from PG&E on this. I’ve read that many as 40 percent of customers and perhaps as many as 80 percent” are making this switch. “So this is a trend. PG&E will continue to provide power … they’ll still be installing lines and installing pipe … (but) we gain control of their sources of energy and we can continue to emphasize renewals which is important to meet our climate action plan.”

Childers said that typically power customers are given an option of deciding whether their want their power to be coming from 50 percent renewable energy sources, 75 percent or 100 percent, with rate structures reflected in their choices. The specific types of energy sources were not specified, although utilities have been moving more heavily toward solar, wind and other alternative methods rather than hydroelectric, for example.

Councilman Enrique Fernandez had a series of questions about the proposal, but also said he supported membership in the Energy Alliance “200 percent” for the both decreasing costs and cleaner energy production.

And Mayor Angel Barajas said he supported it as well, noting it would help small businesses and give them an opportunity to use their savings elsewhere.

Woodland Closer to Fusing with Valley Clean Energy Alliance, by Jim Smith, Woodland Daily Democrat, May 7, 2017.

Woodland Moving Ahead to Team up with ‘Energy Alliance’

In science circles, an erg is a unit of energy and work that by some definitions is the equivalent of one house fly performing one “push up.”

JIM SMITH-DAILY DEMOCRATCommunity Choice Advisory Committee Chairman Tom Flynn briefs the Woodland City Council on the advantages of joining the Valley Clean Energy Alliance recently.

Community Choice Advisory Committee Chairman Tom Flynn briefs the Woodland City Council on the advantages of joining the Valley Clean Energy Alliance recently. (JIM SMITH-DAILY DEMOCRAT)

By that standard, perhaps millions of ergs have been expended to prepare a report that recommends Woodland join the Valley Clean Energy Alliance to purchase power more cheaply and without going through Pacific Gas & Electric.

If all goes according to plan, the City Council was told this past week, Woodland could team up with the city of Davis and Yolo County within the next several months in preparation of for the February 2018 launch of the combined agency.

Last Tuesday, the council received a report from its Tom Flynn, chairman of the city’s Community Choice Energy Technical Advisory Committee, that made the recommendation after months of research and study.

If implemented, city energy users could see rates drop between 4 percent and 8 percent compared to those of PG&E. For the city of Woodland — which also buys its power from PG&E — the savings could be reinvested back into additional energy conservation programs or used for other purposes.

Flynn, a storage and distributed energy resource policy manager for the state’s Independent System Operator with nearly 30 years of experience in California electricity policy, updated the council which took no formal action but is expected to do so in early May.

Roberta Childers, the city’s environmental sustainability manager, has indicated that if the city acts quickly it could have one or more seats on the board of directors for the Energy Alliance.

If the council decides to participate in a energy program, the City would need to commit funds toward program administrative costs and energy contracts. The City’s initial start-up investment is estimated to be in the range of $500,000, with the expectation of recovering those expenses over time through the customers’ payments for electricity. General Fund reserves represent the most likely funding source.

Under a Community Choice system local governments can buy develop power on behalf of their public facilities, residents, and businesses. The aims are to increase local choice in energy supply and provide electricity with high renewable energy content at electric rates that are competitive with those of the incumbent investor-owned utility, such as PG&E.

While a Community Choice system determines the sources of its power supply, sets customer rates, and develops programs and incentives, the utility continues to deliver the energy, maintain infrastructure, read meters, and bill the customers. Individual customers would have the ability to “opt out” of the program.

Participation has the potential to provide substantial economic benefits through the provision of favorable electricity rates and incentive programs tailored to local needs and could accelerate progress toward the Woodland’s Climate Action Plan targets for greenhouse gas emission reductions.

If the Council agrees joining the Energy Alliance it would need to complete a number of administrative steps by July 2017. Specifically, by May the city would need to notify Davis and Yolo County of its desire to be on the agency so those groups could grant approval.

Woodland Moving Ahead to Team up with ‘Energy Alliance’, by Jim Smith, Woodland Daily Democrat, April 23, 2017.

Council Unanimously Votes to Approve Sterling Apartment Project

As the hour approached midnight and the council listed to dozens of citizens on both sides, including a relatively large number of students, the council – citing a desperate need for student housing while being somewhat wary of this proposal – unanimously approved the project, asking staff to come back with a number of conditions for the development agreement.

Among the conditions placed were an agreement on the provision of pool passes for the low-income residents to city pools, an exit fee for those parking their cars onsite as storage, a look at water conservation incentives, and commitments to green sustainability as well as participation in the community choice energy arrangement.

The council, led by Mayor Pro Tem Brett Lee, wants to come back with some sort of statement of support, committing to preserving Rancho Yolo.  The mayor pro tem felt that the residents of that mobile home park, who own their homes but not the land, feel especially vulnerable.

Mayor Robb Davis mentioned that he and Lucas Frerichs have been in talks with the Yolo County Supervisors about a potential conversion ordinance that would make it more difficult to convert mobile homes to other uses.

