City Council Votes to Join Energy Authority

Lincoln City Council voted 3-2 Tuesday night to join the Sierra Valley Energy Authority, a Joint Powers Agency (JPA) that might provide electricity at lower rates than PG&E.

Councilmen Gabriel Hydrick and Stan Nader voted against joining the Sierra Valley Energy Authority.

According to a report by Lincoln Economic Development manager Shawn Tillman, legislation passed in 2002 authorizes Community Choice Aggregation (CCA) programs to operate in California. The legislation allows cities, counties and Joint Powers Agencies to combine the electricity demand in its jurisdiction and obtain or generate power to meet those needs. The Community Choice Aggregation would be able to set rates, determine rebates and incentives and provide other energy-related programs.

PG&E would continue to provide transmission, distribution, maintenance and repair, and billing services.

Hydrick said he voted against joining the Sierra Valley Energy Authority because terrible consequences are likely when government interferes with the marketplace.

“If you think the water rate is convoluted, wait until you see this,” Hydrick said. “The city manager has been burned a couple of times and he’s set up to be burned.”

Nader said he would have liked more time to study the proposal.

“I understand that Placer County has electrical resources,” Nader said. “I’m troubled about government getting more and more into things private business does. I am uncomfortable seeing more and more government-run programs that should be done by private industry.”

According to Tillman’s report, the main benefits from joining the Joint Powers Agency are allowing consumers a choice of energy providers; allowing local control of rates and programs; the opportunity to develop local energy resources and job creation.

Lincoln Mayor Peter Gilbert said he was comfortable joining because he has confidence in the other cities participating in the Sierra Valley Energy Authority JPA. Gilbert said every city in Placer County has joined but Roseville, which has its own utility district.

“This thing has much more upside than downside,” Gilbert said. “Each individual user can opt in or out.”

Councilman Paul Joiner said joining would give Lincoln residents a choice. If the council had voted against joining, then Lincoln residents would not have had a choice to switch from PG&E to Sierra Valley Energy Authority.

“I’d rather be a part of this and retain some degree of control and give residents a choice,” Joiner said. “The Public Utilities Commission (PUC) already controls PG&E; there is no free market.”

Councilman Dan Karleskint said estimated savings to residential electricity customers, under the Sierra Valley Energy Authority, would likely be closer to one percent or one-and-one-half percent than the reported five percent.

The City Council will appoint a councilman to the Joint Powers Agency’s board at the council’s July 6 workshop.

City Council Votes to Join Energy Authority, by Steve Archer, Lincoln News Messenger, Jun 29, 2017.

“Solarbration” for Nevada County’s Solar Generation and Energy Efficiency Program

NEVADA CITY, Calif. June 20, 2017 – Tuesday, June 20th, Nevada County celebrated the solar power generation of two of the five solar sites that are part of the County’s Solar Generation and Energy Efficiency Program: the Eric Rood Administrative Center, and Wayne Brown Correctional Facility. The program is projected to save $7 million in energy costs over the next 20 years, which will increase to $1.3 million annually in year 21 and beyond. In addition to the program’s five solar sites that include over five thousand solar panels, the County also accomplished $1.7 million in deferred maintenance costs with the replacement of HVAC units, lighting, and energy efficient building controls at seventeen different County sites.

Nevada County received the 2017 Exemplary Renewables Award from their local Climate Change Coalition and Sierra Club organizations for their efforts with the program. Nevada County’s new solar panels will be producing 4.4 million kWh per year, meeting around 80% of the County’s energy needs. This is the equivalent to removing the greenhouse gas emissions of 653 cars or 981 tons of waste that is recycled instead of landfilled.

“When the Solar Generation and Energy Efficiency Program came to the Board of Supervisors I was ecstatic, because I always believed and wanted solar at Nevada County,” said Supervisor Chair Hank Weston. “This is monumental because it follows Nevada County’s 2012 Energy Plan and goals to reduce our carbon footprint.”

Nevada County would like to thank the County departments that played integral roles in this program, Information & General Services; the Community Development Agency; County Executive Office; County Counsel; and the Auditor-Controller, as well as the contractors Climatec, SunPower, and Teichert.

