New energy program gives residents a choice

Simi Valley is the newest Ventura County city expected to join an energy program that aims to lower power costs for residents and provide more options for electricity.

The City Council on Jan. 29 voted 4-0, with Councilmember Glen Becerra abstaining, to move forward with plans to bring in electricity supplier Los Angeles Community Choice Energy (LACCE) to compete with Southern California Edison [Editor’s note: LACCE is now known as Clean Power Alliance]. As a former SCE employee who still holds stock in the company, Becerra abstained from the discussion and vote.

LACCE is a community choice aggregation program, a collection of local governments that group together to give residential and business customers the option to buy energy from sustainable sources at purportedly lower costs.

Presently, Southern California Edison holds a monopoly on supplying electricity to Simi Valley and the rest of Ventura County.

Marin Clean Energy in Marin County was the first program in the state to create a community choice aggregation in 2008, with Sonoma Clean Power following suit in 2013.

In December 2017, the Simi Valley City Council directed staff to work with Ventura County and Los Angeles County to analyze the LACCE program and provide additional information, deputy city manager Linda Swan said.

LACCE operates by purchasing energy from various sources, including renewable sources like wind and solar power, and then sending that power to customers using the SCE electrical grid.

“If we sign (residents) up for this—because that’s essentially what we’re doing and it’s up to them to opt out—and the power starts flowing from the LACCE, is their rate going to go up?” Councilmember Mike Judge asked Gary Gero, Los Angeles County’s chief sustainability officer, at the January meeting.

Under state law, all residents automatically join a CCA program when the city does, but they can opt out free of charge within the first 60 days. After 60 days there is a small fee to opt out or to rejoin LACCE.

Gero said the LACCE rates would not be higher than the costs for SCE’s service. Rather, LACCE estimates its standard energy costs will be about 5.2 percent less than what SCE charges.

Simi customers will see their bills divided between SCE and LACCE, Swan said. Edison will continue to maintain the power grid and provide meter-reading and billing services, while LACCE will charge residents for power.

Consumers can choose how much of their energy comes from renewable resources, Swan said.

“There’s minimal risk to the city (to join LACCE); renewable energy reduces the city’s greenhouse emissions, which is part of the city’s climate action plan, and (it) will enable communities to invest locally rather than send money to SCE,” she told the council.

Camarillo, Moorpark, Thousand Oaks, Ojai, Oxnard and unincorporated areas of Ventura County will also join LACCE.

Simi resident John Casselberry urged officials to join the new energy program, saying it will allow people to save money while taking “environmentally conscious actions.” It would also help businesses reinvest in the community.

“If we fail to act, we may lose out on other business opportunities to other Ventura County cities that offer this option and are cheaper to operate in,” Casselberry said

Former state Sen. Fran Pavley, who represented the 27th District from 2012 to 2016, told the council Jan. 29 that Southern California, in general, has been “behind the 8-ball” when it comes to community energy choice.

“This is a model that has worked, and cities are able to procure energy at less expensive costs and tailor it to their community needs,” Pavley said, adding that many Simi residents are heavily invested in renewable energy, as shown by the high number of solar panels and electric cars citywide.

“People like the option of making that choice.”

Residents can expect to begin receiving energy from LACCE in January 2019. And while CCA energy costs are already competitive with SCE, those rates could be further reduced as more jurisdictions join LACCE.

 

New energy program gives residents a choice, by Melissa Simon, The Simi Valley Acorn, February 16, 2018. 

How a Solar Microgrid Is Helping an Indigenous California Tribe Achieve Community Resiliency

With this year’s major storms cutting power for millions of Americans for days—and in the case of Puerto Rico, months on end—the question of how we make our electrical grid and our communities more resilient is on a lot of people’s minds. But for people who live in remote communities where electricity has always been unreliable, or even nonexistent, resiliency is a way of life. And the solutions they are developing might just hold the key for the rest of us.

The Chemehuevi Indian Reservation comprises 30,000 acres at the edge of California’s Mohave Desert, just west of the Colorado River as it flows into Lake Havasu. A branch of the Southern Paiute, the Chemehuevi have inhabited this region for thousands of years, weathering extreme heat, powerful winds, and the torrential rains of the monsoon season. Today, just around 350 people live on the reservation, in scattered ranch-style homes that dot the otherwise open landscape.

Several years ago, the tribe started looking into solar power, both as a low-cost clean energy resource and an economic opportunity for its members. Taking advantage of a state program for low-income households, the tribe partnered with nonprofit GRID Alternatives to put solar power on 80 homes on the reservation and train 20 tribal members in solar installation. The installations were a boon for residents, lowering energy costs by an average of 50 percent, but the grid-tied systems didn’t solve one big problem: frequent power outages caused by weather and bird strikes.

