SMUD and partners pledge $750,000 to communities in need. What will Sacramento receive?

The Sacramento Municipal Utility District, along with nine community partners, announced a plan Monday to contribute a minimum of $750,000 to initiatives in Sacramento’s Promise Zone neighborhoods.

The Promise Zone is a federal designation given to underprivileged communities. Sacramento received the Promise Zone designation in 2015, and the zone encompasses 22 square miles, including downtown, parts of North Sacramento, Del Paso Heights, Oak Park and parts of South Sacramento.

The new initiative includes partnerships with UC Davis Health, Blue Shield of California, the Sacramento Black Chamber of Commerce, the Sacramento Housing and Redevelopment Agency and five other organizations, according to a news release from SMUD.

The $750,000 will go to economic and workforce development programs that are set to be implemented over the next three years in the Promise Zone. The ultimate goal of the partnerships is to create public-private shared initiatives to “drive revitalization in Sacramento’s most underserved communities,” according to the release.

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VCE energy advisers offer expertise

Greener energy, customer choice, local control, access — they’re the hallmarks of Valley Clean Energy, a public electricity program launched locally last June. VCE serves residential and business customers in Davis, Woodland and unincorporated Yolo County.

The highly skilled staff members, a board of directors made up of local elected officials and an advisory committee of experts from the three jurisdictions are transforming the idea of community choice energy into a reality.

“The Community Advisory Committee is a really powerful group with quite a diverse mix of backgrounds,” says Davis City Councilman Lucas Frerichs, a member and past chair of the VCE board.

The members’ breadth and depth of knowledge makes for a “stellar” bunch, adds Yvonne Hunter, a longtime Davis resident who is one of the CAC’s nine volunteer members. Before her retirement from the League of California Cities, Hunter served as the lead lobbyist for state legislation that authorized cities and counties to create Community Choice Aggregation electricity providers.

“It was something I really, really believed in,” she recalls. “And then, it was exciting to go from theoretical legislation that I passionately believed in to helping my very own community decide if community choice was right for us.”

Frerichs says the CAC advises the board on general policy and operational objectives, including strategies to reduce carbon emissions and accelerate local energy resources.

Many of the members transitioned from city or county advisory roles to their new volunteer efforts with VCE. Gerry Braun of Davis, who chairs the CAC, said the committee’s first responsibilities include serving as a “second set of eyes” on energy issues, assisting in community outreach during the launch process and providing advice regarding legislation and regulations pertaining to community choice energy.

Braun himself has been involved in energy for more than half a century, with a particular emphasis on solar and renewables. Currently, he is the director of the Integrated Renewable Energy Systems Network, which serves the growing need for more integrated planning and operation of local energy services in support of community economic and environmental goals.

“I came to a conclusion two or three decades ago — this was before climate change became a real concern — that the changes that had to occur to bring solar and wind on faster were going to be driven by people rather than utilities,” Braun says. “I think I’ve been proven right on that.

Those changes that Braun dreamed of are being embraced by 19 CCAs that serve more than 10 million customers across California. Just 10 months old, Valley Clean Energy is one of the youngest such agencies.

And the passion that he and his fellow CAC members share for community choice energy fuels their involvement. Other members include Vice Chair Christine Shewmaker of Woodland, a plant biologist and passionate climate-change activist; Secretary Marsha Baird of unincorporated Yolo County, who worked 20-plus years as a market research and strategic planning manager in Silicon Valley; Lorenzo Kristov of Davis, who spent 40 years in the energy industry, most recently with the California Independent System Operation (Cal ISO); David Springer of unincorporated Yolo County, who co-founded the Davis Energy Group; Mark Aulman of Woodland, a retired communications professional and ardent environmental advocate; and Christine Casey of Woodland, a UC Davis entomologist with expertise in water and sustainability issues.

A seat representing unincorporated Yolo County is vacant at this time.

Unlike investor-owned utilities, CCEs allow for community engagement and involvement, an “absolutely critical” part of the enterprise, Hunter says.

