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What you need to know about Clean Power Alliance, SoCal’s newest electric company

Southern California Edison has been the region’s dominant electric utility for more than a century. But for nearly 1 million homes across the Southland, the days of Edison’s monopoly are ending.

Clean Power Alliance is becoming the default energy provider this month for residents of 29 cities, as well as unincorporated parts of Los Angeles and Ventura counties. The government-run power agency launched for a small group of customers last year and will continue its rollout in May, when it expands service to 100,000 businesses.

If Clean Power Alliance is your new power company, you should have received notices in the mail by now. But you probably still have plenty of questions.

Here’s everything you need to know about the switch, including what it means for your electricity rates and why Edison isn’t going away entirely.

How do I know if Clean Power Alliance will be my new energy provider?

If you live in one of these cities, you’ll be switched to Clean Power Alliance service by the end of February: Agoura Hills, Alhambra, Arcadia, Beverly Hills, Calabasas, Camarillo, Carson, Claremont, Culver City, Downey, Hawaiian Gardens, Hawthorne, Malibu, Manhattan Beach, Moorpark, Ojai, Oxnard, Paramount, Redondo Beach, Rolling Hills Estates, Santa Monica, Sierra Madre, Simi Valley, South Pasadena, Temple City, Thousand Oaks, Ventura, West Hollywood and Whittier.

The February switch also applies to residents of unincorporated Los Angeles and Ventura counties. Westlake Village residents are on track to start receiving service from Clean Power Alliance in 2020.

Residents of cities with their own municipal power departments, such as Los Angeles, Burbank and Glendale, will stick with their city-run energy provider.

Can I sign up for Clean Power Alliance if I’m an Edison customer living somewhere else?

No.

Why is this happening? Do I need to do anything?

You don’t need to do anything. Your electricity service will continue uninterrupted after you’re switched from Edison to Clean Power Alliance, which will happen automatically after your regularly scheduled meter reading in February.

This is happening because the 29 cities and two counties got together and created a community choice aggregator, or CCA. Forming a CCA allows local governments to decide what kinds of power to buy for their communities, how much to charge and what incentives to provide for going solar or reducing energy use.

California had 19 CCAs serving more than 8 million customers last year, but Clean Power Alliance will be the biggest one yet. Elsewhere in Southern California, local governments are making plans to form CCAs in Riverside County and San Diego, where Mayor Kevin Faulconer recently endorsed calls for community choice.

Am I going to pay more for electricity?

It depends what you want from Clean Power Alliance. The CCA offers three rate plans to its customers: One with a 36% renewable energy mix that the alliance says is 1% cheaper than Edison’s base rate, one with 50% renewables that’s on par with Edison, and one with 100% renewables that’s 9% more expensive than Edison.

Every city and county in Clean Power Alliance has chosen one of those plans as the default for its residents. Eight cities picked the cheapest option; nine cities, plus Ventura County, opted for the 100% renewables rate.

If you don’t like your local government’s choice, you can switch to another rate plan at any time. You can also opt out of Clean Power Alliance and return to Edison. Of the roughly 960,000 homes and businesses that will be eligible for Clean Power Alliance by the end of February, just 14,000, or less than 1.5%, have opted out.

So who’s setting my electricity rate now? And what will they do with my money?

Rates are set by Clean Power Alliance’s 31-member board of directors, with one representative from each city and county. The board is chaired by Diana Mahmud, a South Pasadena City Council member. Its monthly meetings are open to the public.

Clean Power Alliance has big plans for cleaning up the region’s energy supply, said Ted Bardacke, the alliance’s executive director and a former infrastructure director for L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti.

Over time, that could mean incentives for customers to install electric water heaters or space heaters, reducing the need to burn natural gas in homes and other buildings. It could mean free or discounted electric vehicle chargers, or special electricity rates that encourage people to charge their EVs at home. It also could mean community battery installations that reduce the need for polluting, gas-fired “peaker” power plants.