“On occasion, power will be out for up to three days,” says Chemehuevi vice-chairman Glenn Lodge, “which is concerning especially for community members with medical conditions or tribal elders.”

The tribe began searching for a solution that would provide clean, affordable, uninterrupted power to their community center, a facility with a backup diesel generator that was providing critical services like meals and air conditioning to members during blackouts. Lodge and his team researched various options, ultimately leading to a grant for a solar micro-grid through the California Energy Commission and researchers from the University of California, Riverside.

The microgrid, a carport structure which completed construction in October 2017 and is in the process of being commissioned and interconnected, will do more than just replace the diesel generator. It will provide about 85 percent of the community center’s energy usage, reducing monthly electricity costs, and could even help out the local utility, Southern California Edison.

How it works

A microgrid is a small, self-contained energy grid serving users in direct proximity to it (e.g., a few homes, a cluster of large buildings, or an entire community) that has, at a minimum, a source of power and an energy storage component, and is able to operate without being connected to a utility grid. With a basic solar microgrid, the battery charges when the sun is shining, storing excess power that can then be used at other times of day to reduce electricity bills or saved for an emergency. Users can control when and where the power is distributed to meet their energy needs.

When the microgrid is connected to the larger utility grid, the benefits are even greater, allowing users to reduce their peak demand level, which has a big impact on their electricity charges. It also allows them to take electricity from the grid when it’s least expensive, and use locally generated power for more expensive periods. As battery technology has advanced in recent years, so have energy management programs that can respond automatically to pricing and production data and make constant adjustments to maximize backup power or bill savings, whatever the user’s goal. Researchers and students at UC Riverside have created custom algorithms to maximize benefit for the Chemehuevi, and are using the project to study impact and improve the technology.

The benefits to a remote tribe like Chemehuevi are clear, but what makes this so promising as a larger-scale solution to our community resiliency needs is the potential for integration with our broader energy system. The batteries in these systems can solve problems for the utilities, too. By connecting to customers’ microgrids, utilities can take advantage of that remotely stored power to reduce demand on the grid when it gets overburdened. This can reduce the need for costly new power infrastructure upgrades in areas that experience periods of high demand, and help balance out the uneven flow of renewable energy as more and more customers put solar on their roofs.

Unfortunately, there are few market mechanisms to support this arrangement—unlike grid-dependent rooftop solar customers who get compensated for excess power under net metering rules no matter where they are located, battery customers would have to negotiate terms separately with their utility or participate in demand response programs with a limited suite of options. Some utilities in California, which has mandated the use of storage, have started experimenting with tapping into their customers’ batteries, and the Chemehuevi tribe is hoping they can strike a deal with Southern California Edison, a leader in this space. Meanwhile, California, New York and Massachusetts are all working on creating open markets for distributed renewables to address this issue.

Upfront costs are also a significant barrier to using this technology more broadly, particularly in lower-income communities that are most vulnerable to storms and other adverse events. Batteries are still very expensive, and the price of solar panels could go up dramatically this year, depending on the outcome of a pending trade dispute.

If we are serious about making our communities stronger and better able to weather disaster, we need both policies and dollars behind the effort. California gets it. The state recently passed a bill encouraging utilities to invest in storage serving public sector and low-income customers, and the California Energy Commission is committed to investing $44 million in additional microgrid projects in 2018, with a focus on tribal and disadvantaged communities. Puerto Rico’s power authority is also considering integrating microgrids as it rebuilds the island’s power system, and Florida’s legislature is considering a bill to pilot solar and storage for critical facilities like hospitals, emergency shelters and airports.

The technology is there, and several states are moving in the right directly, but if we are going to succeed, we need to stop talking about renewable energy as a political issue and start treating it as an exciting opportunity to invest in community resilience, from the remotest corners to our inner cities. The Chemehuevi are showing us what’s possible. Let’s follow their lead.

How a Solar Microgrid Is Helping an Indigenous California Tribe Achieve Community Resiliency, by Stan Greschner, Alternet, February 14, 2018. 

Power program will cut costs 3% in San Jacinto when customers buy from city, not SCE

San Jacinto residents will soon be paying less for electricity.

Under a program starting April 1, customers will be buying power from the city, not Southern California Edison — and save 3 percent on the costs.

Utilizing the San Jacinto Power Community Choice Aggregation Program, the city will be buying power directly from those who generate it.