“Anybody who has an opinion — and a lot of people do — can come and talk to us,” she says of the Community Advisory Committee. “Or, they can go downtown (in Davis) and walk into the administrative offices of Valley Clean Energy and talk to the staff.

“What’s better than that? You combine that kind of access with highly skilled administration and good technical background, and it’s a win-win.”

Adds Aulman, “The beauty of VCE is that it’s ‘effortless.’ As a customer, you don’t have to do anything and you’re already getting 42 percent renewable energy, surpassing PG&E, plus the opportunity to opt up to UltraGreen.” That 100 percent renewable portfolio is offered by VCE for a few dollars more per month.

“In terms of opting up, do the math, look at your bill and opt up,” Aulman says. “That’s the logical next step.”

So, what’s next on Valley Clean Energy’s to-do list?

In the near term, Frerichs says, it’s the implementation of a $2.9 million grant the agency received this winter from SACOG, the Sacramento Area Council of Governments, to build up to 65 electric-vehicle charging stations throughout Yolo County.

The grant also provides for as many as 10 mobile EV chargers and an electric bus serving downtown Davis and the UC Davis campus.

In the longer term, CAC members see a potpourri of potential projects: perhaps a community solar farm, Aulman says, or small hydro projects or wind farms in Yolo County, Hunter says.

For Braun, the dream includes shaping the energy future of Davis, Woodland and unincorporated Yolo County “better than it is being shaped now.”

“Regardless of what VCE does, the electricity sector will be undergoing profound changes in the next decades,” he says. “Local energy systems will be much smarter and more completely integrated with building energy and local transportation infrastructure.

“VCE could hope to play a crucial role guiding energy customers and their communities through a process that results in greatly increased local energy resilience and much greater local energy self-reliance,” Braun adds.

“This will take innovative local programs, innovative rate-setting, innovative procurement processes plus deep engagement with customers, communities and universities.

“The key to growing into this role will be visionary leadership plus financial health and stability that makes sustained local and organizational capacity building possible,” he concludes.

Want to be a part of that exciting future? Attend a Community Advisory Committee meeting and volunteer your time and talent.

Or, if you’re a resident of unincorporated Yolo County — which covers all of the county except the cities of Davis, Woodland, Winters and West Sacramento — apply for the vacant seat and represent the interests of your neighbors and Yolo’s farmers.

Find an application at https://valleycleanenergy.org/wp-content/uploads/VCE-CAC-Description-and-Application-1.pdf.

While unincorporated Yolo County has only 14 percent of Valley Clean Energy’s residential customers and 24 percent of its commercial customers, it has 98 percent of the agricultural customers, says Marsha Baird, a CAC member.

“As a member of the Community Advisory Committee representing unincorporated Yolo County, part of my role is to make sure the interests of the agricultural customer are considered,” she continues.

“For example, farms use large amounts of electricity to run their irrigation systems, making electricity rates very important to the success of local farmers.”

 

VCE energy advisers offer expertise, by Special to the Enterprise, Davis Enterprise, April 2019.

SMUD withdraws anti-solar Grid Access Charge

One constant in the solar industry is attempts by utilities to either kill rooftop solar outright or at least claw back revenue from their customers who adopt solar. And from our work in covering this subject, we’ve seen it apply to publicly owned utilities as well as those owned by investors.

And while utilities are largely moving towards more indirect, subtle routes like higher fixed charges, from time to time they still do attempt to impose discriminatory charges on PV systems, which are hard to justify as anything but an attempt to stop rooftop solar dead in its tracks.

This was the route which was recently pursued by the Sacramento Municipal Utility District (SMUD), which had proposed a per-kilowatt monthly charge on its customers who had the audacity to install rooftop PV under net metering.

And it was not a small charge either; as estimated by California Solar and Storage Association (CALSSA), SMUD’s Grid Access Charge would have added $44 – $77 each month to the utility bill for the typical residential customer with solar.

