REDWOOD CITY — San Mateo County this month launched an initiative to provide electricity to consumers, in lieu of PG&E, joining a statewide movement toward community-choice energy programs that supporters tout as the most effective way for Californians to lower their greenhouse gas emissions.
Peninsula Clean Energy began service Saturday to 70,000 customers, becoming the fifth program in California to take advantage of a 2002 state law that allows local governments to take over the process of buying power, with the goal of boosting green energy consumption and lowering rates for consumers. Many others are following suit, including San Jose and Santa Clara County.
Supervisor Dave Pine, one of the leaders of the effort to create Peninsula Clean Energy, a nonprofit governed by a board of directors that includes representatives from 20 cities, hailed the launch as a major stride toward lowering the county’s carbon emissions.
“When you look at climate action plans for our cities and counties,” he said, “there aren’t other tools that have such substantial and immediate impact.”
As of Saturday, Peninsula Clean Energy provides the power to 20 percent of residential customers in San Mateo County, all municipalities, and all small and medium-size businesses. The remaining 200,000 residential and commercial accounts will come online in April.
Customers in San Mateo County will be automatically enrolled in the program but may opt out at any time.
The switch should be seamless for consumers. Pacific Gas and Electric Co. will still deliver the power and process customers’ bills.
What’s changing is where the power comes from. The default package, known as ECOplus, consists of energy that includes at least 50 percent renewable sources, such as solar and wind. For a bit more money, customers can choose a 100 percent renewable option, dubbed ECO100. PG&E’s mix is about 30 percent renewable.
The rates compare favorably with PG&E’s. For the typical residential consumer, ECOplus would cost $85.88 a month, compared with $88.03 for PG&E, according to Peninsula Clean Energy. ECO100 would be $90.33 per month.
“It’s cleaner, greener and less expensive,” said Peninsula Clean Energy CEO Jan Pepper, noting that the outfit’s low overhead and nonprofit model, along with increasingly favorable prices for clean energy, will allow Peninsula Clean Energy to deliver competitive rates.
If the program works as planned, San Mateo County by next year will already exceed a statewide mandate for 50 percent renewable energy sources by 2030.
Critics argue there are various risks associated with community-choice programs. They claim future regulatory changes or disruptions to energy markets could make it difficult for the initiatives to live up to their promises of lower prices.
PG&E is prohibited by law from marketing against community-choice energy plans. In a statement, spokeswoman Brandi Merlo touted the utility’s green credentials, saying its electricity creates just one-third the greenhouse gas emissions per kilowatt-hour as the industry average.
“For more than 100 years, it has been PG&E’s privilege to provide our customers clean, safe, reliable and affordable energy, and we look forward to the opportunity to do so for many years to come,” she said. “At the same time, we respect the energy choices that are available to our customers and are cooperating with (community-choice energy) programs.”
More customers will have those choices in years to come. City or county governments in nearly half of California’s 58 counties have launched or are considering a community-choice energy program, said Woody Hastings, renewable energy manager for the Center for Climate Protection, a Santa Rosa-based nonprofit that advocates for and tracks the programs.
“There are compelling reasons to pursue community choice,” he said, “and a lot of cities and counties in the state are waking up to that.”
The Bay Area is leading the charge, with Marin, Napa and San Francisco counties and a handful of cities having already set up community-choice energy programs.
Silicon Valley Clean Energy, serving most of Santa Clara County, is scheduled to launch the first phase of its program in April. San Jose is considering its own community-choice energy initiative, which the City Council is slated to consider in December.
As an early adopter of Peninsula Clean Energy, Menlo Park resident Nicole Kemeny said she has already chosen to upgrade to the 100 percent renewable package. The extra cost, she said, was well worth it.
“I’m extremely concerned about climate change, so if there’s any opportunity to do something about it, I’m going to take it,” said Kemeny, who volunteers for 350 Silicon Valley, a local chapter of a national grass-roots campaign to combat global warming. “I wanted to send the message that there’s a market demand for clean energy.”
When do I enroll?
To find out when your Peninsula Clean Energy service begins, go to www.peninsulacleanenergy.com/account-lookup.
San Mateo County Ditches PG&E, Starts Buying Cheaper, Greener Energy
San Mateo County Ditches PG&E, Starts Buying Cheaper, Greener Energy, by Aaron Kinney, The Mercury News, October 2, 2016.