SLO County asks for another study of Monterey Bay Community Power

Unsatisfied by a recent fiscal analysis of Monterey Bay Community Power (MBCP), the San Luis Obispo County Board of Supervisors wants to commission another to help it decide whether to join the Community Choice Energy agency, which is expanding to serve six SLO County cities over the next two years.

At its Oct. 1 meeting, county supervisors discussed the results of a $25,000 report done by accountants Alison Turner & Associates, which it contracted for this summer to detail the risks and benefits of joining MBCP.

MBCP procures carbon-free energy on behalf of its customers while PG&E continues to deliver it over existing power lines.

The 12-page report found that MBCP, which launched service in 2018 in Monterey, Santa Cruz, and San Benito counties, had a “promising” first few years, but it warned against future fluctuations in the energy market that could create instability.

“We would want to have more historical knowledge before we felt comfortable making such a significant financial commitment,” the report concluded.

Both the board’s liberal and conservative members grumbled about the report’s lack of depth and detail. In a 4-1 vote, the supervisors asked county officials to put out a new request for proposals for a more robust analysis, which could cost up to $80,000.

“I don’t believe we have the information to make the decision,” said 1st District Supervisor John Peschong.

Fifth District Supervisor Debbie Arnold was the lone dissenting vote, believing the county should simply revisit the idea of MBCP in a year.

“Why are we going to spend $80,000 right now to get a different version of the same thing?” Arnold asked.

The cities of SLO and Morro Bay start service with MBCP in January 2020, while Paso Robles, Pismo Beach, Grover Beach, and Arroyo Grande will enroll in 2021.

SLO County missed the deadline to join those latter jurisdictions with MBCP in 2021. The board likely has until late 2020 to decide if it wants to join for 2022. Δ

 

SLO County asks for another study of Monterey Bay Community Power, by Peter Johnson, New Times SLO, October 3, 2019.

SLO Climate Strike pushes for policy change at county level

People from all over San Luis Obispo County gathered outside the county courthouse to take part in the second global climate strike Friday, Sept. 27.

San Luis Obispo’s strike was part of a global day of action in which over 6 million people participated in rallies across 123 countries, all participating for the cause of bringing an end to climate change. The San Luis Obispo strike included about 500 people of all ages.

“[Climate change] is the most urgent crisis of our time, and climate change is happening right now,” San Luis Obispo climate strike organizer Carmen Bouquin said. “We’re seeing it in the Central Valley, and in frontline impacted communities by climate change … and we need to stop it and halt it.”

The coalition of various environmental groups — the SLO County Youth for Environmental Action, the Sunrise Movement and the Sierra Club’s Santa Lucia chapter — among others organized the event to get the community engaged.

“Community involvement is mandatory,” San Luis Obispo Mayor Heidi Harmon said. “The climate crisis is already and will continue to impact literally every living thing on this planet, so it’s going to demand that all of us take a stand on this issue.”

Harmon said coming together as a community “doesn’t have to mean activism in the way that we’re seeing it tonight,” but does require people paying attention, getting educated and getting involved.

One instance of how community engagement influenced the community was the “Community Choice Energy” program in cities around San Luis Obispo County. The program “brings local control freedom of choice and competition into the electricity marketplace,” according to the City of San Luis Obispo website.

Currently, San Luis Obispo is one of the nation’s leading cities in going green and is hoping to reach its carbon neutrality goal by 2035. However, citizens are fighting to get Community Choice Energy at a county level.

“We hope that the county joins us in this movement and [in] telling our story in a way that more communities hear it and are inspired by it to take action, get involved and join us in our carbon neutrality goal of 2035,” Harmon said.

The coalition of environmental groups urged citizens to go to the county board of supervisors’ meeting Tuesday, Oct. 1 at 1:3o p.m. The board will be reviewing a presentation on a study of the Community Choice Energy program.

“If we get to pass it at county level, communities like mine — Garden Farms, that is just outside of Santa Margarita — would have the opportunity to get rebates on their energy bills and also carbon-free energy, which would put the money back into clean energy,” Rita Casaverde, another organizer of the event, said.

The San Luis Obispo climate strike is a prime example of how something starting off so small by “sending out one email to different organizations” can turn into something so large, according to Casaverde.

“I hope that there is a lot of inspiration to help coming from tonight,” Casaverde said. “We think that you can be inspired, you can be hopeful, and you can look at the new generations and say they’re gonna make the change, but it’s not enough.”

 

SLO Climate Strike pushes for policy change at county level, by Natalie Young, Mustang News, September 29, 2019.