However, yesterday (April 22nd) SMUD abruptly withdrew the charge, and says that it will now go through a stakeholder process and develop additional studies and analysis in 2019, including an effort to “further engage” with solar customers.

>1,200 emails

In an addendum explaining the change, SMUD alludes to receiving “public input and feedback on this item”, which is the utility’s way of delicately saying that this proposal angered and mobilized large numbers of their customers.

According to Solar Rights Alliance (SRA), which organizes consumers who own solar, want to go solar or simply support the right of residents to install and generate their own electricity, more than 1,200 SMUD customers sent emails in to protest the charge over a five-day period.

SRA mobilized its members, and Executive Director Dave Rosenfeld says that once word got out the movement spread on its own. “They started spreading the word next door, and then we had people who went door to door to solar homes with fliers,” Rosenfeld told pv magazine. “This was being discussed at the kitchen table, and on various online forums.”

This culminated in an estimated 30 SMUD customers showing up to a workshop that the utility held today, even after the Grid Access Charge had been cancelled.

Not out of the woods yet

But while SMUD has withdrawn the Grid Access Charge, its language suggests that it will still attempt to impose charges on its customers who go solar, as the utility is claiming $30 million in “cross subsidies” between its customers who adopt solar and other customers.

However, it is not clear that this number has been generated using a robust analysis of actual costs and benefits of distributed generation. Instead, CALSSA Executive Director Bernadette Del Chiaro describes a “simplistic” analysis that went into justifying the proposal, including the assumption that power generated by rooftop solar is a burden and not an asset to other ratepayers.

It is unclear how much SMUD will modify its approach through the resulting stakeholder process, however the utility’s leaders have a motivation for reaching consensus that the executives and boards of investor-owned utilities do not: the potential of being voted out if they anger their customers.

“It’s the only utility in California that is truly democratically elected,” Del Chiaro told pv magazine. She contrasts the election of SMUD board members with that of other public utilities such as the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power (LADWP), whose board is appointed by the mayor and confirmed by the council.

Solar bill of rights

Utility proposals to impose discriminatory charges on their customers would be illegal if SB288, dubbed the Solar Bill of Rights, passes the state’s legislature. The bill passed the Senate Energy Committee two weeks ago, and will now go to the Senate Appropriations Committee, which should be its last stop before the Senate floor.

SMUD argued against the legislation in the committee hearing, however it may have unwittingly built support for the bill by its attempt to impose the Grid Access Charge. “It underscores why we absolutely need the solar bill of rights – that a utility could get away with a discriminatory fee like this,” stated SRA’s Rosenfeld.

Rosenfeld says that not only does this attempt at a fee strengthen SRA’s case, but that it has alerted many SMUD customers to this issue, and the danger that they could be subject to discriminatory charges if the bill is not passed.

He notes that the large majority of the 52 people who attended the Solar Bill of Rights hearing in Sacramento were utility customers and solar workers, some of whom were from SMUD’s territory. And he says that this is just the beginning.

“We will see lawmakers hearing a lot more from citizens in the next weeks and months,” predicts Rosenfeld.

 

SMUD withdraws anti-solar Grid Access Charge, by Christian Roselund, PV Magazine, April 23, 2019.

SMUD, PG&E study electric long-haul trucking future

Utilities along the entire West Coast are joining together to create an electric highway to power long-haul shipping from Mexico to Canada along Interstate 5.

The effort includes Sacramento Municipal Utility District and PG&E Corp. (NYSE: PCG), which with other utilities are preparing to install electric vehicle charging infrastructure for trucks to improve air quality and efficiency on the busy shipping corridor.

“It’s these types of opportunities that continue to push us toward a more sustainable future,” said Bill Boyce, manager of electric transportation with SMUD, in a news release. “We are proud to partner on a local, regional and national level to reduce emissions from vehicles, and this effort to electrify our trade corridors will have significant benefits to the communities we serve.”

In Sacramento, SMUD has been working to develop electricity as a transportation fuel since 1990 as part of its mandate to improve air quality. The entire Sacramento region is working to position itself as a leader in clean transportation and autonomous vehicle technology.