There was also talk about the need to look into construction impact fees at a future point.

Josh Vasbinder, representing the Dinerstein Corporation, noted that after meeting with residents they agreed to reduce the density of housing.  Mr. Dinerstein and others attempted to dispel the belief that this project was effectively proposed with the idea of a compromise in mind.

At the same time, he laid out the clear need for student rental housing.  He noted that, according to the 2016 Vacancy Report prepared by the UC Davis Student Housing Department, there is a 0.3 apartment vacancy rate to go along with an overall 0.2 vacancy rate.

Students came out in numbers to support the project

He noted that they surveyed around 9,969 units, accounting for 83 percent of all the multifamily housing stock in the Davis community.

Those findings mean that there are less than 30 units vacant and available to renters in the entire city.

Mr. Vasbinder presented the following: “According to the City’s 2016 Residential Report, of the 266 residential permits issued, Zero (0) were issued for market-rate/student apartments.”  Furthermore, “While the city is meeting the targets for all residential categories, they are not meeting targets for market rate/student apartments.”  And finally, “The majority of the apartments developed over the last several years have been dedicated affordable units.”

He also told the council they are committed to LEED Gold and photovoltaic, stating, “We’re certainly committed to being as green as we can.”

One of the concerns was the enforceability of the single-occupancy per bedroom lease.  Mr. Vasbinder explained that everything goes into a software program – when anyone leases bed space, that bed space is taken off the software.  “We have the ability through the program to almost block out or x-out bed space so that it stays the 540,” he said.

Everyone will sign an individual lease, and they have ways to manage guests to avoid freeloaders.  He also explained that they will be over-staffed to address these issues, plus there will be quarterly reviews and audits.  At other sites they have effectively managed these issues with no problems.

During public comment, there was a split in the community view on housing.  One resident noted, “I am really concerned that the city of Davis is building dorms in the city.”  Another said that, while she was concerned about the students’ access to housing, she was worried about the affordability of the units.

From the student perspective, many expressed concerns about the scarcity of housing and the possibility of some students going homeless.

The neighborhood was still strongly opposed

Councilmember Rochelle Swanson said that “this started out as a land use issue, but at the end of the day, it’s becoming a social justice issue.”  She said, “We want everything and we want nothing.  We want small affordable housing and yet we want Platinum LEED Perfection.”

“I hear the concerns about the General Plan and Great Planning,” she said.  “It’s a long process.  How many students are going to stay homeless on our watch while we struggle for perfection.  It is true that the perfection is the death of the good.”

She said the thinking by some is “let’s just shove this off one more time” as we try to make the project better.  But she said, “I just can’t because it starts to feel wrong, it starts to feel like hypocrisy.”

Councilmember Swanson noted, “It’s been called dorms.  I’ll be honest at first, I was a little uncomfortable with that.  Then I stepped back and thought, how many mini-dorms do we have in this town – unofficial mini-dorms.”

She noted pulling kids out of single-family homes “allows a place for a young family to come in.  We are a zero sum game right now, when we are at 2 percent vacancy.”

Like her colleagues, she pushed back at the university as well, saying, “It’s true we want the university to pick up their piece and that part of it is doing our piece and not waiting till the next one.”

Councilmember Will Arnold noted, “This is the most difficult issue that we as a council have had to deal with since I’ve been on the council.”  What he realized is that there is a legitimate fear of potential displacement in the Rancho Yolo residents, and that “must not be ignored.”

He said plainly, “As long as I am on the city council, I will fight to support Rancho Yolo, period.”

But he also noted that a lot has to happen for those fears to materialize and he said that that is not the case in many other places in Davis where displacement is happening now.  He gave several examples including the student who spoke saying that she was mentally preparing herself for homelessness.

“These stories are so common now that they’re almost cliché,” Mr. Arnold explained.  “This is not a possibility or a long-from-now threat of potentially being displaced that may or may not manifest.  This is the current reality for a number of our neighbors.

“UC Davis is not doing enough to house its students on campus, that’s not just my opinion it’s a fact based on their own previous commitments to the city,” he said.  “But even in the best case scenario in which UCD tomorrow agrees to our request which they’ve given no indication that they plan to do, and then they keep their word on that promise which they’ve never done before, the best case scenario is that the current dismal state of housing stays exactly the same for the next ten years and beyond.  That is unacceptable.”

Sending the message to UC Davis, he said that “should we approve this proposal tonight, we are stepping up to the challenge you have created.  It’s time for you to do the same.”

Mayor Pro Tem Brett Lee, clearly the most skeptical of this proposal, nevertheless said he would support it as long as his colleagues agree to make assurances to the Rancho Yolo residents, recognizing that they feel vulnerable and that no one knows where these zoning changes will stop.

At the same time, he recognized the need for housing, as he put it, “You can sense the desperation.”

