If Morro Bay gets a wind farm, here’s who would buy the electricity

Though a firm decision is still likely a year away, some of the key players in a plan to make the Morro Bay coast home to a mass of floating wind turbines are getting their ducks in a row now.

On Thursday, Castle Wind LLC announced it has entered into an agreement with a Community Choice Energy agency, Monterey Bay Community Power, outlining their shared interests in establishing a floating offshore wind project off the Central California coast.

According to a news release, the companies signed a memorandum of understanding saying Monterey Bay Community Power will buy about 1,000 megawatts of renewable energy from Castle Wind in long-term power purchasing agreements once a Morro Bay wind project is realized.

According to the release, Monterey Bay Community Power is a locally controlled, nonprofit agency operating out of Monterey, San Benito and Santa Cruz counties.

It is expected to expand into Morro Bay and San Luis Obispo in 2020 and the rest of San Luis Obispo County in 2021, according to the release.

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Carpinteria: Power in choices

Several years ago, I wrote about community choice energy (CCE) in this column, and as the city of Carpinteria nears a decision regarding who has the buying power of our energy, I thought a reintroduction to the topic would be helpful.

Historically, electricity in California has been handled primarily by investor-owned utilities like Southern California Edison and Pacific Gas & Electric. The utility companies both produce their own energy and buy energy from other producers to deliver electricity to your home or business, and must meet state mandates that include things like incentive programs, a mix of energy sources and rate setting.

The energy landscape in California began to change in 2002 with legislation that allowed cities and counties to aggregate their own energy sources for residents and businesses. Increased reliability, as well as rising energy costs and a reduction in   reliance on traditional, less environmentally friendly power sources like coal and nuclear energy, make community choice aggregation attractive for local governments.

CCE programs are structured so that the electrical transmission and distribution—the poles and lines—are still handled by existing utility companies, while the power supply is purchased by the CCE. Local governments can combine (or aggregate) their electricity load in order to purchase and/or develop power for their jurisdictions. In most cases, more renewable or carbon-free energy sources are available at either the same or reduced cost.

A CCE operates as a non-profit public agency. Based on a community’s interests, a CCE can choose not only what type of power generation, but also where (geographically) it comes from. This allows agencies to purchase more renewable energy from local sources, which can have a positive impact on the local economy.

CCEs are market-driven, public-private partnerships. Market competition makes CCEs an attractive energy option for several reasons: first, by providing consumers with options; and second, by sourcing power through a competitive process whereby private energy companies and project developers compete to provide clean power at the lowest price. In most cases, CCEs are delivering more reliable energy at lower costs.

While customers are automatically enrolled into a CCE program, it’s important to keep in mind that they have a choice—they can opt out at any time to stay with their investor-owned utility. Most customers won’t see major changes. The utility bill is still delivered through the existing investor-owned utility (in our case, Southern California Edison).

Carpinteria has been exploring the possibility of forming a CCE partnership with other local agencies for several years. Since the beginning of that process, more local governments have formed the joint power authorities required to become a community choice energy provider.

In July several local agencies made the decision to either join an existing CCE program or form their own. Carpinteria will be hearing the options available to our city and taking action at the end of August.

There is a lot more to say about providing energy through a public-private partnership, but with an aging electric grid and goals of more renewable sources at both the state and federal level, exploring ways to deliver cheaper, greener electricity to customers is an important step towards making a positive impact on the future of both the environment and economy.

Erin Maker is the environmental coordinator for the city of Carpinteria. She studied biology after discovering her love of nature and science while growing up in Vermont.  Always interested in improving water quality and recycling, she currently oversees the city’s Watershed Management and Solid Waste Programs. For more information, contact Erin at erinm@ci.carpinteria.ca.us, (805) 684-5405 x415.

 

Power in choices, by Erin Maker, Coastal View, August 7, 2019.

PG&E wants to increase your bill to decommission Diablo Canyon. Here’s how to weigh in

As the 2025 closing date for Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant creeps closer, PG&E is looking into how it hopes to fund the much longer process of decommissioning.

Its solution will likely come out of your bill.

A pair of meetings will be held in San Luis Obispo this week to garner local feedback on the plan.