In total, more than 24 municipal utilities are sponsoring the West Coast Clean Transit Corridor Initiative, a study that will decide the best way to create sufficient electric truck charging for nearly 1,400 miles from Blaine, Washington, to San Ysidro near the Mexican Border.

The utilities are going to study the best way to provide EV charging on I-5 — and on major connecting routes — to power heavy-duty electric trucks that are now being introduced into truck fleets. Part of the goal of the study is to determine key charging and infrastructure locations. The study is expected to be concluded by the end of this year, with implementation recommendations expected as soon as next year.

 

SMUD, PG&E study electric long-haul trucking future, by Mark Anderson, Sacramento Business Journal, April 22, 2019.

Valley Clean Energy Seeking CAC members

Valley Clean Energy, is seeking members for their Community Advisory Committee. See info below for more information:

 

Purpose: The Community Advisory Committee is appointed by and acts as an advisory body to the Valley Clean Energy Alliance Board to provide recommendations on general policy and operations objectives.

Roles and Responsibilities:
• Advise the VCE Board of Directors on VCE’s general policy and operational objectives, including portfolio mix and objectives, technical, market, program and policy areas, strategic objectives and strategies to reduce carbon emissions, accelerate development of local resources and promote energy resilience.

• Assist in the development of public information materials related to customer energy investments and choices offered by VCE, PG&E and third parties.

• Collaborate with VCE staff and consultants on community outreach to and liaison with member communities;

• Collaborate with VCE staff on monitoring legislative and regulatory activities related to Community Choice Energy issues.

• Make recommendations on issues, projects, and/or objectives to further VCE’s fulfillment of the goals outlined in the Vision Statement.

Membership: 9 members, composed of 3 representatives from each VCE jurisdiction – the City of Woodland, the City of Davis, and Yolo County. A quorum shall consist of a majority of the current membership.
Meetings: Nine (9) days prior to, typically on a Monday, the Board’s regularly scheduled meeting, which is the second Thursday of every month. Meetings start at 5:30 p.m. and alternate between the Cities of Davis and Woodland.

Term: appointed for a 3-year term, staggered.

Click here to apply.

SMUD cancels controversial power line project north of Sacramento

SMUD on Friday canceled a controversial $345 million power line project north of Sacramento that had drawn opposition from farmers.

The Sacramento Municipal Utility District announced that it had scrapped the Colusa-Sutter Transmission Line Project, saying the project had grown too expensive. The original price of $245 million had grown to $345 million since the project was conceived in 2014.

“It was determined that the project is too costly,” SMUD said in a prepared statement.

The proposed 500-kilovolt transmission line through Colusa and Sutter counties would have enabled SMUD to access more hydro power and other clean energy from the Pacific Northwest. SMUD said the line would have improved system reliability.

Farm groups in the Sacramento Valley rose up in opposition, with farmers saying the new power lines and transmission towers would have disrupted their operations and disturbed wildlife. In some cases they would have had to surrender farmland to the project.

“I do not want the wires,” Sutter County rice grower Mike Cole told The Sacramento Bee in 2016. “I don’t like them from a farming standpoint and I don’t like them from a wildlife standpoint.”

 

SMUD cancels controversial power line project north of Sacramento, by Dale Kasler, The Sacramento Bee, March 1, 2019.

Status Check: Community Choice Aggregation

In September 2018, a Davis-based Community Choice Aggregation option known as Valley Clean Energy offered to extend its service to Winters and West Sacramento, months after launching in Woodland, Davis and unincorporated Yolo County.

A month later, Comstock’s published a story about CCAs and their impact on the energy market and their potential long-term viability. CCAs offer an alternative to investor-owned energy giants like Pacific Gas & Electric in areas that public utilities like the Sacramento Municipal Utility District don’t extend to, such as Yolo County (“Power Politics,” by Steven Yoder, October 2018). First launched in 2010, these publicly run ventures can also deliver cheaper energy to ratepayers and provide higher percentages of clean energy to meet upcoming state mandates.