He said, when he was approached about a conflict resolution process, he was skeptical, believing that this was a losing proposal.  He said that when Sterling came forward, he believed it was appropriate in size and configuration.

Mayor Pro Tem Lee said, “I did sit down with those groups and the discussion was productive. My biggest issue is that it really was a mini-dorm.  It still is a big issue for me.”

He suggested it should be a normal configuration apartment that allows for other people than just students to reside there.  At the same time, he said that “this was caused by the university not housing enough students on campus.”  However, he said, that argument doesn’t make any sense, as housing students at Sterling will free up other spots on campus.

Councilmember Lucas Frerichs said, “The need for housing in Davis, I think, is imperative right now.”  He noted, that the city and the city council “have been very strong and forceful with UC Davis regarding their lack of responsibility or lack of action for building adequate amounts of housing for students on campus.”

He said that will continue but “we cannot force them to build housing on campus.”

Mr. Frerichs noted, “I’m pretty saddened that there are so many folks struggling to live in this community regardless of age.  Many people in my own peers are choosing to leave Davis because they can’t afford to be here any longer.”

Finally, Mayor Robb Davis was appreciative of the thoughtfulness of the discussion and noted that they really do as a council wrestle with these issues and try to take stock and account of them.

He said,  “I believe that this council is taking a holistic approach to housing in this community – in fact I reject the notion that we’re not”

The mayor noted that when he looked at the now nearly decade-old Housing Element, he said that “priority properties have been systematically developed.”  At the same time, he cautioned, “Opportunities don’t come when we command them to come.”

He called Sterling “an opportunity that comes at a time when we have a need.”

The mayor said that “when you bring people within two miles of the university, the vast majority, probably 90 percent in a property within two miles of the university are going to go there by means other than an automobile.  So that our traffic estimates are probably overstated.”

He said, “We have given input into the LRDP, we have been as aggressive as we can.”

He said, “I bridle at the idea that (we are) not taking a holistic view.  Look, infill by definition (is a) messy and leapfroggish proposition.”  He said they sit up there with constrained choice sets.

He closed, stating, “Just because we are reacting, doesn’t mean that we are reactionary.”

Council Unanimously Votes to Approve Sterling Apartment Project, by David M. Greenwald, The Davis Vanguard, April 19, 2017.

Public to Get First Look at Community Choice Energy Proposal

A public information session has been scheduled for Woodland’s planned participation in a Community Choice Energy program.

The 6:30 p.m., Wednesday, meeting at the Woodland Community & Senior Center is designed to explain how Community Choice Energy works, why local governments are forming their own CCE’s, and how residents and businesses will be affected.

Members of the city’s Community Choice Energy Advisory Committee are inviting all interested residents to this informational meeting and hear about the options being considered by the city as a means of not only reducing power bills but also the dependence on Pacific Gas & Electric.

It was only this past Tuesday that Committee Chairman Tom Flynn, briefed the City Council on the progress made toward having the city link up with Yolo County and the city of Davis as part of their Valley Clean Energy Alliance program.

In his briefing, Flynn said the concept behind “community choice energy” is basically that local groups buy and supply power independently of PG&E, and then PG&E delivers that power to customers.

This permits the local group to negotiate for so-called “cleaner” energy, which in turn can reduce the carbon footprint of a community. As well, any profits made through the purchase and sale of the energy stays in the community. It’s been estimated that Woodland residents could see a drop in their power rates ranging from 4 to 8 percent under a Community Choice Energy system.

PG&E, meanwhile, partners with a CCE to operate and maintain the distribution and transmission system, read meters, bill the customers, and provide outage response.

“The aims of CCEs are to increase local decision-making in energy supply and programs while providing electricity with a high percentage of renewable energy content at electric rates that are competitive with those of the utility,” according to city officials.

At the public meeting, members of the City Council-appointed CCE Advisory Committee will provide an overview of CCEs and discuss the committee’s ongoing efforts to evaluate the pros and cons of joining Valley Clean Energy Alliance.

Following the presentation, committee members, city staff, and City Council members will be available for informal question and answer session. Attendees are encouraged to bring questions and ideas to help ensure that the committee is considering all issues of relevance to the community before presenting its report and recommendation to the council on April 18.

Concerning Valley Clean Energy Alliance, Flynn told the council the group is planning a 2018 launch and has welcomed Woodland’s inclusion. Woodland has until April 18 to get its report ready so a final decision can be made by the end of June. Woodland would need to submit a final implementation plan by August to link up with the Energy Alliance.

At present, Flynn said the choices narrow to three:

•Retain the status quo with no change in how Woodlanders receive their power.

•Join the Valley Energy Alliance and be included in its February 2018 launch.

•Join the Valley Energy Alliance after its February 2018 launch.

The city created the ad hoc advisory committee in November 2016. Among its 14 members are Woodland Mayor Angel Barajas and Councilman Tom Stallard.

Public to Get First Look at Community Choice Energy Proposal, by Jim Smith, Woodland Daily Democrat, March 23, 2017.