“Solarbration” for Nevada County’s Solar Generation and Energy Efficiency Program, by Nevada County Board of Supervisors’ Office, YubaNet, June 20, 2017.

CCAs Bring Comeuppance to Big Utilities

You can call it a form of comeuppance for huge privately owned California utility companies unscathed so far by exposure of their negligence and blundering of the past decade. They now find themselves deeply threatened by what some might consider a small army of mosquitos.

No individual was penalized when a federal trial found Pacific Gas & Electric Co. guilty of criminal negligence in the 2010 San Bruno pipeline explosion that killed eight persons and destroyed dozens of homes. The company itself was fined just $3 million, a pittance for the vast enterprise.

Similarly, no company executive has yet been charged with anything criminal in the well-documented multi-billion dollar collusion between Southern California Edison Co. officials and Michael Peevey, former president of both Edison and the state Public Utilities Commission. They agreed privately to force consumers to pay the bulk of the costs for decommissioning the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station in northern San Diego County, rendering subsequent public hearings completely without meaning. That case is still under investigation, more than two years after raids on Peevey’s homes uncovered key documents in the case.

But the PUC, a participant in the illicit meeting where the decision was made to dun consumers more than $3 billion for the closure, saw its members carefully maintain straight faces while fining Edison a puny $16 million for not reporting a meeting their own chief attended.

Those paltry penalties deprived millions Californians of justice. But a different kind of punishment is now pecking away at the utility giants. This comes in the form of Community Choice Aggregations, arrangements where cities and counties can let electricity customers choose whether to stay with the existing utilities or switch to a locally-run public entity that buys power from generating companies at the source and brings it to consumers via utility company lines. Non-profit CCA prices are generally lower than those of for-profit utilities.

How seriously do the utilities take the threat of CCAs? One indicator was the 2010 campaign for Proposition 16, run by and for PG&E, which spent $46 million qualifying and promoting the measure. That initiative would have allowed CCAs to form only after a two-thirds supermajority vote in any area involved. Essentially, that was an effort to kill the CCA idea. Even without much experience with CCAs, and with opponents spending less than .2 percent as much as PG&E, the measure lost by a 53 to 47 percent margin.

The eight current California CCAs now operate in places as diverse as Sonoma County, San Francisco and the high desert city of Lancaster in Los Angeles County. Butte County is exploring the idea. So are San Jose and San Diego.

But the most serious comeuppance so far for the utilities came this spring, when Los Angeles County supervisors – free to do this because Proposition 16 failed – voted to create a CCA that will buy power primarily from renewable sources like solar thermal arrays, wind farms, hydroelectric dams and geothermal wells.

When the new CCA opens next year, anyone in unincorporated areas within California’s most populous county can switch to it. Scores of cities in the county will also be able to join the CCA and provide residents the choice of whether to stay with Edison or opt out.

The city of Los Angeles, which has run a publicly-owned utility of its own for many decades, will not be eligible.

No one has reported the exact amount CCAs already cost the big utilities, but it is sure to be in the billions of dollars once the Los Angeles County version comes online.

The companies know the most effective way for them to retain customers under this burgeoning free-choice system is to provide better service. So Edison is building scores of new electric vehicle charging stations, which look progressive even though they serve only a tiny fraction of Californians. And PG&E has upgraded equipment in San Francisco, cutting the frequency of significant blackouts to an average of just 1.02 times per customer per year.

CCA’s, of course, are not a direct punishment of PG&E and Edison for their blunders and illegal acts. But CCAs very likely would not be proliferating without that very recent history, which saw the big utilities create an unfriendly climate for themselves.

CCAs Bring Comeuppance to Big Utilities, by Thomas Elias, The Union Democrat, May 24, 2017.