At the time of our reporting, a big question hadn’t yet been answered: How would an expected change to the exit fee charged to customers who leave their investor-owned utility impact the future of CCAs, such as Valley Clean Energy?

For several years, investor-owned utilities including PG&E had been requesting that the California Public Utilities Commission reconsider its Power Charge Indifference Adjustment, which is a fee CCA customers are required to pay to ensure remaining utility customers aren’t financially affected by their departure from an investor-owned utility. The fee shows up on a CCA customer’s monthly bill.

“The [PCIA] ensures that the customers who remain with the utility do not end up taking on the long-term financial obligations the utility incurred on behalf of now-departed customers,” according to a news release from the PCUC in June 2017, when it announced it would reevaluate this fee. “Examples of such financial obligations include utility expenditures to build power plants and, more commonly, long-term power purchase contracts with independent power producers.”

While traditional utilities have argued that this cost-sharing is needed to cover operational expenses, proponents of CCAs say the exit fee is actually a penalty and deters customers from switching to these new energy options. Last Oct. 11, the CPUC voted 5-0 to increase the exit fee, acknowledging at the time that former PG&E customers would pay 1.68 percent more than they did in 2018.

“I support the creation of alternative electric providers to expand customer choice, and our legal obligation is to make sure this happens without increased costs to customers who do not, or cannot, join a CCA,” Commissioner Carla J. Peterman said in a written statement at the time. “Today’s proposal ensures a more level playing field between customers.”

Jim Parks, director of marketing and customer care for Valley Clean Energy, says the CPUC’s decision to increase exit fees “was about a $3.5 million hit on our budget,” which caused his company to make its rates equal to PG&E.

On Oct. 16, just days after the CPUC decision, Valley Clean Energy went ahead with its goal of extending its service to Winters, and presented an informational proposal to Winters City Council. The council directed city staff to look into CCAs further, though City Manager John W. Donlevy says it might take until summer to do this. The reason: The analysis would cost $25,000 to perform, and Donlevy would prefer to see how this fiscal year goes. “Quite honestly, things are very tight for us,” he says. “We don’t have the $25,000 right now.”

Valley Clean Energy has not yet presented to West Sacramento, according to city spokesman Paul Hosley. “But will be looking at it, along with others opportunities, with the goal of making energy costs more competitive for our residents and businesses,” he says.

Parks says the CPUC’s decision has “slowed things down a bit. It’s not like it just stopped everything cold. But it made, I think, Winters kind of step back and go, ‘OK, we’re going to have to take a look and see how Valley Clean Energy and other community choice aggregators are impacted by these exit fees.’”

And once again that question remains unresolved. Last November, the CalCCA trade association filed paperwork requesting a rehearing for the CPUC to revisit its decision on the exit fee adjustment. Meanwhile, PG&E faces some of the greatest uncertainty in its history, having filed for bankruptcy in the wake of the Camp Fire in Northern California November, with tens of billions of dollars in potential legal liability.

Parks remains hopeful of eventually doing business with Winters and West Sacramento. “The way I would term it is that we’re kind of on hold right now,” Parks says. “But I believe the conversations will begin again before too long, which could be a year or two.”

 

Status Check: Community Choice Aggregation, by Graham Womack, Comstock’s, February 28, 2019.

Local Impact as PG&E Files for Chapter 11

As expected, PG&E filed for Chapter 11 Bankruptcy protections.  PG&E in a press release Tuesday announced that it remains committed to continue to deliver “safe and reliable electric and natural gas service to (its) customers.”

In addition, they pledge to continue to invest in their system’s safety and maintenance, and to work with “customers, civic leaders, regulators, policymakers, the financial community and other key stakeholders to consider alternatives to provide for the safe delivery of natural gas and electricity and new safety solutions in an environment challenged by climate change.”