“It’s an alternative way to buy energy,” San Jacinto City Manager Rob Johnson said. “It gives us greater cost control, and each city can set its own rates. We’re sending back to the consumers the savings we have.”

Councilman Scott Miller likes that part of the plan.

“Anytime we can keep money in the pocket of those who earned it, that is a good thing,” he said. “Passing along savings to the public is what motivated me to support the CCA. Local control was also a benefit that drew my attention.”

Edison will still own and maintain the power lines, be responsible for delivering power and billing and collecting from customers. But the energy itself will be coming from the city.

“We’re buying the energy that’s going into the same lines,” city finance director Tom Prill said.

While the cost of energy will go down 3 percent in the first year, transmission and other costs will remain constant, saving consumers about 1 percent on their total bill, Prill said.

“By us buying our own contracts, we cut out Edison,” San Jacinto Councilman Andrew Kotyuk said. “We control what the cost is to our customers.”

Edison does not produce the power it sells. It purchases the power, and the San Jacinto program will be buying from the same wholesalers, Johnson said.

By cutting out the middleman, the city can offer lower rates and also take in money that can be spent on energy projects in the city, such as streetlights.

“We’re going to put that money into the community,” Johnson said.

The money can only go to energy-related projects, not for general city services such as hiring more police or firefighters.

But that covers a number of projects.

“We’re still looking into what exactly we can use that money for,” Prill said.

The city will soon be sending notices to its 15,500 customers explaining the change — a change Johnson said will only be noticed by a new line item on power bills.

“We believe it’s going to be quite seamless,” Johnson said. “There won’t be any physical change in what people see.”

Customers who wish to continue to buy power from Edison can opt out of the city program, Johnson said, and a third-party company will monitor the program and troubleshoot for the city.

A 3 percent savings is guaranteed for the first year and the City Council will have the ability to increase or decrease rates based on how much the program is taking in.

The city borrowed $600,000 from the general fund to start the program, which will be paid back through rates, Prill said.

Consumers who use solar and other green energies will see more savings than they would get through Edison, Johnson said.

The program dates back to 2012 when San Jacinto joined forces with the Los Angeles County City of Lancaster to create the California Choice Energy Authority with the goal of combining to save money of streetlights, solar and power.

That never came together, but the cities teamed up and were later joined by Pico Rivera, Hermosa Beach and Rancho Mirage in the California Choice Energy Authority to save money on energy.

“Instead of creating our own (authority), we looked at who had a successful one and Lancaster did,” Kotyuk said.

Other cities are considering joining the authority and some others are looking at forming their own, Johnson said.

Such a program is possible under a 2002 Assembly bill that allows municipalities to provide power for their residents.

 

 

Power program will cut costs 3% in San Jacinto when customers buy from city, not SCE, by Craig Shultz, The Press- Enterprise, January 27, 2018.

Rancho Mirage is now a power company, and the rest of California might follow its lead

Rancho Mirage is saying goodbye to Southern California Edison.

Starting in a few months, local officials will decide where to buy energy for the city’s 18,000 residents — a change they say will lower electricity bills by 5 percent, and allow environmentally minded residents to buy cleaner energy than they’d get from Edison.

Rancho Mirage’s decision to launch a “community choice” energy program, which was approved by the City Council on Thursday, reflects a dramatic, ongoing shift in how Californians get electricity. Cities and counties across the state are looking to reduce electricity bills, boost clean energy and gain independence from traditional utilities by launching community choice programs, which allow local leaders to make electricity-buying decisions themselves. Investor-owned utilities like Edison, Pacific Gas & Electric and San Diego Gas & Electric are required to transmit the electricity over their wires and send out bills, but local officials decide where to buy energy and how much to charge.

There are already nine community choice programs operating in the state, serving nearly 2 million homes and businesses, according to the California Community Choice Association, an advocacy group. Half a dozen programs could launch in 2018, including a multi-city effort in Los Angeles County. Other local governments are studying community choice, including the Coachella Valley Association of Governments, the Western Riverside Council of Governments and Riverside and San Diego counties.

Rancho Mirage’s community choice program was approved by the California Public Utilities Commission this week and is set to launch May 1.

“From a ratepayer’s standpoint, this is a very easy program, because essentially the message is this: We’re starting a program that is going to save you 5 percent on your electricity. And you don’t have to do anything to get that 5 percent,” Isaiah Hagerman, Rancho Mirage’s director of administrative services, said in an interview. “You have the ability to opt out, and you can stay with Southern California Edison for higher rates.”