Power pivot: Community Choice Energy arrives on the Central Coast

The expansion happened fast.

In the span of a year, 10 Central Coast cities and Santa Barbara County all had voted, one after the other, to join as members of Monterey Bay Community Power (MBCP), a growing Community Choice Energy (CCE) utility that currently serves Monterey, Santa Cruz, and San Benito counties.

It started with San Luis Obispo and Morro Bay in late 2018. Then Paso Robles and Grover Beach in spring 2019. By the end of August, Santa Maria, Pismo Beach, Arroyo Grande, Guadalupe, Goleta, Carpentaria, and unincorporated Santa Barbara County had all jumped on board with MBCP—capping a near region-wide transition to the electricity provider.

“It just kind of took off,” said J.R. Killigrew, director of communications for MBCP. “In six months, we more or less have unified the Central Coast.”

Each city came at MBCP from a different angle—but all that voted to join noted the CCE’s lower rates and carbon-free energy portfolio compared to PG&E.

“I think it’s a safe bet,” said Mike Cordero, a Santa Maria City Council member. “The cost of power goes down, and we won’t be using any fossil fuel energy.”

MBCP is a CCE agency (also known as Community Choice Aggregation or CCA), which is a joint powers authority of local governments that buys power for its collective ratepayers and sells it over existing transmission lines as a cleaner, cheaper alternative to the incumbent utility. With the southbound expansion, MBCP’s total customers are expected to almost double, from 275,000 to 470,000 accounts, along with its revenue, making it one of the largest CCE entities in the state.

“If we can expand and scale this kind of model that we’ve seen tremendous success with within Monterey, San Benito, and Santa Cruz counties,” Killigrew said, “it really just fits perfectly with our goals and mission as an agency.”

CCE took a long time to take hold in California. But the concept is now proliferating across the state. When MBCP first launched in 2018, it was one of 10 others like it created in the state that year, boosting the overall CCE count to 19. CCEs now procure power for about 4 million customers, or close to a quarter of California’s electricity load.

“You can see the explosion start to happen,” said Beth Vaughan, executive director of CalCCA, a legislative advocacy organization for CCE. “It absolutely makes sense that the local communities want their energy providers to be local.”

As SLO and Morro Bay gear up to start MBCP service in January 2020—the remaining jurisdictions begin theirs in 2021—proponents say this power pivot aligns the Central Coast with the state’s aggressive push to lower its carbon emissions, while critics question whether CCEs can deliver on their promises of lower rates, cleaner energy, and local control.

Origins

Before Santa Cruz County Supervisor Bruce McPherson was a pioneer in the CCE world (and a decline-to-state politician), his past life was as a Republican state Assembly member, senator, and secretary of state from 2005 to 2007.

All of those years spent in Sacramento exposed McPherson to the concept of CCE, he said. When he retired from state politics and decided to run for local office in 2012, McPherson made CCE a priority in Santa Cruz County.

“After I ran for county supervisor, one of the first things I did was say, ‘This would be a great thing to do.’ And we started down the road,” McPherson said.

It took several years for the project to gain traction, but eventually the vision for a tri-county CCE venture, MBCP, came to fruition. For McPherson, who now chairs MBCP’s policy board, CCE is about local control, doing right by the environment, and saving ratepayers money.

“It’s a win-win-win situation,” he said. “I agree it seems, in some respects, like it’s too good to be true.”

That’s what several elected officials in SLO and Santa Barbara counties said as MBCP made its pitch. What’s the catch?

Power pivot: Community Choice Energy arrives on the Central Coast, by Peter Johnson, New Times SLO, September, 19, 2019.

Vote delayed on SLO’s electric-building law; councilwoman accused of conflict of interest

Just as the San Luis Obispo City Council was preparing to approve a new clean energy choice law, the vote has been delayed to consider a conflict-of-interest claim.

A utility labor union alleges that Vice Mayor Andy Pease should have recused herself on Sept. 3 from voting to support a policy that encourages new construction to be all-electric.

That’s because Pease is a licensed architect and a partner in the firm In Balance Green Consulting, focusing on sustainable, energy efficient building, and she stands to gain financially from the vote, the union claims.

On Sept. 3, the council voted 4-1 — with Erica Stewart dissenting — to adopt the proposed law that pushes for all-electric buildings. A second reading of the drafted law Tuesday would have made it official with council support.