“Our most important responsibility is and must be safety, and that remains our focus. Throughout this process, we are fully committed to enhancing our wildfire safety efforts, as well as helping restoration and rebuilding efforts across the communities impacted by the devastating Northern California wildfires,” said John Simeon, interim CEO.

“We also intend to work together with our customers, employees and other stakeholders to create a more sustainable foundation for the delivery of safe, reliable and affordable service in the years ahead. To be clear, we have heard the calls for change and we are determined to take action throughout this process to build the energy system our customers want and deserve,” Mr. Simeon said.

“Through this process, we will prioritize what matters most to our customers and the communities we serve – safety and reliability. We believe that this process will make sure that we have sufficient liquidity to serve our customers and support our operations and obligations,” Mr. Simon said.

“I know that our 24,000 dedicated employees remain steadfastly focused on delivering safe and reliable natural gas and electric service for the 16 million people across our service area,” said Mr. Simon. “Each day I see the hard work and resilience of our team, and I thank them for their continued dedication to working safely and delivering for our customers.”

Senator Bill Dodd in a statement had harsh words for the utility.

 

“Given its track record of obfuscation and mismanagement, I’m not surprised PG&E claims it can no longer meet its financial obligations,” Sen. Dodd said. “It’s extremely disappointing and underscores the need for change at PG&E in both its leadership and corporate culture. In the weeks ahead, I will be working with the governor and legislative leaders to ensure the safety, reliability and affordability of electric power in California.

“Wildfire victims shouldn’t have to deal with the uncertainty this causes, which in many respects re-victimizes them,” Sen. Dodd said. “Where PG&E has broken the law, it’s unconscionable for it to be protected from paying any of those damaged.”

In the meantime, Valley Clean Energy (VCE) reassured its customers that this move would mean very little for its customer.

In a statement, Valley Clean Energy stated, “What will that mean for Valley Clean Energy customers? Probably very little—it’s likely you won’t notice any difference at all in your electricity service.”

As a local electricity provider, VCE was “formed specifically to promote a healthier climate while keeping the best interests of its customers in mind.”

They stated, “We source clean, competitively priced electricity and feed it into the grid, and PG&E provides transmission, maintenance, service and billing for our customers. Revenues from the program stay right here at home, supporting our local communities, rather than paying PG&E shareholders. With VCE, communities are working together towards a healthier climate.”

“VCE ratepayers can rest assured that their energy needs will continue to be cared for by their own board of local elected officials,” said Board Chair Tom Stallard, who also serves on the Woodland City Council.

“PG&E has stated on the record that they expect to continue providing electric and natural gas service to customers, and working with Community Choice Aggragations (CCAs) to provide transmission, billing and remittance services as one of their highest priorities,” Mr. Stallard continued.

VCE is coordinating its efforts with other Community Choice Aggregations and with PG&E to address the potential impacts this filing may have on CCA programs in PG&E territory. There are 12 CCAs in PG&E service areas, representing approximately 2.4 million accounts.

“What else do we know so far? PG&E has filed a ‘first day’ motion seeking approval from the Bankruptcy Court to continue collecting revenues and passing them through to CCAs, as part of the normal course of business. VCE supports this motion—as do the other CCAs in PG&E territory—and fully expects the Court to approve it,” the statement noted.

—David M. Greenwald reporting

 

Local Impact as PG&E Files for Chapter 11, by David Greenwald, The Davis Vanguard, January 30, 2019.

SMUD Is Showing How California Can Lead the Way

California Gov. Jerry Brown recently signed some of the most ambitious clean energy and carbon reduction goals in the world. The state’s utilities must have 60% of their power mix come from renewable resources by 2030, and by 2045, all retail electricity sold must be met by carbon-free resources.

As California pursues some milestone goals, one of the state’s leading utilities has been taking an even bolder path. SMUD, a community-owned, not-for-profit electric utility serving 1.5 million residents in California’s capital region, already had a running start on the road to 2045.