Another View: Placer’s energy future

The Golden State Warriors with their lightening passes, 3-pointers from the other side of the moon and tenacious defense clobbered the Cavs to win the NBA Basketball Championship. It’s exciting to watch a team perform at the top of their game.
In the public policy arena, the stakes are higher. We need our local elected officials to perform at the top of their game. Placer County, the cities of Auburn, Colfax, Lincoln, Rocklin and the town of Loomis serving 64 percent of the county’s population will soon have a fully functioning joint powers entity called the Sierra Valley Energy Authority (SVEA), which will replace PG&E as the purchaser of electricity for all Placer residents, businesses, non-profits and other organizations, except for those under the jurisdiction of Roseville’s municipal utility district. Will the seven locally elected officials serving on the governing board of the SVEA and the authority’s staff and contractors outperform PG&E? Will the SVEA craft a realistic (no wishful thinking) strategic plan and make wise decision that will help ensure that electricity for Placer residents, employers, workers and seniors will be more affordable and reliable than under the current system?
State law, AB 117 of 2002, created the Community Choice Aggregation (CCA) Program, which allows local governments to aggregate the electricity demand within their jurisdictions and purchase and/or generate the electricity to meet the demand. The local CCA, usually a joint powers authority, sets the generation rates and creates incentive programs while the host utility continues to provide transmission, distribution, maintenance, repair and billing services. The five California-based CCAs are operating in Marin, Sonoma, Lancaster, San Mateo, San Francisco and Santa Clara. On July 12, 2016 the Placer County Board of Supervisors voted to create the CCA program by forming the joint powers authority and the cities of Colfax and Auburn have voted to join the SVEA. It is expected that the remaining cities and towns in Placer County will join the SVEA in the next several months. Customers will receive two written notices before the SVEA begins operation and two written notices allowing the customer to opt-out and remain with PG&E.
Is this a good idea? A Placer County Community Choice Energy Team composed of county staff and consultants wrote in a 42-page “Financial Analysis and Due Diligence Report” (October 10, 2016) that creating a CCA in Placer County is “financially, economically and operationally feasible.” The team asserts that a CCA could result in a potential 5 percent reduction in the energy cost portion of the customer bills. With local control of the power supply including biomass energy from forest fuels, hydroelectric power from the Middle Fork dams on the American River and tapping landfill gases, the SVEA could produce “additional economic, environmental and social benefits.” Keeping more ratepayer money circulating in the local economy will create more jobs.
These are great goals. I applaud the team for bringing the CCA option to the local governments and for crafting the initial report of how it would work here. However, I didn’t accept all the assumptions in the report and we need to ask hard questions, eschew wishful thinking and do a lot more strategic planning. We face six major challenges.
First, we don’t yet have a clear strategy on how the SVEA can obtain the lowest price possible for energy produced by natural gas or a Strategic Plan 2030 that outlines specific actions to develop local sources of energy, such as biomass, solar, hydro and landfill waste-to-energy.
Second, we need strategy to take advantage of the biomass energy potential from Placer’s forest lands while recognizing that biomass energy is much more expensive than natural gas and from heavily subsidized solar and wind power. California has only one-third as many biomass plants as we had in the 1980s due to poor federal and state policies.
Third, the California Public Utility Commission allows utility companies to charge a fee on CCA customers to compensate the utility for power purchase contracts they entered into on behalf of those customers. That fee has gone up 80 percent the last two years and if Placer does not create an effective lobbying effort any rate advantages of having a CCA may vanish.
Forth, since there are no detailed reports on how the SVEA will be staffed, I’m concerned that we are not ready to operate the SVEA in the most cost-effective way for ratepayers.
Fifth, we need to emulate what the Sonoma Clear Power CCA did when they worked with PG&E to produce a side-by-side comparison of the rates that will be charged by the local authority and PG&E. Customers should be given full information so they can decide whether to opt-out or not.
Lastly, we need more public input, a website, and a series of town hall meetings to explain this important and complex undertaking to the hard-working people and seniors who pay the bills.
Kevin Hanley is a former mayor of Auburn and can be reached at hanleykh@jps.net.

Another View: Placer’s energy future, by Kevin Hanley, Auburn Journal, June 23, 2017.