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Energy plan may bring more solar, wind power to Santa Barbara County

A Strategic Energy Plan adopted by the Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors could allow the development of projects to provide power to critical facilities during disasters and public safety power shutdowns, make the county more energy independent, give ranchers a way to supplement their income and increase the use of renewable resources to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

The primary power generation source envisioned by the plan would be solar, but the potential for utility-scale wind energy projects would also be enhanced through the revision of ordinances, specifically in the Coastal Zone.

Large-scale solar projects could be installed on agricultural lands through updates to the Uniform Rules for Agricultural Preserves and Farmland Security Zones, according to a county staff report.

In adopting the plan Tuesday on a 4-1 vote, with 4th District Supervisor Peter Adam dissenting, the board directed the staff to come up with ways to implement the first two phases of the three-phase plan and bring those back for board approval before actually setting them in motion.

The board also directed the staff to work with the County Sheriff’s Office to determine which areas of the Northern Branch Jail property could be used to maximize the potential for solar power generation.

Marisa Hanson-Lopez, senior program specialist with the Community Services Department, said the staff and consultant Optony Inc. considered all potential energy sources, including biomass, biogas, hydro and geothermal in addition to solar and wind power.

Solar scored the highest, with the potential of generating 1,700 to 2,925 gigawatt hours of energy per year — enough to power 595,000 to 1.02 million households, far more than what exists in the county.

Board Chairman and 5th District Supervisor Steve Lavagnino asked what the scale of such a solar project might be to power the approximately 150,000 households in the county.

An Optony spokesman said a 1-acre solar array could power 60 to 100 homes, so it would require a total of 1,500 acres of solar panels scattered throughout the county to power all the county’s homes.

In the urban areas of the county’s unincorporated lands, solar panels would primarily be located on rooftops and as shades covering parking lots and could be installed to provide premeter energy that would power the site or postmeter to feed power into the electric grid.

Agricultural lands would primarily be the sites for utility-scale solar panels mounted on the ground, but the county will have to consider how to provide for such projects on properties protected as agricultural preserves by the Williamson Act as well as those that are not.

It could take from 12 to 18 months for the county to develop the necessary regulatory changes to allow projects to move forward and up to 24 months to develop an Energy Assurance Plan to deal with power outages.

 

Energy plan may bring more solar, wind power to Santa Barbara County, by Mike Hodgson, Santa Maria Times, September 14, 2019.

SLO council passes policy to make new buildings all-electric — but gas is still an option

With an eye on its ambitious 2035 carbon neutrality target, 10 years ahead of California’s statewide goal, San Luis Obispo’s City Council passed a new energy policy Tuesday that paves the way for all-electric new buildings.

The council — voting 4-1 with Councilwoman Erica Stewart casting the sole “no” tally — heard from dozens of speakers arguing for and against the new city law.

Mayor Heidi Harmon said that the future of the planet depends on climate action, and SLO’s decision sets a worldwide example, just as its smoking ban in indoor public areas such as bars and restaurants two decades ago has had far-reaching impacts.

“This is a big night for the city of SLO and moving away from fossil fuels in general,” Harmon said. “I’m just really truly appreciating it. The reason we’re in such a jam right now is we have really little time to make this transition. We just have to know that the reason we’re in a bad position is the fossil fuel industry has been misleading us for decades.”

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SLO Could Pass the Next Landmark Clean Energy Building Code

Momentum is building across California to address a longstanding pollution blind spot: natural gas use in buildings. With a city council vote next week, San Luis Obispo, the coastal city of 48,000 halfway between LA and San Francisco, could become one of the first cities in the state to pass landmark policy aimed at transitioning to zero-emission electric homes and businesses that are cleaner, safer, and more affordable for their occupants.

The Clean Energy Choice for New Buildings program would amend the local building code to accelerate the transition to zero-emission electric buildings, while providing options to those who still want to develop buildings with gas: Such projects would need to meet higher energy efficiency standards. A second, separate proposal would also require new buildings still using gas to offset the pollution from their fossil fuel use by paying an in-lieu fee to help retrofit existing buildings.

Promoting the switch to electricity in buildings is a key way to meet the city’s goal of carbon neutrality by 2035—residential and commercial buildings are responsible for one-quarter of California’s greenhouse gas emissions—and it also offers direct health and economic benefits to residents by avoiding the indoor air pollution, fire risks especially during earthquakes, and rapidly increasing gas prices.

San Luis Obispo and Berkeley are far from alone in recognizing the imperative for change. The City of Carlsbad has already adopted a “reach code”—in other words, a local building energy code that goes beyond state requirements—to require electric heat pump or solar thermal water heating for new construction. And more than 50 cities and counties across California are pursuing similar local codes to shift to zero-emission electric new construction.