“We’re very interested in projects that not only reduce greenhouse gas emissions but also reduce local air pollution, and that leads you to also improve public health,” Bardacke said.

Can I still put solar panels on my roof?

Yes. Clean Power Alliance offers a net metering rate plan for solar-powered homes and businesses just as Edison does, but with slightly more favorable terms.

Does community choice have any drawbacks?

So far, most CCAs seem to be living up to their promises of cleaner energy, lower rate options and local decision-making. But it’s yet to be seen how they’ll fare over the long term. Some renewable energy companies are worried the CCAs won’t be able to buy enough clean power over the next few years to meet the state’s climate change goals. The CCAs dispute that premise, saying they’re buying plenty of solar and wind energy.

Michael Picker, president of the California Public Utilities Commission, has also warned that the shift from monopoly utilities to more decentralized decision-making could have dangerous unintended consequences, such as a repeat of the state’s early-2000s energy crisis. The CCAs say that concern is hugely overblown.They point out that the state’s first community choice provider, Marin Clean Energy, launched in 2010, followed by Sonoma Clean Power in 2014 and Lancaster Choice Energy in 2015, and so far there have been no crises.

But 16 more CCAs have started serving customers in the last three years, and it’s hard to predict how things will shake out — especially as California’s energy sector is also reshaped by other forces, including a mandate of 100% clean power by 2045 and the bankruptcy filing of the state’s biggest utility, Pacific Gas & Electric.

Does community choice mean Edison is going away?

No. Edison will still be responsible for operating the poles and wires of the electric grid, and Clean Power Alliance customers will still pay the investor-owned utility for those services. Edison will still send out everyone’s bills too.

Clean Power Alliance customers will also see a new item on their bills: the “Power Charge Indifference Adjustment,” more commonly known as the exit fee. As the name suggests, it’s an additional monthly charge that CCA customers must pay Edison to cover the costs of long-term contracts signed by the utility years ago to provide electricity to all of its customers. State officials say it’s only fair for CCA customers to keep covering their share of those costs because Edison would otherwise have to increase rates for its remaining customers.

There’s an ongoing debate about how to calculate the exit fees, with CCAs arguing the investor-owned utilities are inflating the numbers. The Public Utilities Commission approved an increase in the exit fees last year, although the commission may continue to tweak that decision.

So that’s everything I’ll still be paying to Edison, right?

Not quite. For the next year, homes served by Clean Power Alliance will also pay an additional $100 million to Edison to help fill a hole in the company’s power budget. Edison said it spent about $815 million more than it expected on electricity in 2018, partly because of a summer heat wave. The utility asked the Public Utilities Commission for permission to charge some of those costs to homes leaving this month for Clean Power Alliance because Edison purchased the electricity on behalf of all its customers, including those now leaving.

The Public Utilities Commission approved that request in a 5-0 vote on Tuesday, over the objections of Clean Power Alliance. The community choice provider had said it would have to cut into its financial reserves to offer customers the rate savings it promised, while accounting for the additional $100 million they will now pay.

Cliff Rechtschaffen, a member of the Public Utilities Commission, said the additional charge will probably raise electricity prices for Edison and Clean Power Alliance customers by about 5% over the next year.

What you need to know about Clean Power Alliance, SoCal’s newest electric company, by Sammy Roth, The Los Angeles Times, February 1, 2019.

Santee votes to join La Mesa, Chula Vista in study to explore ‘community choice energy’

SANTEE, Calif. — Santee council members voted unanimously Wednesday night to move forward in partnership with Chula Vista and La Mesa to explore other, more affordable energy options for residents.

The idea of community choice aggregation or energy has been discussed for the last several years, but now this study would help determine if the option is realistic and possible for the cities.

“Community choice energy can provide cleaner power at lower rates. It’s hard to be against cleaner power and lower rates,” said Van Collinsworth, a Santee resident.

Nearly 20 similar programs have already been put into action throughout California.

“What they do is kind of take you away from the independent operator which is San Diego Gas and Electric and allow municipalities to have their own autonomy in energy,” said Santee Mayor John Minto.