PG&E filed its Nuclear Decommissioning Cost Triennial Proceedings with the California Public Utilities Commission in December, claiming that the total cost of decommissioning Diablo Canyon will be about $4.8 billion — up from the $3.8 billion it estimated in its last triennial report in 2015.

That estimate includes the cost of tearing down and removing the entire power plant on an accelerated schedule.

The cost could change if the utility company can recycle or reuse any of the existing facilities for other purposes, or if it chooses to decommission over a longer period of time. PG&E’s Diablo Canyon Decommissioning Engagement Panel strongly advised against the latter option.

With only $3.2 billion in its decommissioning coffers, this means PG&E needs to collect $1.6 billion more from ratepayers by 2025.

PG&E’s proposed short-term rate increase would translate to about $1.98 more per bill for the typical residential customer, although the exact amount would vary by usage. Most would see an about 2 percent increase.

PG&E representatives told The Tribune in a December 2018 interview that the rate increase is necessary to begin the safe and immediate shutdown of the plant.

The CPUC has scheduled two meetings in San Luis Obispo to garner local input on the rate increase.

The first meeting will be held Wednesday at 5 p.m. followed by a public forum at 6 p.m. The second is on Thursday (August 8th) at 10 a.m., with a public forum at 11 a.m.

Both meetings will take place in the San Luis Obispo County Board of Supervisors Chamber at 1055 Monterey St. in San Luis Obispo.

After the meetings, an administrative law judge will hear PG&E’s case for the rate increase at hearings in late September. A decision is expected sometime by the end of the year.

 

PG&E wants to increase your bill to decommission Diablo Canyon. Here’s how to weigh in, by Kaytlyn Leslie, San Luis Obispo Tribune, August 6, 2019.

If towering wind turbines come to Central Coast ocean waters, how visible would they be?

San Luis Obispo County could one day see large collections of behemoth floating turbines spinning off its shores as the federal government explores the ocean’s potential as a source of wind energy generation.

The idea of possibly hundreds of turbines as tall as 700 feet has attracted interest from several companies, while the U.S. Navy considers whether the industry is compatible with its operations off the coast.

Many questions remain to be resolved before anything is built, but there’s one in particular of interest to anyone who lives along the North Coast or enjoys visiting there: Just how visible would an offshore wind farm likely be here?

WHAT DO WE KNOW ABOUT THE PROPOSED TURBINES?

The effort to explore building wind turbines off the California coast is being managed by the U.S. Bureau of Ocean Energy Management.

Three possible locations in federal waters have been identified to date: two off SLO County and one off Humboldt County.

One area off Morro Bay — located in waters closer to San Simeon — begins 24 miles offshore, while another off Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant begins 22 miles offshore.

To put that distance in perspective, the turbines would be located about four to five times farther away than structures like the oil platforms in the Santa Barbara Channel.

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Guadalupe votes to join Monterey Bay community power program

To provide residents with options for lower-cost electricity from carbon-free sources, the Guadalupe City Council on Tuesday narrowly approved a resolution to join Monterey Bay Community Power Authority‘s community choice energy program.

Community choice energy programs are an alternative to the investor-owned utility that allow local governments to purchase power on behalf of residents and businesses while still receiving transmission and distribution service from the existing utility provider.

On Tuesday, the Council voted 3-0 — council members Eugene Costa Jr. and Gina Rubalcaba abstained — to join MBCP. The two said they felt there needed to be more outreach to residents before joining.

Interim City Administrator Robert Perrault said the second reading of the resolution would be considered during the Aug. 27 meeting.

City staff will work to get a public workshop with MBCP staff scheduled before the second reading to ensure residents are aware of what their options are under the plan.

Using the community choice energy system, Pacific Gas and Electric Co. routes the MBCP-procured electricity through existing lines to customers and remains in charge of billing.

MBCP’s standard plan provides energy that is 100% carbon-free. Around 33% comes from renewable sources like solar and wind; the remainder comes from hydroelectric plants.

Around 80% of PG&E’s electricity is carbon-free.

During Santa Maria and Guadalupe council meetings, MBCP staff have pointed to the organization’s nonprofit status as one of the ways it can deliver lower rates than PG&E, a publicly-traded corporation that pays taxes and dividends to shareholders.

