San Jose’s neighboring cities are about to get greener electricity at lower rates. San Jose policymakers need to to catch up, move full speed ahead with their due diligence and give businesses and residents here greener electricity and lower rates, too.
It’s all about competition. Right now, San Jose electricity customers have no energy choice because PG&E has a monopoly. California law passed in 2002 enables local jurisdictions to establish Community Choice Energy programs (CCE) that give customers a choice of PG&E or CCE. Businesses and residents benefit because PG&E and the CCE compete for their business.
The CCE combines the energy usage of all customers in its jurisdiction, buys electricity on their behalf and supplies customers’ electricity unless they opt out. As the CCE begins, it notifies customers at least four times about making a choice. Thereafter customers can opt out anytime for a minimal fee.
PG&E is still responsible for all other electricity services — billing, maintenance, distribution, and transmission — so service is seamless whatever choice a customer makes. A major benefit is a greener power supply: This is the most powerful step we can take to rapidly lower San Jose’s greenhouse gases and combat climate change.
San Jose must compete with other cities to attract and retain businesses to expand employment opportunities, improve the tax base and help reduce commute traffic. When deciding where to locate, businesses consider the cost of electricity.
Santa Clara and Palo Alto offer greener electricity at lower rates. They can do this because they have municipal utilities which, like CCEs, are under local control. By establishing a CCE program, San Jose can better compete with cities like these.
Each new CCE sets higher performance levels for cost competitiveness, clean energy and customer service. They learn from the experiences of previous CCEs and implement programs to meet local objectives.
What new high standard will San Jose’s CCE set? Cleanest power? Most local generation? Best community energy programs? As the capitol of Silicon Valley, we expect San Jose’s CCE program to be the most innovative and effective program so far. No pressure.
We’ve mentioned competition between PG&E and CCEs, competition among cities, and competition among CCEs. The competition we’d like to see now is among San Jose councilmembers for leadership. This has proven to be the crucial ingredient for the speed of the CCE start-up process.
For example, San Mateo’s CCE, Peninsula Clean Power, will start serving customers this fall, less than two years from the start of its investigation to the time it begins providing service. This pace is faster than any of California’s four other existing CCEs. Observers credit San Mateo’s committed elected leadership as the main reason.
San Jose’s councilmembers are stepping up, even during this time of transition. Departing councilmembers can leave CCE as their legacy, and incoming members can help shape the CCE through their governance and vision. Mayor Sam Liccardo and councilmembers, individually or collectively, can take on the role of CCE champion and help pick up the pace. We can’t wait to see who does.
You can learn more about Community Choice Energy at a session hosted by the city at 6:30 – 7:30 p.m. Monday at San Jose City Hall. Or watch the webcast or go to the San Jose Clean Energy webpage.
If you believe that San Jose needs to go full speed ahead, let your councilmembers know.
Linda J. LeZotte is a Santa Clara Valley Water District board member and a former San Jose City Councilwoman. As an attorney, she specialized in land use, environmental and municipal law. Rita Norton is a consultant and community advocate on energy, climate action and the environment with expertise in local and regional planning. They wrote this for The Mercury News.
LeZotte, Norton: San Jose needs Community Choice Energy, by Rita Norton and Linda J. Lezotte, The Mercury News, September 6, 2016.