Minto said the study voted on Wednesday evening is an essential next step.

“We are all looking forward to finding out more information so that we can make that final decision whether or not this is right for our city.”

The city of San Diego is expected to take a look at a similar proposal in the coming days.

 

Santee votes to join La Mesa, Chula Vista in study to explore ‘community choice energy’, by Kasia Gregorczyk, Fox 5 San Diego, January 23, 2019.

San Jose Clean Energy: What you need to know

Next month, San Jose will switch electricity suppliers — from PG&E to San Jose Clean Energy.

The change is part of the city’s broader goal to become more environmentally friendly. Although President Trump announced in June he was pulling out of the 2015 Paris Agreement on climate change among almost 150 countries, San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo has said he still wants the city to meet the greenhouse gas emission targets outlined in the accord.

Thousands of residents and businesses will be affected by the switch from PG&E. Here’s what you need to know.

What is San Jose Clean Energy? 

San Jose Clean Energy (SJCE) is what’s known as a community choice energy program. There are several such programs of locally controlled electricity providers in the region, including Silicon Valley Clean Energy and Peninsula Clean Energy.

Why is San Jose switching? 

As a nonprofit, SJCE aims to provide cleaner energy options to customers than PG&E does, for roughly the same price. Right now, according to the city, only about a third of PG&E’s energy is from renewable sources and about 78 percent is carbon free.

San Jose is offering two choices: Green Source is about 45 percent renewable energy and at least 80 percent carbon free; Total Green is 100 percent carbon free and 100 percent renewable.

What will it cost?  

The program will cost about 1 percent less than what PG&E charges. The city estimates that the average Green Source cost will be about $109.49 a month, compared to PG&E’s $109.97. Total Green will cost a few dollars more, about $113.94.

Will rates go up? 

Electricity prices vary, but the city says the current SJCE rates are expected to remain steady until at least the spring of 2020. The program’s goal is to always be as competitive with PG&E’s rates as possible, and while that company has shareholders, SJCE is a nonprofit that does not.

What do I have to do to sign up?

Nothing. In February, residents and businesses in San Jose will automatically be enrolled in the Green Source program. People who want to sign up for Total Green can upgrade and those who want to stick with PG&E can opt out.

Really? Everyone is automatically signed up? 

Well, almost, but not quite. Residents who have rooftop solar panels will not automatically be enrolled in Green Source. The city says it expects to enroll those customers in the program in 2020, when “we can be certain you will receive a fair value for the solar you generate.” Residents can still sign up for Total Green, however, and commercial customers with solar can participate in SJCE.

So I won’t hear from PG&E anymore? 

SJCE will generate the electricity but PG&E will still transmit and distribute it in San Jose. PG&E will also still handle customer and billing services, so your bill will still come from PG&E. The company will also still be responsible for maintaining power lines and providing natural gas services.

Will my bill look different? 

Yes. PG&E charges what’s commonly known as an “exit fee” to people who participate in a community choice program. The reason PG&E says that’s necessary is because it has already purchased power for customers who will switch to a community choice program. But even with the fee, the total bill should still be slightly lower.

Wait, didn’t PG&E just announce that it’s filing for bankruptcy?

Yes, the company is planning to file for Chapter 11 protection. It faces potentially billions of dollars in costs tied to wildfires that have ravaged the state in the past several years. But the company has told San Jose there will be no interruption in power service for customers and SJCE is expected to launch in February as planned, said Zach Struyk, a deputy director with SJCE.

The future of PG&E remains unclear, but the city said in a statement that SJCE and other community choice programs are “closely monitoring the situation and evaluating potential impacts” on customers.

Is this really helping the environment? 

Yes. The city expects to see an 18 percent initial reduction in what are known as GHG emissions. That’s like getting 35,000 cars off the road.

Where can I get more information?

The website sanjosecleanenergy.org has more information about the program. People with specific questions can call 833-432-2454 or email customerservice@sanjosecleanenergy.org. The city is also hosting a series of community events through March to discuss the program.