Guadalupe businesses and residents would begin receiving MBCP electricity in January 2021. Customers would be automatically enrolled but have the option to opt-out.

Mayor Ariston Julian said he felt it was important the council take a position to show that protecting the environment was a priority for the city.

“I think we need to take a position to say we want an environment that is as much pollution-free as possible,” he said.

Tuesday was the second time the Guadalupe council considered joining the community choice energy program.

During its July 9 meeting, Guadalupe council members tabled their vote on the Monterey Bay program to see what the county and city of Santa Maria would do.

At the time, the county was gearing up to present the results of a feasibility study regarding the formation of a Santa Barbara County program.

The county’s study ultimately showed that forming its own community energy program would result in higher rates than PG&E but create some local jobs.

Joining Monterey Bay, the study found, would result in lower energy rates but would likely create zero or few local jobs.

On July 16, the county Board of Supervisors voted to join MBCP. The decision will affect homes and businesses located in the unincorporated part of the county.

In addition to the county, several cities in San Luis Obispo County, including Morro Bay, San Luis Obispo, Grover Beach and Paso Robles have signed on to become part of MBCP.

The Santa Maria City Council discussed joining MBCP during its May 21 meeting but did not take any action. The city plans to bring the item up for discussion during an upcoming council meeting.

 

Guadalupe votes to join Monterey Bay community power program, by Razi Syed, Santa Maria Times, July 23, 2019.

Taking Charge of Your Energy Use: A Hero’s Journey

When MBCP launched its Monterey Bay Electric Vehicle Incentive Program it was no surprise that Thomas was the first resident to turn in his application. With a work commute to San Jose State University and California State University Monterey Bay, this Salinas local was ready to replace his older Nissan Leaf with a higher range EV at significant savings.

Thomas qualified for a $4,500 incentive from MBCP and applied it towards his down payment and with the dealership savings and rebates, he drove off the Santa Cruz Volkswagen lot with a leased e-Golf for just $9,000!

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Santa Barbara County Considering CCA

The board began considering developing or joining a Community Choice Energy program back in 2015, when the staff was directed to gauge regional support for joining a program.

Community Choice Energy allows members to decide where and how their electricity is generated, including building their own generating facilities. Power is transmitted through the lines of utilities like Pacific Gas and Electric Co. and Southern California Edison, which would maintain the lines and handle billing.

The goals for a CCE program include providing more local control over where power comes from, potentially increasing the amount from renewable sources and lowering greenhouse gas emissions.

It could also make communities more resilient through local power generation projects, generate revenue for sustainability programs, lower energy costs for consumers and stimulate economic development.

A 2017 feasibility study showed creating or joining a regional CCE was not viable, but a 2018 study found it would be viable for the county only, so the board directed the staff to proceed with a joint powers agreement.

However, the staff discovered that while South County cities remained interested in the idea, North County cities were not. At the same time, changes in policy and market conditions also threatened the viability of a CCE.

The updated feasibility study to be delivered to the board Tuesday shows developing a CCE program is still viable but less financially beneficial, while joining such a program might be better financially but would have trade-offs.

Creating a county CCE

• The cost for creating a program for residential customers only would be $2.5 million and for all customers would be $9 million, but all the county’s investment to date could be recovered.

• Consumers would pay the same electricity rates under a program for residential customers only, but rates would rise 3 percent under a program for all customers

• Ten full-time jobs would be created by a program for residential customers only, with 17 created by a program for all customers.

• For PG&E customers, 50 percent of electricity would be from renewable sources and 100 percent would be greenhouse gas-free; for Edison Co. customers, 50 percent would be from renewable sources but only 75 percent would be greenhouse gas-free.

Joining an existing CCE

• Joining the existing Monterey Bay Community Power CCE program would cost $5,000 to $7,000, but the county’s investment to date would be lost.

• Consumer electric rates would drop 2 percent for Edison Co. customers and 8 percent for PG&E customers.

• Minimal jobs would be created, although a North County or San Luis Obispo County office might be opened if all cities joined.

• For both PG&E and Edison Co. customers, 34 percent of electricity would come from renewable sources but 100 percent would be greenhouse gas-free.

 

Santa Barbara County supervisors to consider changes to cannabis business licensing Tuesday, by Mike Hodgson, Santa Yvez Valley News, July 14, 2019.