Benefits of reach codes

NRDC has signed a letter of support urging San Luis Obispo (SLO) councilmembers to pass this reach code ordinance, and I recently joined a panel to discuss the many reasons why going all-electric is a smart choice. First, all-electric homes cost less and are faster to build than those heated with gas—without the need for connecting the building to the gas line in the street, installing a gas meter, gas piping in the building, and combustion venting and safety equipment, all of which save money and time—an advantage in San Luis Obispo’s ongoing housing crisis.

Building all-electric also lowers utility bills, shielding customers from hikes in gas prices. For example, Southern California Gas company—which serves SLO—has requested rate increases of 42 percent between 2018 and 2022, and Energy and Environmental Economics (E3) reported in its draft Future of Gas study for the California Energy Commission that it expects gas rates to continue to increase rapidly through 2050, making gas increasingly unaffordable.

Most importantly, San Luis Obispo’s ordinance will improve air quality and health for its residents, both indoors and out. Since Californians spend 68 percent of their time indoors on average, burning gas inside the home poses no small health risk: the resulting indoor air pollution includes nitrogen dioxide, carbon monoxide, formaldehyde, and ultra-fine particles, which have been liked to increased rates of asthma, particularly in children and the elderly.

Research from Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory has found that air pollution levels in 60 percent of homes that use gas stoves for cooking exceed levels that would be illegal outdoors.

By voting for the Clean Energy Choice for New Buildings ordinance, San Luis Obispo’s councilmembers will position their city to lead a wave of other cities and counties across California in constructing a cleaner, healthier, safer, and more affordable future.

 

SLO Could Pass the Next Landmark Clean Energy Building Code, by Pierre Delforge, Natural Resources Defense Council, August 29, 2019.

City Council votes for clean energy: community choice aggregate approved

Carpinteria’s City Council voted unanimously to move forward with joining a community choice aggregate (CCA) at its Aug. 26 meeting. The 4-0 vote (with Councilman Al Clark absent) directed staff to move forward in preparing a city contract to join the CCA of the Monterey Bay Community Power Authority (MBCP) with a budget appropriation of $7,500.

City staff were first directed to study the feasibility of joining a CCA in 2015. Erin Maker, the city’s environmental coordinator, explained to the council that CCAs offer consumers more local choices and promote economic development. Staff have also determined that joining MBCP provides “the least cost, lowest risk path forward.”

CCAs allow local governments to form a partnership to combine the amount of electricity used by their communities to both purchase energy and develop renewable energy projects. The partnership typically supplies a higher percentage of renewable or carbon-free electricity at competitive rates. The investor-owned utility, in this case Southern California Edison, handles the delivery of energy by maintaining transmission lines and the overall energy grid. Consumers can opt-out of the CCA use only SCE.

MBCP launched in early 2018, initially serving the counties of Santa Cruz, San Benito and Monterey, as well as 16 incorporated cities. MBCP currently serves 275,000 customers and will increase to about 305,000 in early 2020 with the enrollment of customers in the cities of Morro Bay and San Luis Obispo.

Speaking on behalf of the Community Environmental Council, Michael Chiacos stated, “We’ve studied community choice extensively … we urge Carpinteria to move forward… CCEs are now serving 10 million Californians … Carpinterians deserve the choice… of cleaner energy.”

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Ten more jurisdictions are in process of joining Monterey Bay Community Power.

Monterey Bay Community Power is fast outgrowing its name.

The agency was founded two years ago to pool together the buying power of ratepayers in Monterey, Santa Cruz and San Benito counties. Since then the cost savings and MBCP’s emphasis on emission-free sources of electricity have proven attractive to communities throughout California’s central coast.

The governments of 10 jurisdictions are in the process of joining. The list includes six cities in San Luis Obispo County: Morro Bay, San Luis Obispo, Arroyo Grande, Grover Beach, Paso Robles and Pismo Beach.

In Santa Barbara County, the cities of Goleta and Guadalupe are enrolling and so is the county itself, which means that people who live in unincorporated Santa Barbara County will soon become MBCP customers.

The city of Del Rey Oaks, which declined to participate in 2017, has now voted to become part of the agency.

As one of 19 community choice aggregation agencies throughout California, MBCP’s job is to bulk buy electricity on behalf of ratepayers. The legacy electric utility in the Central Coast region, Pacific Gas and Electric, will continue to operate, managing customer billing and the transmission of electricity.

The current expansion drive will bring MBCP’s customer total to 465,000, making it the fourth largest CCA program in the state.

