Monterey Bay >> It took five years of work, dozens of public meetings, more than 100 presentations to community interest groups, and a year of organization to take the Monterey Bay Community Power agency from concept to consummation.
Officials and others from Monterey, Santa Cruz and San Benito counties celebrated on Thursday the official start of power service for the first regional community choice energy agency encompassing three counties in the state and one of the largest, and the first tri-county joint powers authority in nearly half a century since the formation of the Monterey Bay Unified Air Pollution Control District in 1974 and the creation of the Association of Monterey Bay Area Governments in 1968.
Originally envisioned by former Ecology Action executive director Gine Johnson, the years-long campaign to get all tri-county jurisdictions to cooperate in a single regional power agency really kicked into gear when Santa Cruz County Supervisor Bruce McPherson hired Johnson as an aide and began backing the proposal after taking office in early 2013.
Johnson credited the former California Secretary of State, who served for years in both the State Assembly and Senate, for his leadership and focused political championship as “one of the most trusted public servants” in the state and the Monterey Bay, along with the efforts of Santa Cruz County executive staff, regional public partners, and community groups. She acknowledged the “diversity” of the region presented unique challenges and additional time, but said it was worth the effort.
“In the end, I think everyone involved was simply inspired by how community choice energy would change the environmental and economic game for the Central Coast and what a privilege it was to work together to make it happen,” Johnson said. Monterey Bay Community Power “will prove that local governments can be effective entrepreneurs and achieve extraordinary results.”
As an example of the level of buy-in, all but two local jurisdictions — Del Rey Oaks and King City — signed on to the power agency JPA despite occasional concerns expressed by Monterey County supervisors, as well as San Benito County and Hollister city officials, over governance and oversight.
“When communities collaborate, they have an opportunity to share in the successes of their investment,” said Rep. Jimmy Panetta, D-Carmel Valley. “The benefits of cross-community and cross-government input can be seen locally from the Monterey Model for our military entities to the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary to infrastructure projects like the Pfeiffer Canyon Bridge.”
Salinas City Councilman Steve McShane told a crowd at Thursday’s ceremonial “turning on clean energy” kickoff event that Monterey Bay Community Power is at the forefront of a “huge, huge wave of change” with regard to sustainable energy and environmental stewardship, noting that major commercial businesses like Pebble Beach Company, the Seascape Resort and Leal Winery in the tri-county region are already considering and implementing green energy initiatives.
Monterey Bay Community Power CEO Tom Habashi said the biggest challenge facing the agency in the future will be the “lack of certainty” associated with PG&E “exit fees,” which are allowed by the state Public Utilities Commission to offset the impact on the company and its continuing customers of the new power agencies and are calculated annually.
The exit fees have already shown a tendency to fluctuate on a regular basis and have threatened to consume much of the difference between PG&E and CCE power agency rates.
Allowed under state law since the early 2000s, community choice energy agencies have been in operation since Marin Clean Energy came online in 2010, and there are now a dozen in California including Monterey Bay providing power, with others such as Los Angeles County and Ventura County in the pipeline.
Under the CCE model, Monterey Bay Community Power will take over power purchasing from PG&E and use that to focus its energy sources on carbon-free hydroelectric, wind and solar in an effort to reduce greenhouse gas emissions while offering customers comparable rates and redirecting PG&E’s corporate profit margin toward local green energy projects, creating jobs and economic benefit in the process.
PG&E will continue handling power distribution through its existing system, along with maintenance, billing and customer service, and will charge local customers for those services.
Residential customers will be offered 3-percent rebates on their annual bills, while non-residential customers will get their 3-percent rebate on a quarterly or bi-annual basis, and the power agency will collect 2 percent of annual power generation revenue projected at $175 million this year and $260 million next year for investment in local green energy projects such as wind and solar. The agency will offer customers an opportunity to sign up for one of three programs, including MBchoice which will credit the 3-percent rebate to customer bills, MBgreen+ which will allocate the 3-percent rebate to local green energy projects, and MBshare which will allow customers to donate the 3-percent rebate to local non-profit green energy initiatives through the Community Foundation.
All residential and non-residential customers in the participating jurisdictions are automatically enrolled in Monterey Bay Community Power unless they opt-out once they are sent a notice that power service is set to start, and will not be charged if they do so within a month of the start of service or for two months afterward. Residential customers will be required to pay a $5 opt-out fee and non-residential customers will pay $25 outside that notification window.
Less than 1 percent of all non-residential customers have opted out, according to power agency staff, and a slightly higher percentage of residential customers are expected to do so.
Monterey Bay Community Power outreach coordinator Marc Adato said in response to non-residential customers’ concerns about fluctuating power rates the agency is working on a proposal that would offer those customers a guarantee that their local rates would never exceed PG&E’s no matter how much they fluctuate in addition to a minimum 1.5-percent rebate. The proposal still needs approval from the power agency’s policy board, Adato said.
Some 37,500 commercial, agricultural, industrial and municipal customers representing nearly two-thirds of the region’s total power load started receiving Monterey Bay Community Power service on Thursday, while about 235,000 residential customers will come online July 1.
For information, visit www.mbcommunitypower.org.
Jim Johnson can be reached at 831-726-4348.
Monterey Bay Community Power: Green energy agency bolstered by regional cooperation, by Jim Johnson, Monterey Herald, March 3, 2018.