 

San Jose Clean Energy: What you need to know, by Emily Deruy, The Mercury News, January 19, 2019.

 

Alternative energy provider smart way to go

Every household in Agoura Hills has an exciting new opportunity to make a tangible difference in reducing greenhouse gas emissions and improving air and water quality, all while saving money.

Residents have begun to receive mailers announcing the move to a new energy provider called Clean Power Alliance. Starting in February, our city, along with 30 other communities across Los Angeles and Ventura counties, will launch a community choice energy program that will offer cleaner, more renewable power at competitive rates.

How will it work?

Simply put, Clean Power Alliance purchases clean power and delivers it to your home via existing Southern California Edison lines. SCE will continue to send one bill and resolve any service issues, as before. Financial assistance programs will remain intact and you’ll still have access to rebates and incentives.

What will change?

You now have choice. Customers will have a menu of energy options to choose from.

Lean Power: This is the default rate option for Agoura Hills residents, providing 36 percent renewable content at the lowest possible cost, a 1 to 2 percent savings over SCE’s standard rates.

Clean Power: Purchase 50 percent renewable content at either no cost difference or up to a 1 percent savings compared to SCE’s standard rates.

100 percent Green Power: This will cost about 7 to 9 percent more than SCE’s base rates, but will deliver nearly three times the amount of renewables. And, it’s about 5 percent less expensive than SCE’s 100 percent Green rate.

What do you have to do?

Nothing, unless you want to change your default option. Agoura Hills residential customers will be automatically enrolled in Lean Power, but you can easily make your own energy choice or opt out entirely and return to SCE as your energy supplier. Just go to cleanpoweralliance.org or call (888) 585-3788. Business customers will be enrolled in May.

Why did Agoura Hills choose 36 percent Lean Power as the default?

We anticipate that this service level will allow Agoura Hills residents to realize a cost savings even if SCE raises transmission rates to recoup losses from the California wildfires. That said, we encourage as many residents as possible to opt up to 100 percent Green Power if you can afford the slight increase. It’s an investment in our future.

Unsure which rate is best for you?

Grab your latest bill and head to the online bill calculator to compare and decide. Whether you enjoy the costs savings, go for 100 percent Green, or find your balance in the middle, it’s your choice.

Watch for more mailers coming soon. In the meantime, feel free to reach out or go to cleanpoweralliance.org for more details.

Klein Lopez is an Agoura Hills City Councilmember and the city’s board member on the Clean Power Alliance. She can be reached at dlopez@ ci.agoura-hills.ca.us.

 

Alternative energy provider smart way to go, by Klein Lopez, The Acorn, January 17, 2019.

CALIFORNIA: This Tiny town has found a new way to cut GHGs

SOLANA BEACH, Calif. — This enclave in north San Diego County is known for its small-town feel, the summer concerts held on a bluff above crashing ocean waves and the non-chain stores in its arts district.It’s also seen as a progressive stronghold. Incorporated 30 years ago after local residents grew concerned about overdevelopment, Solana Beach jumped ahead of others regionally on environmental causes. It was first in California to ban smoking on beaches. It banned single-use plastic bags before other cities in the county. Last year, it was the first to restrict Styrofoam containers.

Now it’s considering a landmark move to cut carbon pollution.

Solana Beach is considering taking on the role of quasi-utility. It would form a collective to buy power on behalf of residents and businesses, a practice known as community choice aggregation, or CCA. Under state law, residents are automatic members of the CCA but can later opt out and go back to incumbent utility San Diego Gas & Electric Co. (SDG&E).

The intent is to acquire more power made from renewable sources in order to shrink greenhouse gas pollution. The city is looking at potentially passing a climate plan that would commit to a greenhouse gas reduction. And it would create a CCA in a way that so far hasn’t been done.

“The city has always had residents or a population that is really concerned about improving their community and improving the planet,” said Peter Zahn, Solana Beach deputy mayor and a member of the Climate Action Commission. “Residents have banded together and really used their collective muscle and intelligence and wit to do really whatever they could to make it a better place to live.