Talks with MBCP on hold

ATASCADERO — The Atascadero City Council will not be making time at their Aug.13 meeting to hear again from the Monterey Bay Community Power (MBCP), a timetable set by the alternative energy provider for the City to join all other San Luis Obispo County municipalities in enrollment.

The decision was taken at the end of the Council’s regular July 9 meeting in a special item set aside to decide if they’d agendize the item for discussion and an official public hearing.

It was a distinction that members of the public who’d waited through nearly three hours preliminary items for a chance to speak found difficult to understand, as noted by John Smigelski of the SLO Climate Coalition who said he’d tried to explain the situation to people in other parts of the County but was met with, “so they’re voting to decide if they’re going to vote?”

Referring to Councilwoman Roberta Fonzi’s comment after a previous presentation by MBCP that she thought a citizen’s referendum might be a better fit than asking for a majority vote of three out of five Councilmembers, Smigelski said he started fielding questions wondering what elected representatives were for if not to make choices in the best interest of their constituents, but the position of his organization was that, “This is a simple benefit to take out of the hands of PG&E and give to your residents.”

Mayor Pro Tem Charles Bourbeau held a similar view noting that, “this council is willing to say ‘no’ sometimes, but we do owe the public the formal consideration and discussion. You know me, I always have questions and I’ll have some more in August. This is not a rush job, it’s a choice and an opportunity to save money which we owe formal discussion.”

Councilwoman Susan Funk added that to refuse further consideration was to back up the image of the City as being recalcitrant, not her own word choice, but one mulled over after being introduced by public commenters, “it’s tough to defend a position that says we’re not going to agendize. That says we’re not willing to do homework and that’s not us. I don’t see anyone here unwilling to make the effort.”

Indeed, said Mayor Heather Moreno, she’d spent a lot more hours in research than she’d thought she would on the subject of community choice energy, and spoke with two other mayors in SLO County. Riffing off of Fonzi’s complaint that she felt pressured as if the City were on a used car lot, Moreno said there wasn’t enough of a track record or information out there to compare brands, “this history goes back to 2002 after the energy crisis in 2000. But the first [Community Choice Energy Aggregator] was established in 2014, all others came along in 2017.”

The monopoly power utility and provider for this region PG&E, is also precluded by regulation from offering a fight against the community choice programs, she added.

“I know you’re all really angry at the three of us right now,” Moreno told the public gathered in support of MBCP, adding that she hoped they’d be able play devil’s advocate to see her position.

“It’s not ‘no’ forever,” she said to soften the blow.

As the other incorporated cities in the region will be signing up to become voting members in MBCP’s Joint Powers Authority in September 2019, Atascadero will be the lone holdout in joining, the provider which would appear as a line item rebate on resident’s energy bills.  Individual customers would have been allowed to opt-out of participation, noted Moreno, but the City would still be participating in the JPA for the foreseeable future.

MBCP CEO Tom Habashi who waited with the public through the earlier meeting items to answer any Council questions, noted that any future decision to join would necessitate splitting the $22,000 cost between Atascadero and any other entities up for consideration.

 

Talks with MBCP on hold, by Camas Frank, Atascadero News, July 12, 2019.

Atascadero, SLO County won’t join Monterey Bay Community Power

Atascadero and unincorporated San Luis Obispo County residents will not have Monterey Bay Community Power (MBCP) as a choice for electricity in 2021—a decision that breaks away from the recent votes of six other local cities.

On July 9, a divided Atascadero City Council opted not to agendize a decision to join MBCP, a public community choice energy (CCE) agency currently serving Santa Cruz, San Benito, and Monterey counties. MBCP is expanding south in an effort to unify the Central Coast.

MBCP enters in power contracts and sells often cleaner electricity to resident and business customers, while PG&E maintains the grid infrastructure. Twelve CCE agencies in the state are currently operating in PG&E territory.

The Atascadero City Council was split 3-2, with Mayor Heather Moreno and Councilmembers Heather Newsom and Roberta Fonzi in the majority. They expressed skepticism about CCE in general, wanted more information about MBCP’s financials, and were concerned about its governance structure.

