As the demand for clean, renewable energy across the state increases, both Sonoma Clean Power and MCE, formerly Marin Clean Energy, are expanding their services.
Santa Rosa-based Sonoma Clean Power will begin serving Mendocino County in June, which will add 38,000 new customers to its existing 196,000 in Sonoma County.
In the North Bay, San Rafael-based MCE, with 255,000, customers, expanded into Napa last year.
Both clean-energy organizations are the “default electricity suppliers.” Both have agreements with PG&E to purchase electricity from clean sources like solar, wind, geothermal and hydropower from alternative sources, and feed it through PG&E’s wires to customers. PG&E also remains responsible for billing and maintenance to the system.
Customers can opt out of the service and sign with PG&E directly, but in Sonoma 88 percent rely on Sonoma Clean Power, and MCE serves 83 percent of the population it covers.
The Santa Rosa- and San Rafael-based power agencies are what is called a community choice aggregation, or CCA, organization, created under state policy that allow local governments to pool their electricity load so they can provide alternative energy sources. In California there are eight, and across the U.S., CCAs are currently legal in seven states, and three more are considering the option.
The goal of CCAs is to offer customers an alternative to reliance on fossil fuels, lower emissions, and provide local control over energy distribution by creating competitive pricing. They do this through unique arrangements with public utilities.
As a result of the creation of CAAs, alternative power sources are becoming more competitive, which in turn is creating slightly lower utility rates for customers.
The Sonoma County agency’s rates are currently 1 percent below those of PG&E, due to competitively negotiated contracts with suppliers.
MCE is currently a little more expensive, but that will change this spring, said Jamie Tuckey, director of public affairs.
On April 1, MCE is reducing its rates and all customer costs will be 0.1 percent less, she said.
Rates would be lower still if the company didn’t have to pay a $13 exit fee for every customer that switches from PG&E to MCE.
“We respect the energy choices that are available to our customers, and will continue to cooperate with local governments as they consider pursuing and/or developing a CCA program,” said Brandi Merlo, company spokesperson.
CCA’s are set up to offer two service options to their customers. At Sonoma Clean Power, one plan is a 100 percent local renewable electricity that comes at a premium, the other is 36 percent renewable, with a goal to be 50 percent renewable by 2020, said Kate Kelly, director of public affairs.
MCE also offers two service options, one at 100 percent and one at 52 percent renewable energy.
“Our goal is to increase that to 80 percent renewable and 100 percent carbon-free by 2025,” Tuckey said.
PG&E also offers solar energy to customers at a premium. The more than 100-year-old power company serves gas and electricity to customers in a 70,000-square-mile service area in northern and central California. Of those, 4,200 customers are enrolled in the Solar Choice plan. In 2015, approximately 30 percent of the energy that PG&E delivered to its customers came from state qualifying renewable resources, Merlo said.
The drive to make California a clean energy provider intensified in 2015 with the passage of SB 350, the Clean Energy and Pollution Reduction Act. The bill created new, clean energy, clean air and greenhouse gas reduction goals which public utilities will have to meet. By 2020, 33 percent of all electricity sold must be generated by renewable energy sources, and by 2030 that number rises to 50 percent.
Sonoma Clean Power started service to the county in 2014. It is a nonprofit independently run by the Sonoma County cities that join the program, and it serves all of the county except for Healdsburg, which supplies that municipality with its own electricity needs.
Mendocino expressed interest in the Sonoma County agency’s service at their startup, but the company needed to gain traction before expanding, Kelly said. With smaller resources and a spread-out population, it wasn’t as feasible for Mendocino to start its own CAA as it was to join forces.
Sonoma Clean Power’s service will not include Ukiah, as that municipality, like Healdsburg, supplies its own power.
Marin County was the first in the state to launch a CCA program, and began service in 2010. MCE’s members consist of the county of Marin and all 11 of Marin’s municipalities, unincorporated Napa County, and the cities of Benicia, El Cerrito, San Pablo and Richmond. In 2016 it added seven new municipalities including Lafayette, Walnut Creek, Napa, American Canyon, St. Helena, Calistoga and Yountville.
Also last year, California’s CCAs joined forces and created CalCCA, a trade association to serve as a united voice.
Sonoma Clean Power, Marin’s MCE Help Lead Fight against Fossil-Fueled Energy Grid, by Cynthia Sweeney, North Bay Business Journal, March 22, 2017.