“That carries over to the environmental initiatives,” he added. “It was something that was really sort of a natural for the city to be at the forefront of these battles and really lead the way.”

CCAs already exist in San Francisco, in the Bay Area cities of Marin and Sonoma, and Lancaster in north Los Angeles County. Because Solana Beach, population 13,000, is small, it could be difficult and costly to go it alone. Several other cities in San Diego County are also considering CCA and could form a joint partnership.

But Solana Beach might not have to wait.

As cities in the Golden State are entering the new world of competing with large utilities, entrepreneurs are offering options. A new one would have a private company put up money to help launch the program. The city in return would pay the investor group part of the revenues from CCA.

Solana Beach, if it went this route, would be the first in the county, and potentially the first in the state, to do so. Humboldt County in Northern California is also looking at it.

“It hasn’t been done in California, this public private partnership,” said Dan King, assistant city manager at Solana Beach. “It’s kind of intended for smaller cities who want to get this up and running.”

It takes place as the larger region is aiming for major action on climate change. San Diego last year adopted a climate action plan that calls for switching to 100 percent renewable power by 2035. Starting a CCA — or what San Diego is calling “community choice energy” (CCE) — is expected to be part of that.

Starting sooner could cut more GHGs

But it could be 2018 before San Diego puts a CCE into place, said Nicole Capretz, executive director of the Climate Action Campaign, a nonprofit watchdog group. She was director of environmental policy for San Diego interim Mayor Todd Gloria (D) in 2013 when he drafted what eventually became that city’s climate plan. Mayor Kevin Faulconer (R) after his election made some changes and endorsed the plan (ClimateWire, April 7).

Del Mar, the city just south of Solana Beach, has also adopted a plan to switch to 100 percent renewable power (ClimateWire, Aug. 8). In the case of that town, it’s a road map and not legally binding. The city will need to consider and adopt individual actions to achieve the goal. It’s also talking about a CCA, and has said the CCA will likely be needed to reach the green power plan.

Nearby, the cities of Encinitas, Carlsbad, Oceanside and others have met to talk about forming a joint powers agreement that would operate a CCA. Solana Beach could be part of that larger JPA if it gets approved.

Solana Beach is moving faster than its neighbors. It’s released a request for proposals (RFP), asking companies to show how they’d help the city run a CCA. It was modeled after the RFP that Humboldt did, King said.

The responses to that RFP are due tomorrow. Depending on whether there are questions that need to be resolved, the City Council could review those as early as Sept. 28 and look at approving a service agreement Oct. 26.

Starting a CCA in Solana Beach and later combining with one in nearby cities is another possibility. A larger JPA would have more purchasing power, Zahn said. But Solana Beach potentially could act more nimbly if it went first.

“Forming our own energy district and keeping it small probably would enable us to move faster,” he said.

Pete Hasapopoulos, organizer of the Sierra Club’s My Generation campaign, is advocating for community energy in the region. While not speaking specifically about Solana Beach, he cautioned that the model of working with a for-profit business is untested.

“It just has to be proven that this for-profit model can help a city meet its objectives,” he said, including reducing greenhouse gases and offering the same if not better rates than the incumbent utility.

It’s true there are risks with going first with a for-profit partner, Zahn said. He said the city would be sure to vet its partner if is goes that route. But right now there is no larger JPA to join, he said, and the greenhouse gas clock is ticking.

The city is looking at a climate plan that potentially would commit to cutting emissions 50 percent by 2050, which he said is a steep hill.

“The sooner we start, the better chance we have of making them,” Zahn said. “Even starting a year or two later can make it tremendously difficult to achieve those objectives.”

100% renewable is costly

Solana Beach is an affluent community. The median home price here is $1.2 million, according to online real estate company Zillow.

That sometimes makes it easier to take progressive positions, Zahn said, because if there are concerns it might raise costs, “the residents are not taking as big of a risk.” He added that often, the worries about higher expenses created by environmental actions have been proved untrue.