If millions of Californians switch to locally run energy programs over the next decade, that could undermine the investor-owned utilities’ business model — a possibility that has the utilities worried. Edison, PG&E and SDG&E have asked the Public Utilities Commission to raise the “exit fees” that community choice customers are required to pay their former utilities, to cover the costs of long-term contracts the utilities have signed to provide electricity for those communities. A decision is expected by July.

In a filing to the utilities commission last year, the three investor-owned utilities said the formula for calculating the exit fee is “broken and must be fundamentally reformed to prevent cost increases to (remaining) customers.” But community choice advocates disagree, and say higher exit fees could make it financially infeasible to break off from the utilities. Riverside County’s decision on whether to move forward with a program for unincorporated areas will be determined in large part by the utilities commission’s decision on exit fees, according to Brian Nestande, the county’s deputy executive officer.

In the meantime, the utilities commission is considering a resolution that critics say amounts to a one-year freeze on new community choice programs that didn’t submit implementation plans by Dec. 8, 2017 — and a two-year freeze on programs that didn’t submit plans by Dec. 31. That could create headaches for the Coachella Valley Association of Governments and Riverside County, both of which submitted plans between those two dates and wouldn’t be able to launch their programs until 2019.

The proposal doesn’t affect Rancho Mirage, which submitted its plan in October.

Commission staff say the pause may be needed to ensure that utilities don’t inadvertently get stuck paying for certain types of energy to serve new community choice programs as they get started. But community choice advocates say that concern is overblown. They see the proposed freeze as a thinly veiled attempt by the commission to slow down a movement that threatens the investor-owned utilities.

Paul Fenn — who helped create the concept of community choice nearly 25 years ago in Massachusetts, and who now runs the California-based consulting group Local Power — said a two-year moratorium is “effectively a brick wall” for community choice. Over two years, he said, new politicians get elected and studies fall out of date.

“It’s stopping a process that does not easily recover and start up again,” Fenn said.

Coachella Valley officials are also urging the utilities commission to reject the proposed freeze at its Feb. 8 meeting. The community choice program being developed by the Coachella Valley Association of Governments — which is known as Desert Community Energy and includes Palm Springs, Cathedral City and Palm Desert — told the commission it finished its implementation plan on Dec. 4, but didn’t submit it right away because Edison asked for a few days to review it first. Desert Community Energy leaders said they were blindsided when, on Friday, Dec. 8, the commission proposed a one-year freeze on programs that didn’t submit their implementation plans by Dec. 8.

Desert Community Energy ended up submitting its plan the following Monday, Dec. 11.

After two years of working on community choice, the proposal “unfairly pulls the rug out from under us,” Cathedral City council member Shelley Kaplan, who chairs Desert Community Energy’s board of directors, wrote in a letter to the commission last month.

“Had we not gone above and beyond to consult with our long-term partner (Edison), and instead submitted our Implementation Plan… on December 5, 2017, we would have slipped under this proposed retroactive, arbitrary, and capricious deadline,” he wrote.

Rancho Mirage originally considered joining the Coachella Valley Association of Government’s program. But the city has sparred with CVAG on the proposed CV Link bike path, and ultimately decided it wanted to pursue community choice independently.

Rancho Mirage instead joined California Choice Energy Authority, a joint powers authority started by the city of Lancaster to help other cities run community choice programs. Hagerman, the city’s director of administrative services, said the Lancaster-led authority will negotiate power purchase agreements and provide regulatory support, meaning the city won’t have to pay consultants or hire staff to perform those services. But elected officials in Rancho Mirage will still decide what kind of power to buy, how to market the program and, crucially, how much to charge residents for electricity.

“It’s basically a way to get the economies of scale… without having to sacrifice local control,” Hagerman said.

While Rancho Mirage’s electricity contracts won’t be finalized for a few more weeks, Hagerman said, the city’s plan to offer rates 5 percent lower than Edison’s is based on two years of study by consultants. Hagerman said the city would benefit from the fact that another member of California Choice Energy Authority, the city of San Jacinto, plans to launch its community choice program in a few months, meaning the joint powers agency will be able to negotiate electricity purchases for the two cities together.

Rancho Mirage plans to offer a power mix that’s 35 percent renewable energy — higher than the 28 percent now offered by Edison — with another 15 percent coming from hydropower, which also doesn’t create planet-warming pollution. Homes and businesses that want 100 percent renewable energy will be able to get it for an average of $4.40 more per month, depending on how much electricity they use, Hagerman said.

The 1,700 Rancho Mirage ratepayers with solar panels, meanwhile, will still receive net metering benefits as they do under Edison — with the exception that the city will double the end-of-year rebates they get for the excess generation they contribute to the grid.

