Editorial, March 1, 2017: Time to Move Forward with Monterey Bay Community Power

Electricity rates are going up again for PG&E customers.

The higher electricity costs, which take effect today, mark the second time in two months power bills have spiked for PG&E customers. A typical residential bill will go up nearly $12 a month to $110.77, due to the new rates and changes in billing tiers. Gas bills also took a big jump last summer.

There is something electricity customers can do to take control of how power is generated and purchased and perhaps eventually lessen rate hikes.

Monterey Bay Community Power is a tri-county effort several years in the making aimed at creating a new regional agency to purchase clean-source electricity at a cost equivalent to PG&E.

The community-choice energy initiative would take over power purchasing control from PG&E for an estimated 285,000 customers in Santa Cruz, San Benito and Monterey counties in an effort to also increase the use of renewable energy and to lower greenhouse gas emissions.

The regional project would still require PG&E to maintain power lines and provide customer service, but money paid out by consumers would ostensibly stay in the local communities to create jobs and fund renewable energy projects. Similar projects are already in place in Marin and Sonoma counties, among others.

But the cooperation of the three counties is at risk. Currently, the joint power agency’s 11-member board of directors would include five representatives from Monterey County communities, including the county, city of Salinas, Peninsula cities, coastal cities and Salinas Valley cities, as well as four representatives from Santa Cruz County and two representatives from San Benito County. The board would have the power to determine agency spending, and the percentage of renewable energy in the local power portfolio that would affect customer rates.

Nineteen local governments including Santa Cruz and San Benito counties have already indicated they want to join the agency. But Monterey County has sought majority control of the agency board because its population is more than Santa Cruz and San Benito counties combined. That desire has kept the county from moving forward, despite widespread support for the agency elsewhere in the region.

The Monterey County demands are led by new Supervisor Luis Alejo, along with supervisors Simon Salinas and John Phillips. The three supervisors have a number of questions about the power agency, including the uncertain future of renewable energy subsidies under the Trump administration along with the potential impact on customers’ bills,

Last month, Alejo, Salinas and Phillips voted to direct staff to prepare an agreement that would allow Monterey and Santa Cruz counties, and the city of Salinas, an additional vote on the proposed 11-member Community Power agency board, and to return March 7 for board action. An earlier attempt by the county to gain a population-based voting structure on the board was rejected by a majority of staff representing the potential power agency jurisdictions.

But supervisors Jane Parker and Mary Adams, who voted in the minority against the proposal, said they remained concerned the new power agency will be formed and operate without Monterey County. If the county decided later to opt in, it would do so without influencing start-up issues.

Santa Cruz County Supervisor Bruce McPherson, who with aide Virgina Johnson, has been the public face for the agency, said he will ask the other jurisdictions to consider the latest Monterey County proposal.

Johnson recently told this paper’s Editorial Board the power agency’s formation had been in the works since 2013 and that a final deadline for joining the agency had already been delayed from October to allow Monterey County additional time. The agency hopes to be open for business by early 2018. Santa Cruz County is prepared to move forward with existing partners, she said — and it would be better if Monterey County is among them.

We agree.

Editorial, March 1, 2017: Time to Move Forward with Monterey Bay Community Power, by Editorial Staff, Monterey Herald, February 28, 2017.

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