As Monterey Bay Community Power (MBCP) continues to expand southward and throughout most of San Luis Obispo County, Santa Maria is weighing whether to join the public electricity provider.
MBCP services Monterey, Santa Cruz, and San Benito counties, with cities throughout SLO County also joining. The community choice energy (CCE) agency is one of 19 throughout the state, which serve more than 10 million people.
CCEs are governed by a board of directors made up of officials from participating cities. The organizations handle generating and purchasing energy, while leaving companies like PG&E, which currently provides electricity in Santa Maria, responsible for transmission and distribution.
At the May 21 City Council meeting, J.R. Killigrew, director of communications for MBCP, pitched the agency as a way for the city and its residents to save money on their electricity bills.
“Because we are a nonprofit and don’t have the corporate structure, we can take that one portion of the bill and find a way to reduce the cost,” Killigrew said.
According to Killigrew’s presentation to council, if Santa Maria joins the organization, residents are estimated to save $3 million between 2021-25, while businesses are estimated to save between $8 million to $9 million during the same timeframe.
Killigrew said switching to MBCP will also help the city move in a greener direction. MBCP has a 100 percent carbon-free energy portfolio, with 33 percent of its energy coming from renewable sources, while 80 percent of PG&E’s energy is carbon-free.
City Council members expressed dismay over the presentation and a report from city staff highlighting many positives about the joining MBCP without disclosing any risks. Council members were also concerned that a PG&E representative didn’t attend the meeting to comment on this potential change.
Andy Caldwell, executive director of the Coalition of Labor, Agriculture, and Business, of which PG&E is a member, spoke at length about the upside to sticking with PG&E. He touted the amount of tax revenue jurisdictions receive from private energy companies and said CCEs take advantage of already existing infrastructure built by companies like PG&E.
“These guys are literally leeches on the end of PG&E’s transmission lines thinking that no matter what happens to those lines and the investment needed, they are going to run risk free,” Caldwell said.
Ultimately, City Council deferred making any decision, despite Killigrew’s telling council that they would need to adopt an ordinance to join MBCP by August to begin service in 2021.
Instead, City Council directed city staff to reach out to PG&E for comment on the potential change. Additionally, City Council decided to delay its decision until Santa Barbara County informs the city of the county’s decision whether to create a CCE.
Last year the county began looking into the feasibility of a CCE, which could include Santa Maria. According to a written public comment from the county to the council, the county will have new information on the feasibility of a local program in the coming weeks.
Councilmember Mike Cordero said at the very least, the city should wait for more information from the county before making a decision in joining MBCP.
“I think at the bare minimum we should wait and find out what the county has to offer and what we can learn from them that we don’t know now,” Cordero said. “I don’t think we should cast this aside, but I do think there’s a bit more learning to take place.”