City officials expect the community choice program, known as Rancho Mirage Energy Authority, to save residents $1.4 million in its first year alone. In the long run, they think the savings will be even greater, since eventually the exit fees to Edison will go away.

“The city of Rancho Mirage has always been on the forefront of providing quality services to our residents. Today is no different. Better service and reduced cost are our ultimate goals,” council member Richard Kite said before Thursday’s vote.

Imperial Irrigation District customers in Rancho Mirage and other Coachella Valley cities with community choice programs will continue to get their electricity from IID, which is not an investor-owned utility and offers lower rates than Edison.

Sammy Roth writes about energy and the environment for The Desert Sun. He can be reached at sammy.roth@desertsun.com, (760) 778-4622 and @Sammy_Roth.

 

Rancho Mirage is now a power company, and the rest of California might follow its lead, by Sammy Roth, The Desert Sun, January 18, 2018.

County to Submit Electricity Buying Plan to State

A divided Riverside County Board of Supervisors voted to take the next step toward establishing a “Community Choice Aggregation” program that would enable Riverside County to buy electricity on the open market, with the goal of delivering power to residents in unincorporated communities at lower rates.

In a 3-2 vote – with Supervisors Kevin Jeffries and Chuck Washington opposed – the board approved sending the county’s proposed CCA Implementation Plan to the California Public Utilities Commission for review, which is expected to take about three months.

“This is just to file the plan with the PUC. We’re not entering into any contracts,” county Legislative Affairs Director Brian Nestande said.

The plan would turn the county executive office into a quasi public utility, seeking optimal terms on which to purchase megawatts that would be distributed using existing Southern California Edison transmission lines.

In order for the CCA to function, current SCE customers would have to leave the utility and migrate to the county system, which would come at a cost.

According to Nestande, SCE would be entitled to what’s called a “power charge indifference adjustment” because of the losses the utility would incur from losing customers for whom it had already bought electricity through futures contracts.

The PCIA, better known as an “exit fee,” would be absorbed by the county and passed on to CCA users in their utility bills. County officials said the additional costs would amount to a few extra cents on customers’ bills for a set period of time.

Jeffries disliked the idea of the county being saddled with exit fees that would add to the $1.7 million in startup costs for the CCA to operate.

The supervisor said he was even less enthused upon learning the CPUC will hold a hearing on the matter seven to eight months from now and could allow exit fees to be raised.

“It’s risky to take taxpayer funds knowing there is still a decision (to be made),” he said. “We could be throwing away money.”

Washington said he was unconvinced the touted savings from a CCA would materialize. He also believes there isn’t a large enough potential customer base – 375,000 residents – to justify the program, which wouldn’t be accessible to residents of cities throughout the county.

Supervisor Marion Ashley last month acknowledged that he, too, was worried about committing revenue without knowing all the details and future risks, but he said he felt it was important to “keep going through the process” and laying the groundwork for a CCA as an option.

According to Nestande, there are six CCAs in operation statewide, and both the Coachella Valley Association of Governments and the Western Riverside Council of Governments are on track with proposals of their own. The county was initially working in concert with the two entities, but their CCA proposals splintered last summer.

A summary report on the downside risks to starting a CCA indicated that CCA opt-outs could be costly.

Under the CCA structure, residents and business owners in unincorporated areas would be notified that they would be part of the county electricity distribution program unless they opted out. If enough people stay in, the program would be cost-neutral to the county. However, if people begin flocking back to SCE after the county has sealed contracts to procure power, the program could run into the red, according to the report.

The county would additionally have to employ people to operate the CCA, increasing outlays for salaries and benefits, running upward of $370,000 a year.

New York City-based Good Energy and Oakland-based Keyes, Fox & Wiedman created the implementation plan, alongside county attorneys, detailing how the prospective CCA would work.

Nestande introduced the CCA idea in January 2016, which culminated in the hiring of Good Energy.

The company’s research suggested that by converting to a publicly run energy program, residents could net a total $7.75 million in annual savings on electricity costs – or about 7 to 13 percent off each resident’s power bill in the unincorporated communities. The study also indicated that commercial customers could shave up to 10 percent off their bills, though figures tended to fluctuate depending on the nature of the enterprise.

According to the study, the county would have the opportunity to tap a variety of energy sources for delivery to customers, making block purchases at preferred rates.

In addition to California, CCAs have sprouted in parts of Illinois, Massachusetts, New York and Ohio.