Fonzi noted developments at Clean Power Alliance in Ventura County where some high electricity demand customers are seeing increasing rates, putting participating cities/counties on their heels.

“I feel like I need more information before I commit my entire city to participate with MBCP,” Fonzi told New Times.

Councilmembers Susan Funk and Charles Bourbeau disagreed and wanted to see the issue agendized in August for a decision.

“Not to do so, it says we’re not willing to do the homework that we were elected to do to make decisions for our city. That’s going to be tough to defend,” Funk said.

Earlier the same day, the SLO County Board of Supervisors also declined to agendize a discussion about MBCP.

County officials have been trying to land a contract with a consultant to do a risk analysis of MBCP that can be presented to the board. But Chief Administrative Officer Wade Horton said it’s unlikely the report will be ready by MBCP’s August deadline.

“I am disappointed,” said 2nd District Supervisor Bruce Gibson, who made a failed motion on July 9 to agendize the discussion. “This idea we have to check the financials of MBCP is surprising to me because they’re a public entity that’s had tremendous success. That’s why so many cities are signing up with them.”

Gibson added that he believes the resistance to MBCP is in part political and ideological.

“There remains some significant ideological opposition to this, and that’s truly disappointing,” he said. “These folks are playing politics with our energy future.”

 

Atascadero, SLO County won’t join Monterey Bay Community Power, by Peter Johnson, New Times, July 11, 2019.

Guadalupe tables decision on community choice energy

The Guadalupe City Council opted Tuesday to wait for more information before making a decision about whether to join Monterey Bay Community Power Authority‘s community choice energy program.

Community choice energy programs, which are government run, are an alternative to the investor-owned utility that allows local governments to purchase power on behalf of residents and businesses while still receiving transmission and distribution service from the existing utility provider.

Under the system, Pacific Gas and Electric Co. routes the MBCP-procured electricity through existing lines to customers and remains in charge of billing.

On Tuesday, the Guadalupe City Council voted 4-0 to table the vote until its next meeting on July 23. Councilman Eugene Costa Jr. was absent.

MBCP first began serving customers in Santa Cruz, Monterey and San Benito counties in 2018 and has since begun expanding its service area to the south.

Several cities in San Luis Obispo County, including Morro Bay, San Luis Obispo and Paso Robles have signed on to become part of MBCP.

The Santa Maria City Council discussed joining MBCP during its May 21 meeting but did not take any action. Council members asked city staff to gather more information before they made a final decision.

If Guadalupe ultimately moved to join MBCB, households would be enrolled automatically but have the option to opt-out and continue receiving PG&E power.

Under MBCP’s standard plan, Guadalupe residents would receive 100% of their energy from carbon-free sources at the same rate that PG&E charges, said Marc Adato, energy public engagement associate with MBCP.

Around a third of MBCP’s electricity comes from renewable sources like solar and wind. The remainder comes from hydroelectric plants.

PG&E currently provides energy that is 80% carbon-free.

In addition, residents receive rebates on their bills, Adato said. The amount rebated to customers was around 3.7% during the last fiscal year and is expected to be 5% during 2019-20.

Three members of the public spoke at Tuesday’s meeting, all of whom either encouraged the council to do more research on MBCP or to stick with PG&E.

Andy Caldwell, of the Coalition for Labor, Agriculture and Business, said joining a community choice energy program would result in a loss of tax revenue paid by PG&E to local governments.

“Government in California makes its money off of income tax and property tax, and they’re not going to be getting that revenue in,” he said.

As a government agency, MBCP does not pay taxes.

During the meeting, council members said they were hesitant about making a decision with wide-ranging impact on the city and its residents without having more time for discussion.

Council members said they wanted to see whether Santa Maria chooses to join MBCP and learn more about a proposed Santa Barbara County community choice energy program before making a decision.

Councilwoman Gina Rubalcaba said she wasn’t comfortable moving forward with joining MBCP after one public hearing.

“I’m not one to rush into things that I think need more attention,” she said.

Councilman Tony Ramirez said it was important for more members of the public to be able to weigh in before the council made a decision.

“I feel like the public hasn’t had the opportunity to hear [about the MBCP program],” he said.

 

Guadalupe tables decision on community choice energy, by Razi Syed, Santa Maria Times, July 9, 2019.