Some Mendocino County residents may be wondering about coming changes to their electric bills. Sonoma Clean Power, which became the county’s main electric supplier last August, has mailed its first round of notices explaining its service that residents will automatically be enrolled in on June 1.
Starting in June, all homes and businesses (except those in the City of Ukiah, which has its own electric provider) will receive the power agency’s default service, which runs on 36 percent renewable power, compared to PG&E’s 27 percent.
The Mendocino County Board of Supervisors voted in August to join SCP in offering cheaper energy. Local governments have the right to buy electricity on their jurisdictions’ behalves under a California Assembly bill called the “Community Choice Aggregation Law,” passed in 2002. It was passed in order to prevent illegal energy market manipulations, like those that lead to California’s 2001 energy crisis. Under the law, Community Choice programs, of which SCP is one, become the default provider once they are formed.
Supervisor Dan Hamburg, who serves on SCP’s board of directors, said the Board of Supervisors chose to join SCP partly because of the level of local oversight; the board is made up of elected officials from surrounding cities, including Cloverdale and Fort Bragg. He also liked the fact that SCP was able to offer lower rates than PG&E and still make a profit, he said, which it uses to fund local energy projects, like one to build a solar array over a water plant in Santa Rosa.
“We felt that of all the options we looked at, that SCP seemed to be the one that was having the greatest success,” he said.
The public but privately-funded agency, serving Sonoma County since 2014, boasts locally-sourced, cleaner power and lower prices than PG&E, acting as its “competitive partner,” according to spokeswoman Kate Kelly. The two compete on the delivery side, but not on the generation side (collecting the energy from the source), and they share customers.
Residents have the option to opt out of the new service for free within the first 60 days if they’re concerned about reliability, which some Sonoma County customers cited as their reason for declining the service, SCP’s CEO Geof Syphers told the Santa Rosa Press Democrat in 2014. He said then that reliability would remain the same, because services like billing, metering and grid maintenance did not change hands. The agency’s participation rate (customers that have not opted out) in Sonoma County was 88 percent as of March, Director of Customer Service Erica Torgerson said in an email last month.
SCP’s total electric bill rates are about 1 percent lower than PG&E across the board, based on March 2015 estimates. SCP claims to have saved customers more than $70 million on their bills since 2014. Customers will be given a comparison of rates between SCP and PG&E based on average usage but not on individual bills.
Everyone will still receive only one electric bill, but it will look a little different. For one, a “generation credit” will show what PG&E would have charged for electric generation, which can be used to calculate the cost difference with SCP. PG&E will stop charging for collecting the energy (now a separate charge named the “Sonoma Clean Power generation charge”) and will continue to charge the delivery fee (along with other regular fees). Any discounts customers receive from PG&E will stay in place. And a “vintage power charge indifference adjustment,” a fee required by PG&E, makes sure customers who switch to SCP pay for the above-market cost of energy PG&E bought on their behalf before changing service. Although, Torgerson told the Willits City Council last month the vintage charge is calculated in a “black box,” so it is not easily understood and could take up to 30 years to go away.
An upgrade to SCP’s ultimate eco-friendly service, which uses 100 percent renewable power, costs about 1 percent, or $13 more, per month. The agency also provides incentives for solar customers, offering them the chance to earn credits on their electricity bills by contributing to the grid with solar panels or wind turbines.
In case of outages, PG&E is still the company to call. SCP representatives has held 12 public meetings so far to explain the changes, and will have more throughout the summer. The next one is 6 p.m. on Thursday at the NEM Presentation Coast Community Library in Point Arena.
Mendocino County Residents Getting New Electric Provider, by Ashley Tressel, Ukiah Daily Journal, April 26, 2017.