Ratepayers currently served by municipalities with their own utilities, like the city of Riverside, would not be able to participate in the CCA.

County to Submit Electricity Buying Plan to State, by Paul Young, Valley News, November 25, 2017.

Riverside County Takes the next Step Toward Buying Electricity for Residents

A divided Riverside County Board of Supervisors voted Tuesday, Nov. 14, to take the next step in a process that could put the county in the power-buying business.

The 3-2 vote – supervisors Kevin Jeffries and Chuck Washington were opposed – allows county officials to submit a Community Choice Aggregation plan to the California Public Utilities Commission.

If the commission approves the plan, the county could start buying electricity at discounted rates for customers in unincorporated communities by next year. The county’s goal is to lower residents’ power bills and encourage economic development by offering cheaper power to businesses.

A feasibility study found aggregation could save the average customer 9 percent on electricity. Six California communities use aggregation through a process set up by state legislation in 2002.

Residents served by aggregation would continue to be billed for their use of electricity. The current power provider, Southern California Edison, would still maintain the grid.

Customers would be able to opt-out of aggregation if they wanted to stay with Edison, although missing a deadline to make that choice could incur a financial penalty.

The county has spent $250,000 to date pursuing aggregation, including hiring two private firms to write the implementation plan. Aggregation’s startup costs are estimated at $1.7 million with operational costs projected to be $1.67 million a year.

Tuesday’s vote doesn’t spend more money or commit the county to pursuing aggregation. Whether the county forges ahead could depend on the exit fee payable to Edison.

The commission, which sets the fee, could change how the fee is calculated. “If the changes negate the opportunity for ratepayer savings, then we will most likely not go forward with (aggregation),” Deputy County Executive Officer Brian Nestande said after Tuesday’s meeting.

Jeffries said the exit fee is “the only thing that is holding me up from continuing down this path.”

“It is a gamble,” Jeffries said. “It is risky to take our taxpayer funds and put it in something knowing that there’s a decision point coming up in seven or eight months that could throw all this out.”

Washington sounded skeptical about how much residents will save through aggregation.

“The estimates on the savings are high (and) estimates on costs are low,” he said. “I think that this approach we’ve taken is not thoroughly vetted and I don’t believe it serves the county as a whole.”

Supervisor Marion Ashley argued for taking the next step in the aggregation process. “Let’s get to that decision point and then make a decision,” he said.

In addition to Riverside County, the Western Riverside Council of Governments also is looking into aggregation and has developed a business plan for a program called Western Community Energy.

Talks with cities to gauge their interest are ongoing, said Jennifer Ward, the council’s director of government relations. The council hopes to move ahead with aggregation for five or six cities starting late next summer, she added.

Riverside County Takes the next Step Toward Buying Electricity for Residents, by Jeff Horseman, The Press-Enterprise, November 15, 2017.

Say Goodbye to Southern California Edison? Coachella Valley Eyes New Electricity Providers

Riverside County residents may soon be able to buy electricity from a government-run energy program, at lower rates than those offered by Southern California Edison — depending on what state regulators decide next summer.

The county’s board of supervisors voted Tuesday to submit a plan to state officials to start a community choice aggregator, or CCA, in which the county would buy electricity for residents and decide how much to charge. The program would cover unincorporated areas now served by SoCal Edison, including North Palm Springs and Snow Creek in the Coachella Valley. Palm Springs and Cathedral City are working to form their own CCA, with Palm Desert’s city council recently voting to join and a vote scheduled in Desert Hot Springs next week. Rancho Mirage is also developing its own program.

Community choice is an increasingly popular option for cities and counties looking to lower their electric bills and increase their reliance on climate-friendly energy sources like solar and wind. There are nine CCAs now operating in California, from Lancaster Choice Energy in the desert to Sonoma Clean Power north of the Bay Area. Investor-owned utilities like Edison and Pacific Gas & Electric still run the power lines that serve CCA customers and sometimes send out the bills, but they don’t play any other role.

Local officials hope to promote the growth of solar power, both on rooftops and through bigger solar plants. They think they can offer rates at least as low as Edison’s in large part because of the region’s abundant sunshine and the falling costs of solar power.

“We fully envision having a 100 percent renewable option, so people can opt up to 100 percent percent renewable if they want to. And that kind of goes along with the benefit of CCAs in general. It’s providing a choice,” said Isaiah Hagerman, director of administrative services for Rancho Mirage. “Before you had none, you were with Southern California Edison. Now you have a choice.”

study prepared last year by EES Consulting found that a community choice program run by the Coachella Valley Association of Governments could offer a 50 percent renewable energy mix while cutting electricity costs by 2.1 percent in 2018. Riverside County’s proposed CCA would save the average home between $50 and $55 annually, according to Good Energy, a consultant the county has hired to run its energy program.