Sierra Valley Energy Authority Seeks IT Services

Placer County and the cities of Colfax, Rocklin, Auburn, and Loomis have formed a Joint Powers Authority (JPA) for the purpose of administering a new Community Choice Aggregation (CCA) program. The new JPA is called Sierra Valley Energy Authority (SVEA). The purpose of SVEA is to take local control over the electricity supply from the existing investor-owned utility and provide economic, social, and environmental benefits tailored to the ratepayers within the participating service areas.
The Sierra Valley Energy Authority is expected to employ up to 30 staff members. It is anticipated that new employees will start in September and the organization will grow to about 20 in the first quarter of 2018 with remaining growth to occur over the following one to three years. The facility for this operation will likely be in Rocklin or Loomis and comprise 6,000 to 8,000 square feet. The office environment will be a mix of enclosed offices and systems furniture cubicles. The enterprise is intended to be entrepreneurial, high performing, lean, and agile. Our initial preference is to be ‘in the cloud’ as much as possible, with limited to no need for onsite servers, storage, etc. The term of this contract is three years. Up to two one-year extensions may be negotiated within 90 days of contract expiration.
This Request for Proposal, hereinafter referred to as RFP, includes a description of the scope of work, proposal requirements, and instructions for submitting your proposal. The responses will be evaluated resulting in one or more vendors being asked to submit a cost proposal and potentially participate in an interview per Section 7.9 later in this document. NOTE!! All inquiries concerning this RFP should be submitted to Tom Barrington, consultant to SVEA, at thomasabarrington@gmail.com using the subject line, “Placer County CCA Managed IT Services RFP Inquiry“, and copied to Katie Kale at kkale@placer.ca.gov . 

Time for Redding, REU to Go Solar

California now gets a very significant portion of its electrical generation from solar power.  So much so that consumers were just advised to turn off unneeded lights and unplug appliances on Aug. 21 when a partial solar eclipse will cover the state.

With our temperate to hot temperatures, why is the city of Redding not generating its own solar power for our community? The city already owns that white elephant, Stillwater.  A big solar array could be placed there and on other city-owned properties, for only the cost of installation and operation.

Since the sunlight is free, ratepayers like me who suffer with huge power bills during the summer heat should get significant relief.

In the alternative, REU should offer generous rebates to city residents who install their own solar panels. PG&E has done this for years for county residents.

We all benefit from use of renewable, non-polluting energy.  It is time the city of Redding gets on board with the rest of the state in use of our cleanest and most abundant resource.

Time for Redding, REU to Go Solar, by Mary Pearl, Record Searchlight, June 2, 2017.

Meeting Will Gather Input on Sonora Energy-Efficiency Plan

A public workshop was held on Monday, June 9th, to gather input on a plan aimed at improving energy efficiency throughout the City of Sonora.

The Sierra Business Council is developing an “energy action plan” for the city as part of its climate planning program that’s funded by a public-good surcharge on Pacific Gas and Electric Co. customers’ monthly bills.

Earlier this year, the Sonora City Council approved city staff to aid in the development of the plan.

Paul Ahrns, program director for the Sierra Business Council, said the plan will provide a road map for residents, businesses, and government agencies in the city to increase energy efficiency and save money through reduced usage.

“The goal is to increase understanding of energy use, costs and potential savings,” Ahrns said.

The council was selected to run the program by PG&E in 2010. Since then, the council has created such plans for nine cities and counties throughout the Sierra Nevada, including Amador County, the City of Jackson, Mariposa County and Nevada City.

Ahrns said the plan is intended to help the city come up with strategies that can reduce usage by between 10 and 20 percent. However, the city and its residents and businesses won’t be required to meet any energy efficiency targets.

Such strategies can include rebates and incentives to reduce the upfront costs for upgrades to lighting, refrigeration, heating, ventilation and air conditioning, as well as building improvements that can reduce energy needs.

Ahrns said the latest readily available data from 2015 showed the city’s total residential power usage that year was 17 million kilowatt-hours at a cost of about $4 million.

Nonresidential usage, such as businesses, office buildings and street lights, was 28 million kilowatt-hours at a cost of about $6.5 million.

Based on the total city’s residential usage divided by the California Department of Finance’s estimates of occupied housing, Ahrns determined the average monthly usage per occupied household was 647 kilowatt-hours per month.

