SANTA CRUZ — Call it a Christmas present from your local utility: Ratepayers in Santa Cruz, Monterey and San Benito counties can expect to see a small savings on their December electricity bills.
Between $5 and $10 on average, the rebate is the first to be handed out to residential customers by Monterey Bay Community Power, a locally controlled utility that rolled out service to more than 200,000 tri-county customers in July.
Instead of paying shareholder dividends such as investor-owned utility Pacific Gas & Electric, the not-for-profit utility is using a portion of its revenues to give about $4 million back to its customers this year.
“As a not-for-profit public agency, our goals are different than investor-owned utilities,” said J.R. Killigrew, Monterey Bay Community Power’s director of communications and energy programs in a recent interview. “Our shareholders are our customers, not Wall Street,” he added.
Additional revenues are being used to fund investment in electric vehicle incentives and infrastructure, and to install solar panels on dozens of low-income homes in a partnership with Grid Alternatives, according to Killigrew. About $1.3 million is expected to be invested in those programs in 2019.
The credit on customers’ December bills reflects a bundled 3percent rebate on five months of service. Savings are expected to be larger in 2019, when the annual rebate will apply to a full year of service.
Commercial customers, which use more power, can see much higher returns from the rebate. Dole Fresh Vegetables, based in Salinas, is saving $50,000 this year, according to information provided by Facilities Manager Tom Messenger in a news release.
Thousands of solar-powered residences, however, won’t see the rebate this month because their switch to the local utility is on hold pending their annual “true up” date with PG&E, when electricity generated for the grid is offset against usage.
Monterey Bay Community Power was formed under an agreement between the three counties and the 18 cities within their borders.
The agency operates under a model called community-choice energy that allows local governments to form their own utility on the backbone of the traditional investor-owned providers.
Electricity rates remain the same, and billing, delivery, metering and natural gas continue to be provided by PG&E. Customers are also able to opt out of the locally owned utility and remain with PG&E, but so far, few have.
But there is at least one key difference. Bay Community Power is able to purchase its own energy entirely from carbon-free sources, while PG&E secures about 80 percent of its energy from carbon-free sources.
“Everything is the same except for you’re now supporting an entity that fits what you believes is the right course of action for your local economy, your community as well as environmentally,” Killigrew said.
The community-choice model is becoming increasingly popular in California, despite initial resistance from the investor-owned utilities.
Monterey Bay Community Power became the 12th community-choice energy agency to come online in California. The state’s first, Marin Clean Energy, formed in 2010 serving Marin County and surrounding areas.
According to Killigrew, Monterey Bay Community Power is expanding to include the cities of San Luis Obispo and Morro Bay in 2020.
For information on Monterey Bay Community Power, visit mbcommunitypower.org.
Most tri-county ratepayers to see savings on December energy bill, by Nicolas Ibarra, Santa Cruz Sentinel, December 26, 2018.