For instance, the greenhouse-gas reduction goals SMUD established several years ago predated and exceeded those set by the state. SMUD is also a trendsetter in making time-of-day rates standard for all customers and in supporting the electrification of buildings and transportation to improve regional air quality.

Utilities are required to submit an Integrated Resource Plan (IRP) to the California Energy Commission in early 2019, outlining their investment priorities through 2040. The approach SMUD took in developing its IRP shines a light on how a utility with a reputation for innovation intends to deliver on aggressive carbon reduction goals while maintaining the reliability customers expect and keeping its electric rates among the lowest in the state.

“SMUD does much more than deliver electrons,” SMUD CEO & General Manager Arlen Orchard said. “The IRP will help us achieve several goals for our customers and community, including affordability, reliability environmental leadership, economic development and supporting disadvantaged communities.”

“By taking a holistic approach to sustainability, we’re serving the social, economic and environmental needs of the greater community – for today, tomorrow and years to come.”

In the near term, SMUD’s Board of Directors set a greenhouse gas (GHG) goal of 60 percent below 1990 emissions by 2030. The longer-term goal for SMUD is to achieve a net-zero GHG position in 2040. By focusing on local investments renewable energy and building and transportation electrification, SMUD’s IRP looks to achieve a 64-percent reduction in the Sacramento region’s GHG emissions by 2040.

Orchard recognizes the heavy lift inherent in meeting SMUD’s IRP goals but says the utility is up for the challenge.

“We’re laser-focused on carbon reduction,” he said. “We have a long history of achieving carbon reductions that exceed state and national trends, and we fully anticipate being able to continue doing that.”

A key component in SMUD’s IRP is a $2 billion investment over 20 years in the electrification of buildings and transportation. As California’s reliance on carbon-based fuels decreases each year, increased electrification will reduce GHG emissions, improve air quality and advance economic development across the Sacramento region.

SMUD is partnering with developers in the region to create new all-electric single- and multi-family housing developments. Together with an all-electric smart home program incentivizing retrofits of existing homes, SMUD is boosting Sacramento’s all-electric housing stock.

SMUD ramped up its longstanding support of electric transportation with a “Charge Free for Two Years” incentive for customers who purchase or lease a new EV. The utility is installing DC fast-charging stations across the region, assisting major employers in deploying workplace charging, and testing new business models for renewable integration and charging.

The EV momentum accelerated in 2018 when Sacramento was designated the first “Green City” in the Volkswagen Electrify America Investment Plan. SMUD particularly supports Electrify America’s commitment to making electric transportation more available to low-income customers.

This dovetails nicely with the “Sustainable Communities” strategy SMUD is rolling out to help customers and neighborhoods in three key areas: social well-being, a healthy environment, and a prosperous economy. Support for traditionally underserved communities is a central tenet of the strategy as SMUD aims to improve access to distributed resources such as rooftop and community solar, storage, and clean transportation alternatives.

Customers in disadvantaged communities, which tend to be located near freeways and co-generation facilities, will also benefit from the decarbonization efforts set forth in SMUD’s IRP. And the dollars invested in local renewables and electrification will have a profound impact on the regional economy, Orchard said.

“Our IRP provides holistic and long-term investment to help our customers, community and region thrive in a new energy future,” Orchard said.

“while cutting GHG emissions is a major goal of the IRP, so is ensuring reliable electricity for our customers,” Orchard said. “The plan recognizes that at least through 2040, the Sacramento region will need a certain amount of gas generation for reliability purposes. SMUD will find offsetting reductions through electrification to ensure that our carbon footprint is next zero by 2040 – five years ahead of what the state is planning to do.

“The IRP is a living document that provides the pathway forward.”

SMUD has laid out a bold vision for the Sacramento region’s energy future. While the state is requiring utilities to update their resource plans every five years, SMUD will review its IRP annual to ensure it incorporates the latest innovations into its approach.

“Community-owned utilities exist for one reason – to serve the needs of our customers and our communities,” Orchard said. “SMUD has been doing that successfully for more than 70 years, and it’s our job to keep doing it. We plan to lead the way.”