That was lower than the national average of 901 kilowatt hours, but higher than the average for California of 557 kilowatt-hours.

The plan will also analyze the amount of renewable energy being produced in the city and determine the market potential for increasing renewable energy production, including solar, wind, biomass, geothermal and small hydro.

“We’re trying to do a high-level analysis and figure out what is the market potential,” Ahrns said. “It will be up to individuals to determine if it’s a good investment for their home or business.”

Ahrns said the council will collect the feedback from Monday’s workshop and online survey that will stay up until July, then work to create a draft of the plan by September with help from volunteers in the community.

Meeting Will Gather Input on Sonora Energy-Efficiency Plan, by Alex MacLean, The Union Democrat, June 9, 2017.

Auburn OKs Community Choice in Energy Field

Energy, power and the Pacific Gas and Electric Company were the big talk at Monday night’s City Council meeting.

Jenine Windeshausen, treasurer-tax collector for Placer County, was the main source of information for a new energy program called Community Choice Aggregation.

Community Choice Aggregation (CCA) is a program that allows cities and counties to buy and/or generate electricity for residents and businesses within their areas.

The CCA gives residents more choice and local control while still working with PG&E.

PG&E will partner with the CCA to deliver the electricity and provide meter-reading, billing, maintenance and outage response.

Rate payers will also have the option to opt out of CCA service, but they have a time frame to do it before they will be charged, said Windeshausen.

There will be four letters sent to rate payers, 60 days before, 30 days before, 30 days after and 60 days after service starts.

If customers don’t opt out in that time frame they will be charged a $25 fee to switch back to PG&E.

If ratepayers opt out in that time frame they will not be charged.

How it’s set up

CCAs are set up either by a single jurisdiction or by two or more jurisdictions that create a Joint Powers Authority (JPA), which is what Placer County would be doing.

Each jurisdiction will get one seat on the board of directors, which will be a member of city council.

Other locations participating in the JPA will be Loomis, Colfax and Rocklin.

Many cities in California have already taken advantage of a CCA program including Sonoma, Marin and Silicon Valley.

Cities can choose to back out of the JPA at a later date but there may be a cost if the energy has already been purchased.

Moving forward

“We think the focus on local control, local resources are important,” said Windeshausen.

 She also said that energy prices are at a historic low, so now would be the perfect time to buy energy.

Auburn resident Robert Snyder said that he believes in Windeshausen, but he challenged her to do more community outreach.

Accepting the challenge and working fast to alter plans, Windeshausen got up early to give the presentation to Meddler’s (Auburn Chamber forum) on Tuesday morning. The city council gave Windeshausen the go ahead to complete a legal analysis and return at the next meeting with documents necessary to authorize Auburn’s membership in the CCA.

“Today we don’t have a choice,” said council member Daniel Berlant on the current energy system. “It’s on us to allow residents to make that choice.”

After discussion, the motion was passed unanimously.

Auburn OKs Community Choice in Energy Field, by Aurora Sain, Auburn Journal, May 24, 2017.

DOE, GRID Complete 56 California Tribal Solar Installations

On April 22, nonprofit solar installer GRID Alternatives joined the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) and the Bishop Paiute Tribe at an Earth Day event marking the completion of 56 no-cost rooftop solar installations on tribal lands in California. GRID leveraged grants from the DOE and the California Public Utilities Commission’s Single-family Affordable Solar Housing (SASH) program to install the solar systems and provide workforce training to tribal members through two phases starting in 2015.

According to GRID, the 56 individual rooftop solar installations total 217 kW total power and are expected to save tribal members up to 90% off their typical utility bills and more than $2,000,000 over the system lifetimes. In addition, 18 tribal members received 725 hours of solar installation workforce training during the two phases of construction.

“Thanks to GRID and the DOE and participating tribal members, the Bishop Tribe has made steady progress toward their goals,” says Mervin Hess, tribal administrator of the Bishop Paiute Tribe, referencing the tribe’s goal to serve 200 homes – about half of the approximately 400 low-income homes – by 2020 with rooftop solar. “The savings from the installations are making a difference, especially for tribal members in the greatest need, and is a step toward become more self sufficient.”

