There has been much debate on how to get greener, cheaper power and not pay the profits of an investor-owned utility. However, soon, for most residential customers this will actually become a reality when the Monterey Bay Community Power gets switched on in July.
Marc Adato, Community Outreach & Events Coordinator for Monterey Bay Community Power, gave a presentation at the Scotts Valley City Council meeting on Feb. 7 that outlined these and other benefits that residents of Scotts Valley, as well as the entire county, can expect from having joined up with the new public agency.
Monterey Bay Community Power (MBCP) is a new, local public agency created as joint powers authority between three counties and 16 cities around Monterey Bay, including Hollister and San Benito County. It operates in partnership with Pacific Gas and Electric Company, using PG&E’s transmission lines and customer billing services.
But the MBCP also operates as a separate, “nonprofit wholesale energy buyer,” said Adato, “buying from 100 percent carbon-free electric power sources,” and then selling this power at the same retail rates as PG&E, using PG&E’s transmission lines.
“We are able to operate much leaner than PG&E and retain net revenues and invest back into the local communities with some good projects and programs,” Adato said.
The key benefits are greater access to clean-sourced, renewable energy, a reduction of greenhouse gas emissions and a promise of three percent rebates to consumers, rather than paying the profit share that PG&E pays its stockholders. There is also the added benefit of increased local investment in more green energy, according to Adato.
The MBCP has been under development for more than four years, having undergone financial feasibility and technical studies before the cities and counties decided to join up in early 2017. Although strictly local in its scope of operation, the agency is empowered by California’s Community Choice Energy law, AB 117, passed in 2002. This law enables local governments to form these agencies that aggregate purchasing power, allowing them to negotiate large contracts for solar, wind and hydroelectric power at rates lower than PG&E.
Adato outlined the two-phase MBCP program launch: about 37,500 businesses, industrial and agricultural customers of PG&E will be “switched on” beginning March 1, and about 235,000 residential customers will be automatically enrolled in the MBCP in July. Changes in PG&E bills accounting for the participation of the MBCP will begin with enrollment. Customers will have an opportunity to opt-out of participation in the MBCP if they desire.
“This is all about choice,” said Ginie Johnson, an analyst for Fifth District Supervisor Bruce McPherson. “The MBCP provides an opportunity for cleaner, cheaper and more local control over our power supply, compared to what PG&E has to offer.”
There will also be a choice of how to use the three percent rebate that MBCP promises to customers. The rebate can be used as a credit on future energy bills, or can be invested in local renewable energy and greenhouse gas reduction projects and programs.
“I’m sure many in our community are going to find some really interesting details in the programs and projects that can be funded by the donation of the three per cent rebate,” Johnson said.
Those customers equipped with solar panels who sell power back to PG&E from time-to-time can expect slightly higher prices from MBCP than the wholesale price paid by PG&E. The MBCP is going to pay closer to a mid-point between the wholesale and retail price of this electricity, according to Adato, thus encouraging more solar power gained from roof-tops.
According to data from the MBCP, 45 percent of the electricity sold by PG&E originates from carbon free sources, with nuclear power making up 24 percent, and natural gas accounting for 17 percent of PG&E’s electricity mix. Buying power from the MBCP increases the mix to 100 per cent sustainable, carbon-free sourced energy.
Community Choice Energy (CCA), also known as community choice aggregates (CCA’s), have weathered strong opposition from traditional investor-owned utilities across the state. PG&E spent more than $46 million in 2010 backing Proposition 16 that would have made forming a CCA far more difficult by requiring a two-thirds supermajority of voter approval before local governments could establish a CCA. Proposition 16 failed by a five point margin, although the grass roots opposition advocating for utility reform had access to less than $100,000.
In September 2017, last minute amendments were made to bills in Sacramento that “would have clouded our ability to implement the MBCP”, said Assemblyman Mark Stone, D-Scotts Valley. Stone worked to exempt the newly established MBCE from these amendments, but said there are still industry forces “trying to kill the CCA movement before it really starts to take off.” The Public Utilities Commission is considering a moratorium on the creation of any more CCA’s, but their legal ability to that is not entirely clear, according to Stone.
Details of local power start-up promise cheaper rates, more control, by Patrick Dwire, The Press Banner, February 15, 2018.