‘Clean Energy’ Now Powers Napa County

An estimated 92 percent of Napa County homes and businesses are now using a majority of “clean energy” to power their homes, offices and wineries.

Napa County selected Marin Clean Energy as its default supplier in 2014 for those living and working outside its five cities. In September MCE became the default provider for local homes and businesses in the five cities.

Marin Clean Energy offers electricity based on solar, wind, hydroelectric, biogas and other sustainable sources.

Customers that did not “opt out” of the switch automatically shifted from Pacific Gas & Electric service to the new provider. Despite the option to stay with PG&E, only 8 percent of locals chose to do so, said Jamie Tuckey, communications director at MCE.

“We’re really happy with the transition” in Napa County, said Tuckey. “We think it’s gone well.”

Napa County selected Marin Clean Energy as its default supplier in 2014, with the transition being completed in September. A not-for-profit agency, Marin Clean Energy’s network began in 2010 and serves more than 125,000 Bay Area customers.

While MCE is in charge of sourcing the energy used, PG&E still sends the monthly bill.

Instead of one fee that combines both electric delivery fees and electric generation fees, each bill will now show separate line items — one for PG&E electric delivery and one for MCE electric generation. MCE’s generation rates simply replace PG&E’s generation rates; they are not an added fee, said the company.

Those accepting Marin Clean Energy as their provider chose from three tiers of service. The basic and cheapest tier, called Light Green, draws an estimated 56 percent of its supply from a variety of renewable sources on the West Coast, while other options include fully renewable-sourced electricity or service drawn exclusively from solar power.

A total of 488 Napa County customers enrolled in the Deep Green program, which provides 100 percent of their energy from renewable sources.

One is Clif Family Winery of St. Helena.

At Clif Family Winery, “We’re very focused on sustainability,” said Linzi Gay, Clif Family Winery general manager. “This is an opportunity for us to create change as we become a more sustainable business.”

“It’s almost a no-brainer for us, to be honest.”

According to Gay, the business chose Deep Green “because it’s an opportunity to move to renewable energy.” In addition, “There is no capital investment with this opportunity,” compared to installing a solar system, for example.

So far, “It’s been great,” she said of the switchover.

While it’s only been two months since the transition, Clif Family Winery has not seen a significant change in costs.

“We’d like to help promote this as a good option for other businesses in Napa as well,” she said.

Curtis Susuki, the co-owner of Paupaiz Coffees, is another Deep Green customer.

“There is a strong momentum to go renewable,” he said. “You can actually reduce the use of fossil fuels while reducing the cost of electrical generation, which is a win-win.”

Susuki said that so far, his utility bill for his 3,400-square-foot facility has only risen an extra $22 to $25 per month.

“To get away from carbon-based fuels makes the extra cost worth it,” he said.

“It’s always great to have choices,” said Jeri Gill, CEO of Sustainable Napa County. Awareness of alternative energy programs “helps utility customers get informed and get empowered about their energy sources.”

“The other reason we really like a MCE-type program is that participating can make renewable energy available to customers who may not be able to install solar,” such as renters or low-income residents, Gill said.

“This is a way for folks to have access to renewable energy that might not otherwise have such access” she said.

Sample cost comparisons on MCE’s website show the typical monthly electric bill for residential customers using the Light Green service will be $91.91. PG&E’s 30 percent renewable service costs an average of $92.37 per month.

Customers choosing to go with MCE’s Deep Green plan, made up of 100 percent renewable energy, would pay an average of $96.54, a $4.17 difference compared to PG&E.

Comparisons will be similar for business customers going with MCE over PG&E, MCE said.

Typical monthly electric charges for commercial customers using Light Green will pay $270.32, versus $270.53 under PG&E.

Businesses using the Deep Green plan will pay on average $282.42, or $11.89 more than PG&E.

MCE recently enrolled both Walnut Creek and Lafayette. The opt-out rate in Lafayette is 10 percent and in Walnut Creek 11 percent. Tuckey said she’s not sure why those opt out rates are slightly higher compared to Napa. “It’s just an individual choice.”

In Napa, the transition had one hiccup.

Utility customers that were enrolled in PG&E’s SmartRate program were not billed for their electrical charge use for the month of October. As a result, their November bill was higher than normal to catch-up for the under-billing of the previous month.

“Due to that delay, customers can have extra time to pay their bill,” if needed, said Brian Alexander, supervisor of customer relations for PG&E.

“I estimate that this affected approximately 1 to 1.5 percent of customers in the city of Napa,” said Justin Kudo, manager of account services at MCE.

‘Clean Energy’ Now Powers Napa County, by Jennifer Huffman, Napa Valley Register, December 6, 2016.

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