“Our mission at the Office of Indian Energy is to maximize the development and deployment of energy solutions for the benefit of American Indians and Alaska Natives,” says Chris Deschene, director of the DOE Office of Indian Energy Policy and Programs. “Through investments in projects like these, we stand shoulder-to-shoulder with tribal governments working to identify and implement viable, innovative energy and infrastructure solutions that unlock the value of their indigenous energy resources, reduce energy costs, create jobs, and improve their quality of life.”

The Bishop Paiute Tribal installations are part of a larger tribal solar program led by GRID across 24 tribal communities in Arizona, California, Montana, New York and South Dakota. The program is funded by more than $1 million in cost-shared grants to the individual tribes from the DOE Office of Indian Energy Policy and Programs, which provides technical assistance, training and funding to tribes across the country.

“Solar power really helps out, means one less bill to worry about, and is a money saver that helps me take care of my family. With the money we save from solar, I’m planning to expand on our home and do improvements,” says Harlan Dewey, a member of the Bishop Paiute Tribe who had solar installed and received workforce training through the program. “I started training with GRID at the reservation’s first project and became one of the first tribal members to support the GRID program, and I still help out with installations. It makes me really good to help my people and to share the program with other tribal members.”

According to GRID, tribal communities face some of the highest poverty and unemployment rates in the U.S. The nonprofit solar installer launched its national tribal program in 2014, with the long-term goal of making solar power and job training accessible to tribal communities throughout the country. Since 2010, GRID has partnered with 40 Native American tribes and 400 Native American job trainees to install solar electric systems for nearly 500 tribal member families. GRID also partners with tribal colleges and departments to provide students with hands-on training to supplement their curriculum, and in 2016, five Bishop Paiute youths participated in residential installs as part of GRID’s Solar Futures educational program.

“Solar empowers our tribal communities to reach their clean energy goals – in some cases, creating clean energy access for the first time – while expanding utility cost savings and job training,” says Tim Willink, director of tribal programs for GRID. “Our model has worked for a variety of tribal communities, and these federal grants will bring solar power to even more families.”

GRID DOE, GRID Complete 56 California Tribal Solar Installations, by Joseph Bebon, Solar Industry, April 24, 2017.

CSE Helps Create Wood-to-Energy Demonstration Project

The Center for Sustainable Energy (CSE) is a partner in a renewable energy project in California’s northeastern Yuba County that promises to help alleviate the threat of wildfire while demonstrating the practicality of using forest biomass that would otherwise simply decay for generating power.

Dead and dying trees are a problem throughout California’s Sierra Nevada, where years of drought, warmer temperatures and bark beetle infestations have created record levels of forest residues. In the Gold Rush town of Camptonville, a bioenergy power plant is in the planning, thanks to a $4.9 million grant from the California Energy Commission as part of its Electric Program Investment Charge (EPIC) program. The combined heat and power facility will produce electricity to sell to Pacific Gas and Electric and heat for use in conjoined businesses.

A first of its kind in the state, the 3-megawatt direct combustion boiler steam turbine generating facility will integrate advance emissions controls and a low water use condenser. The plant repurposes an old sawmill site and is set to create 27 new full-time jobs.

“This project takes what is otherwise a high-hazard risk material abundantly available in the local forest and turns it into power and revenue from the associated businesses,” said Shawn Jones, CSE senior project manager for technology integration. “Our hope is that the project also will serve as a model for biomass utilization that could be applied in other Sierra Nevada communities.”

The EPIC-funded project will be implemented by the Camptonville Community Partnership (CCP) in collaboration with ICF Inc., CSE, University of California Davis, Babcock Power Environmental, Direct Contact, Gaelectric and DE Solutions.

Over the past three years, CSE has worked with CCP to plan a wood-to-energy system, first by supplying assistance through the U.S. DOE Pacific Combined Heat and Power Technical Assistance Partnership that CSE administers, and then as partners in the project proposal. After construction, CSE will continue to help with system interconnection, operations and evaluation.

CSE Helps Create Wood-to-Energy Demonstration Project, Chuck Colgan, Center for Sustainable Energy, April 24, 2017.