But the California Public Utilities Commission could still throw a wrench in the works.

CCA customers are required to make a monthly payment known as the “exit fee” to their former investor-owned utility. Edison and other utilities sign long-term power contracts based on the amount of electricity they expect they’ll need to provide to their customers, and when they lose customers, suddenly they don’t need some of that power. State regulators allow investor-owned utilities to charge CCA customers for some of that contracted energy, so the utilities don’t have to raise rates for their remaining customers.

But Edison, PG&E and San Diego Gas & Electric don’t like how the exit fee is currently calculated. They think the formula doesn’t allow them to recover enough of their costs. In June, the public utilities commission opened a rulemaking process to reconsider the exit fee formula, with a timeline that calls for making a decision by July 2018.

In a filing to the utilities commission earlier this year, Edison, PG&E and SDG&E said the exit fee formula “is not fair, just, or reasonable” to their customers.

“The current methodology is broken and must be fundamentally reformed to prevent cost increases to (remaining) customers,” the investor-owned utilities wrote.

Say Goodbye to Southern California Edison? Coachella Valley Eyes New Electricity Providers, by Sammy Roth, The Desert Sun, November 14, 2017.

Solar Alliance to Build Project for California Cannabis Grower

Solar provider Solar Alliance Energy Inc. has signed an agreement with Coachella Brands Inc. for the design and construction of a 600 kW ground-mounted solar project at a new legal cannabis growing and processing facility in California.

Solar Alliance says its engineering team analyzed Coachella’s requirements and designed a system that will offset a large portion of the facility’s electricity needs with lower-cost renewable energy.

“It has been estimated that one percent of America’s electricity generation is used by cannabis growers, a very significant figure given growth projections. The signing of this commercial solar project agreement with Coachella Brands provides an entry into an extremely attractive and developing market with an aggressive growth curve,” says Jason Bak, chairman and CEO of Solar Alliance.

“The rapidly growing cannabis industry is energy intensive, and the current power infrastructure is not yet sufficient to supply demand in many areas,” he adds. “By removing power as the constraint to growth and offering financing products tailored to the industry, we are planning to have Solar Alliance become the solar provider of choice for cannabis facilities.”

Solar Alliance says the next stage in the project’s development is to complete a final feasibility study, which will consist of system design, grid interconnection/utility meter connection point, construction and technical requirements, permitting requirements, safety requirements and any additional modifications required to support the project. The preliminary schedule for the project anticipates construction commencing in January 2018.

Solar Alliance to Build Project for California Cannabis Grower, by Joseph Bebon, Solar Industry, October 30, 2017.

Board Prepares to Move Ahead with Energy Purchasing Plan

RIVERSIDE COUNTY, CA — A divided Board of Supervisors Tuesday tentatively scheduled a Nov. 7 public hearing to weigh the pros and cons of creating a “Community Choice Aggregation” system under which Riverside County would purchase electricity on the open market, competing with utilities to deliver power to residents in unincorporated communities at, ideally, lower prices.

In a 3-2 vote, with Supervisors Kevin Jeffries and Chuck Washington opposed, the board took the next major step toward submitting a plan to the California Public Utilities Commission seeking to create a CCA that would offer residents an alternative to Southern California Edison.

Jeffries said he was uncomfortable committing to the enterprise out of concern the county would have trouble justifying the eventual expenditure of $1.7 million in startup costs, as contentious contract talks drag on with multiple unions.

“This seems a bit risky,” the supervisor said. “I say we let the public utilities commission make a a decision first before we start spending tax dollars we don’t have today.”

Supervisor Marion Ashley acknowledged that he, too, was worried about committing revenue without knowing all the details and future risks, but felt it was important to “keep going through the process” and laying the groundwork for a debate during the initial public hearing.

County Legislative Affairs Director Brian Nestande assured the board that the $250,000 expended to date on the CCA concept would be the final financial commitment until the CPUC completes a review of the board’s proposal, which could take up to three months.

“Studies and surveys show our electricity rates in California are some of the highest in the nation,” Nestande said. “This is a tool to bring rates down for residents and businesses.”

He noted that there are six CCAs in operation statewide, and both the Coachella Valley Association of Governments and the Western Riverside Council of Governments are on track with proposals of their own.

“We have an opportunity for reducing costs to residents,” Nestande said.

A summary report on the downside risks to starting a CCA, which would function similar to a municipally owned utility, indicated that CCA opt-outs could be costly.

