Luis Alejo: Community Power OK, raw deal isn’t

When I voted for Senate Bill 350 in 2015 while serving in the Assembly, California once again raised the bar for the rest of the nation to make greater investments in renewable energy. In fact, it made it law that California would achieve 50 percent renewable energy by 2030.

To carry these goals further, local governments in Northern California began creating their own joint power authorities (JPAs) to purchase renewable energy at even faster and greater levels while keeping energy bills comparable to PG&E or slightly lower. These agencies are now known as Community Choice Aggregation (CCA) JPAs.

Recently, a local working group created such a JPA called Monterey Bay Community Power (MBCP) that could potentially provide energy to nearly 769,000 residents and thousands more local businesses and institutions in Monterey, Santa Cruz and San Benito Counties, while also giving them a choice to opt-out and remain with PG&E.

The Monterey County Board of Supervisors voted on March 7 to join MBCP, but it’s getting a raw deal. In fact, Monterey County and all its cities are getting shortchanged in a big way when it comes to fair and equitable representation and voting seats on the governance board.

While Monterey County represents 57 percent of the population in MBCP with nearly 435,000 residents, it’s being relegated a minority of board seats. That is not fair nor is it equitable by any standard. Monterey County has more people than Santa Cruz and San Benito counties combined with their 334,000 residents total. If we measure by energy use, Monterey County alone exceeds the other two counties by even more with 61.5 percent.

Moreover, Monterey County cities are also getting a bad deal by each being denied a voting seat in MBCP, and instead must rotate three seats among 11 cities. Giving each city a vote would have shown respect and been fair. And guess what? That’s also exactly what every other multi-jurisdiction CCA in the state has done. But MBCP proponents instead claim an arbitrary cap number of 11 seats on its governance board despite no other similar CCA using such ill-founded and rigid logic.

Marin, Sonoma, Alameda and Humboldt counties’ CCAs give each city and county a vote and have also included a “weighted vote” so that local governments get additional votes proportional to its energy use or number of customer accounts. San Mateo County’s CCA doesn’t have a “weighted vote” but it does give each city a vote and gives the county two votes due to its size. The only other two CCAs that exist in the state are single jurisdictions, San Francisco and Lancaster, and they, too, have fair governance models.

Why does all this matter? It matters because this new governing board will soon be making multimillion-dollar decisions, investments, purchases, local job creation and benefits, and potentially siting future solar or wind projects in Monterey and San Benito counties. However, when those decisions get made, Monterey County governments will not have fair or equitable representation.

During our recent deliberations I argued that this information had not been formally presented to other city councils or supervisors, nor to the public. I also raised that Monterey County and other county cities also had another option of creating our own CCA that would have been designed better and fairer to our local governments.

In a separate Monterey County CCA, each city could have been given a vote while also utilizing new startup financing structures that are faster, cheaper and more cutting edge than the design that MBCP utilized. Therefore, the question for Monterey County was never really about whether we would join a CCA; it was about which one and there was a better choice, one that could have been operating just as fast.

I do believe that Monterey Bay Community Power is needed and I support all its positive intended goals, but it lacks fair and equitable representation for Monterey County. MBCP still has an opportunity to get it right by amending its JPA and governance structure at its first meeting in a comparable way to every other multi-jurisdiction CCA in the state and in a way that is fair to Monterey County and its people.

Luis Alejo is the Monterey County supervisor for District 1 and is the former state Assemblymember of the 30th District.

Luis Alejo: Community Power OK, raw deal isn’t, by Luis Alejo, Monterey Herald, March 25, 2017.

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