To go along with the growth, the agency is looking to hire seven new people to its staff, which is currently 25 full-time and 3 part-time employees.

There is growing pressure from state government to shift California to clean sources of energy. MBCP gets most of its power through deals with hydroelectric dams, which are not classified as renewable. One option for the future will be to buy power from a floating wind farm that is being proposed for the deep waters off the coast of Morro Bay.

On Aug. 14, MBCP signed a memorandum of understanding Castle Wind, one of several companies competing for offshore leases to building such a wind farm. The two sides agreed to enter negotiations for the output from the proposed facility should Castle Wind’s plans get the green light.

Ten more jurisdictions are in process of joining Monterey Bay Community Power, by Asaf Shalev, Monterey County Weekly, August 21, 2019.

Santa Maria Council Narrowly Votes to Join Monterey Bay Community Power Program

After balking at the idea three months ago and expressing more doubts Tuesday night, the Santa Maria City Council narrowly voted to join the Monterey Bay Community Power program.

The City Council agreed, with a 3-2 vote, to participate in the nonprofit community choice energy organization, giving residents an alternative to Pacific Gas & Electric Co.

Council members Gloria Soto, Michael Moats and Mike Cordero voted in favor of the proposal after 90 minutes of listening to comments and debate. Mayor Alice Patino and Councilwoman Etta Waterfield opposed the motion.

Soto argued strongly for the city to join Monterey Bay.

“We are able to fight and give a voice to the residents of Santa Maria and bring more rebates, more cost savings and more programs to our residents, whereas right now with PG&E we don’t have a seat at the table,” Soto said. “Right now, PG&E is going to be looking out for the best interests of the stakeholders, not the residents of Santa Maria.”

Moats said, “I think we have a fiduciary duty to the city of Santa Maria to be fiscally responsible, and if we have an opportunity to save money, we have to look at it and vote on it.”

Waterfied earlier had unsuccessfully attempted to postpone the item, citing several areas of concern and calling for more research into the proposal.

“There are so many untruths to a lot of things that they fluff it up to make it sound really good,” Waterfield said. “I am not at all ready to vote on this.”

Patino agreed, saying she wanted to see the group’s rates, portfolio, budget and more.

“All these questions, I think, are important to be answered,” she added.

The Santa Maria council first considered joining Monterey Bay in May, but it decided to wait to see the results of a Santa Barbara County effort to form a community choice aggregate. The Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors and the City of Guadalupe since have voted to join Monterey Bay, following several other cities in San Luis Obispo County.

Community choice aggregation allows cities and counties to join with others in purchasing electric power and to develop a portfolio of energy generation sources, with an aim to lower costs to utility customers, according to Assistant City Manager Patrick Wiemiller. Existing investor-owned utilities — PG&E for the Santa Maria Valley — continue to provide billing and other services.

Monterey Bay, one of about 19 community choice groups in the state, pledged to develop alternative power sources, including solar and wind energy along with hydroelectric power.

Santa Maria electrical customers could save $12.5 million over the first five years, according to Wiemiller’s staff report.

With the City Council’s vote, all PG&E customers in Santa Maria will be switched to Monterey Bay and would have to opt out to revert back to PG&E.

“That’s a fairly straight-forward process,” Wiemiller said.

Monterey Bay pledged to issue rebates to customers, initially 5 percent, and later increasing to 8 percent.

Another option allows communities to back out of the joint powers authority with some potential costs.

“We have never, ever seen a jurisdiction be so dissatisfied, so upset about it that they wanted to extricate themselves from the JPA (joint powers authority),” said J.R. Killigrew, director of Communications & Energy Programs for Monterey Bay.

Most of the speakers Tuesday night favored joining Monterey Bay.

“Santa Marians should have a choice in their electrical provider, especially if it offers lower prices and cleaner electricity,” said Michael Chiacos, the Energy & Climate Program director for the Community Environmental Council.

But Andy Caldwell of the Coalition of Labor, Agriculture and Business renewed objections.

“The truth is, they’re offering a 5 percent rebate but your electricity prices are 50 percent higher in California as a result of these types of programs and mandates,” Caldwell said.

Santa Maria customers won’t see the switch to Monterey Bay until early 2021 since the process spells out several steps of notification to customers and other milestones beforehand.

— Noozhawk North County editor Janene Scully can be reached at jscully@noozhawk.com. Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk@NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

 

Santa Maria Council Narrowly Votes to Join Monterey Bay Community Power Program, by Janene Scully, Noozhawk, August 20, 2019.