 

SMUD Is Showing How California Can Lead the Way, by Gordon Feller, Transmission and Distribution World, January 22, 2019.

Fresh Energy to Start an Exciting New Year

A new year offers a clean slate — a chance to celebrate achievements, assess the challenges of the past and start the new year with fresh energy.

Our biggest achievement in 2018 was the launch of Valley Clean Energy (VCE), our local public electricity program. With years of planning and lots of community support, we officially started serving the cities of Woodland and Davis and unincorporated Yolo County last June. Over the past six months, VCE has been providing greener energy, customer choice, local control and reinvestment in the community.

VCE’s standard portfolio of electricity includes 42 percent renewable energy, compared to 33 percent provided by PG&E. This allows VCE customers to help our region and our state take a big step toward changing our fossil fuel-based economy.

Another notable achievement in 2018 was the VCE partnership with Davis, Woodland and Yolo County to apply for a $2.9 million grant from the Sacramento Area Council of Governments (SACOG), which we ultimately received. The grant will provide dozens of new, publicly available electric vehicle chargers and will lay the foundation for electric vehicle charging and lower-carbon transportation options in the region.

 

Although 2018 was a banner year for the effort to bring local energy control to Yolo County, we also faced significant headwinds from state regulators. Due to decisions by the California Public Utilities Commission that favored investor-owned utilities like PG&E, as well as requirements from the California Energy Commission, VCE took a $4.7 million hit to our young program’s budget, leaving us with many difficult choices — one of which was the decision to delay the enrollment of existing solar customers.

Since both of us are solar customers, we were disappointed that we could not sign up right away for the local energy program we help run. But as board members we understand that this delay is simply a bump in the road on a long journey toward completely renewable, more affordable electricity. We also understand why some folks may be unhappy about the delay of enrolling solar customers, but the VCE board’s difficult decision was made with the long-term good of the program in mind.

Despite these challenges, we are reminded that our communities launched Valley Clean Energy last summer to bring cleaner energy at competitive rates to local residents and businesses while reinvesting earnings into our economy by creating local green energy programs and projects.

We have been successful in taking the important first steps toward these goals because VCE is accountable to the communities it serves, not to shareholders. VCE offers choice, local governance and transparency — everything local energy customers have sought for years.

One of the tangible, immediate impacts of our local energy program is the fact that VCE customers are reducing greenhouse-gas emissions by automatically receiving a higher percentage of renewable electricity than that provided by PG&E, and they can up the ante, at a small premium, by choosing that 100 percent of their power come from renewables.

We are proud that VCE customers are each doing their small part to help California avoid the growing consequences of climate change like the tragic wildfires of 2017 and 2018 that devastated our sister communities in Northern California.

VCE’s customers are joined in these efforts by the 18 other CCE programs that are already serving 8 million-plus customers in more than 160 communities across California. Dozens more communities are recognizing the benefits of taking local control of their energy futures and are lining up to form or join CCE programs. We encourage and welcome them to this energy renaissance that is challenging the old ideas that clearly no longer serve the best interests of our communities.

With Valley Clean Energy, we’ve taken a big step toward a more sustainable future. As solar customers ourselves, we’re willing to wait another year to join the program, knowing we’re already doing our part for renewable energy.

Because VCE is in the business of delivering value to the customers and communities we serve instead of shareholders and Wall Street, we have the advantage of being able to take the long view. As we reflect on 2018, we are reminded that the success of our community choice energy program is our higher priority because it is poised to deliver decades of value to our communities.

—Tom Stallard is a Woodland City Council member and board chair of Valley Clean Energy. Don Saylor is a Yolo County supervisor and a member of the VCE board. To learn more about Valley Clean Energy, visit www.valleycleanenergy.org or email customerservice@valleycleanenergy.org.

 

Guest Commentary: Fresh Energy to Start an Exciting New Year, by Tom Stallard and Don Saylor, The Davis Vanguard, January 16, 2019.