MARTINEZ — Customers in eight cities and unincorporated Contra Costa County are deciding whether to switch over to Marin Clean Energy this month and could see the power aggregator nearly doubling in size.
Community Choice Aggregation was established in 2002, but it wasn’t until 2010 that the first CCA — Marin Clean Energy — came into being. MCE and other CCAs are essentially customers grouping together to purchase electricity from renewable energy sources. Pacific Gas & Electric still delivers the electricity, maintains the lines and sends the bills.
“The whole reason we created this organization is to address climate change by reducing greenhouse gas emissions that come from our electricity use,” said Jamie Tuckey, director of public affairs for MCE. “For us, one of the really positive results of this expansion is that its helping us further achieve that mission. We have a larger service area, more customers and all the cities that have joined us have climate action plans and targets to reduce emissions generated by their communities.”
Currently, MCE serves 255,000 customers in Marin and Napa Counties as well as the cities of Benicia, El Cerrito, Lafayette, San Pablo, Richmond and Walnut Creek.
Starting in April, residents of Concord, Danville, Martinez, Moraga, Oakley, Pinole, Pittsburg, San Ramon and unincorporated Contra Costa County will be automatically enrolled in MCE’s “Light Green” 50-percent renewable energy plan, which actually comes from 55-percent renewable sources, mainly from wind. Tuckey said customers typically see immediate savings of 2 to 5 percent.
Everyone’s service will start in April, but it will depend on when they received their first bill of that month. Some customers may opt out of the plan and remain on PG&Es service plan. Opting out is free for residents if done in the first 60 days — and $5 afterward — and can be done by calling 1-888-632-3674. If customers opt out, they must remain with PG&E for a year before rejoining.
With nearly 237,000 accounts in these nine areas — and conservatively estimating that 20 percent of customers will opt out — the CCA could grow by 75 percent.
In anticipation of the calls they may be receiving after the first mailers went out in February, MCE partnered with Future Build East County and opened a new call center in Pittsburg to answer questions.
The group has also begun producing solar in Contra Costa County. The 10.5-megawatt solar array in Richmond will produce enough energy to power 3,400 homes each year and has become the Bay Area’s largest public-owned solar project, according to MCE‘s website.
The East Bay Community Energy group voted in May of last year to stop outreach to Contra Costa County. The county itself voted to go with MCE. Cities that have not joined MCE will remain with PG&E.
“We would have to procure additional energy and a requirement is that there would have to be no negative impacts on our rates if we acquire a new community,” Tuckey said.
MCE’s expansion has been mirrored by the expansion of CCAs in both number and size in California. In 2015, there were two CCAs, which served 135,000 customers. Since then, the number of CCAs has quadrupled and the number of customers has more than sextupled. Seven more are expected to launch in 2018 and 13 more are being explored.
In a blog post, the California Public Utilities Commission admitted that neither it, nor the California Independent System Operator, or utilities anticipated the speed at which CCAs were growing.
A number of resolutions have been proposed that will either slow down the timeline of CCAs’ expansions or require more payments to utilities for investments they made to serve customers they are now losing.
Massive expansion in community energy choice hits Contra Costa and ramps up in state, by Aaron Davis, The East Bay Times, March 8, 2018.