Under the CCA structure, residents and business owners in unincorporated areas would be notified that they would be part of the county electricity distribution program unless they opted out. If enough people stay in, the program would be cost-neutral to the county. However, if people begin flocking back to SCE after the county has sealed futures contracts to procure power, the program could run into the red, according to the report.

The county would additionally have to employee people to operate the CCA, increasing outlays for salaries and benefits.

New York City-based Good Energy and Oakland-based Keyes, Fox & Wiedman created an implementation plan and model ordinance detailing how the prospective CCA would work.

Nestande introduced the CCA concept in January 2016, which culminated in the hiring of Good Energy.

The company’s research suggested that by converting to a publicly-run energy program, residents could net a total $7.75 million in annual savings on electricity costs — or about 9 percent off each resident’s power bill in the unincorporated communities. The study also indicated that commercial customers could shave up to 10 percent off their bills, though figures tended to fluctuate depending on the nature of the enterprise.

According to the study, the county would have the opportunity to tap a variety of energy sources for delivery to customers, making block purchases at preferred rates.

In addition to California, CCAs have sprouted in parts of Illinois, Massachusetts, New York and Ohio.

In Riverside County, Good Energy mainly examined the service delivery and costs borne by SCE customers.

Households consumed the highest volume of electricity — 34 percent — followed by large industrial operations at 28 percent. The cumulative total electricity used in the unincorporated areas came to 2.1 billion kilowatt-hours in 2015, according to Good Energy.

The study found that shifting to a market-driven purchasing plan under a CCA would result in “clear savings” to a high number of customers. However, utility rate structures that rely on “load factor” to determine a customer’s monthly bill might be more beneficial to some electricity consumers who tend to need greater wattage.

Ratepayers currently served by municipalities with their own utility companies, like the city of Riverside, would not be able to participate in the CCA.

Board Prepares to Move Ahead with Energy Purchasing Plan, by Staff, Patch, October 25, 2017.

Here’s Why Riverside County Could Decide to Buy Electricity for Unincorporated Areas

Providing cheaper power to parts of Riverside County is the goal of a program being considered by the county Board of Supervisors on Tuesday, Oct. 24.

The board is scheduled to vote on whether to take the next step toward Community Choice Aggregation, which would allow the county to buy electricity from power providers for use by residents and businesses in the county’s unincorporated communities.

Customers in unincorporated areas would continue to be billed for their power usage.

If the board agrees, a public hearing on the aggregation plan would take place Nov. 7, after which the board could vote to press on with aggregation or abandon the idea.

Officials said aggregation could save residential customers an average of 9 percent on their power bills, and cheaper electricity could lure business to the county.  Before his death in December, Supervisor John Benoit suggested local wind and solar energy providers could benefit through aggregation by selling their electricity to the county.

Customers served by aggregation would be able to opt-out and continue to receive power through Southern California Edison. But there could be a financial penalty if a customer waits too long to opt-out.

Edison would still be responsible for maintenance and responding to outages if the county moves forward with aggregation, according to a county staff report. The county’s plan does not involve building or buying power plants or utility lines.

Aggregation has been on the county’s drawing board since 2015. Planning efforts have cost $250,000 to date and startup costs could be $1.7 million, with staffing and operational costs estimated at $1.67 million a year.

Before it can buy power, the county would need approval from the California Public Utilities Commission. One issue needing resolution would be the size of the exit fee charged by Edison.

“The current exit fees are used to determine the projected savings,” a county staff report read. “However, (the commission) might allow for larger exit fees in the future thereby wiping out potential savings.”

Startup and exit fees would be passed along to customers served by aggregation.

Another risk is a large number of customers opting out, according to the report. “As customers leave the cost increases for the remaining customers,” the report read. “If the (aggregation program) completely folds then the county is responsible for the energy contracts.”

That said, officials believe aggregation is worth the risks, noting at least six aggregation programs have operated in California for years.

“Prices have constantly dropped over the last five years and the percent of customers opting out is small,” the report read.

PUBLIC MEETING

The Riverside County Board of Supervisors will decide whether to schedule a public hearing, and later vote, on a plan to provide electricity to the county’s unincorporated areas through a concept called Community Choice Aggregation.

When: 9 a.m. Tuesday, Oct. 24.

Where: First-floor board chambers, County Administrative Center, 4080 Lemon St., Riverside.

Here’s Why Riverside County Could Decide to Buy Electricity for Unincorporated Areas, by Jeff Horseman, The Press-Enterprise, October 23, 2017.