If Solana Beach goes for a CCA, there will likely be a battle with Sempra Energy, parent company of SDG&E.

The state now bars utilities from talking about CCA unless it’s done through a separate affiliate, funded by shareholder dollars. SDG&E last November told the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) that it was creating just such an affiliate. SDG&E is the first utility in the state to make the move. CPUC said it’s reviewing the filing.

“SDG&E supports a customer’s right to choose its electricity service provider, including a CCA,” the utility said in a statement.

Solana Beach and Del Mar recently sent a team that told the CPUC the cities have concerns about that SDG&E effort.

“We’re concerned that there could be undue influence from SDG&E into this separate marketing arm,” Zahn said. “It’s really hard to build a wall between the two.” Because Sempra is big with financial resources, “that really could be a disadvantage.”

Solana Beach, meanwhile, still is in the process of setting its climate goals, Zahn said. The City Council must decide whether to implement a climate action plan.

Action on a CCA could come before approval of a climate action plan. The city started looking at the CCA option in 2012, King said, after Marin and Sonoma started their programs. A Solana Beach CCA could start as soon as early next year.

Starting a CCA takes upfront money, however. The city recently received results of a feasibility study that estimated a cost of $1.8 million to $2 million per year to develop a CCA. That wouldn’t include the expense securing the funds or credit line needed to start buying energy, “which could potentially be close to $1 million, depending on how the program is launched.”

The feasibility study looked at four options for the amount of renewables, starting with one that would mirror SDG&E’s obligation to have 35 percent green power by 2021. If Solana Beach did that, it could save its residents about 3 percent on rates compared with SDG&E, the study said. The city in the first five years would retain nearly $6.8 million in revenues that could be used to fund local renewable power generation and energy efficiency.

If it opted for 100 percent renewable power, the bill savings versus SDG&E would be just 1 percent, and there would not be much money left over, the study said.

“The premiums spent on purchasing renewable grid power would be lost for investment in local renewables and energy efficiency — effectively paying more to rent green power year to year rather than owning it for the long haul,” the report said.

The study also looked at the results of providing 50 or 75 percent green power.

Other CCAs offer partial green power

With Marin’s CCA, customers can choose 100 percent renewable power but have to pay more for it, said Nilmini Silva-Send, assistant director of the Energy Policy Initiatives Center (EPIC) with the University of San Diego.

“They are providing mostly 50 percent renewable electricity,” she said.

Sonoma’s CCA has a baseline of 35 percent renewable power, with the option of picking 100 percent green for a premium price, according to the feasibility study. The city of Lancaster’s program also has 35 percent green electricity as its baseline product.

On a recent weeknight, Solana Beach’s Climate Action Commission worked with Silva-Send of EPIC on an experiment to see what would be needed to cut greenhouse gas emissions 50 percent by 2035, a state aim approved last year.

With a CCA that bought 100 percent green power, Solana Beach would get close to the aspirational 50 percent greenhouse gas emissions cut, but would also need to add other measures, Silva-Send said.

With a CCA with fewer renewables, the city would need to do even more. Most of the other options the Climate Action Commission members examined, including cutting waste that goes to landfill, adding trees and converting gas water heaters to solar thermal, shrunk carbon pollution by only small amounts.

The EPIC tool, “it makes us realize how difficult it’s going to be. We’re going to have to make sacrifices,” said Judy Hegenauer, member of the Climate Action Commission. “That is a conversation we’re going to have to have with citizens.”

Business opportunities

The group that did Solana Beach’s feasibility study, California Clean Power, came together in 2015 to expedite CCA programs through public-private deals. The market for companies serving CCAs is developing so quickly that it’s since been bought by Pilot Power Group Inc. of San Diego.

Pilot Power Group is one of those looking at Solana Beach’s RFP. In essence, a private company would procure energy on behalf of Solana Beach and could administer all of the data and handle customer billing, said Denis Vermette, chief financial officer at Pilot Power Group.

The company would procure fixed price contracts with suppliers, securing the level of renewable power that Solana Beach says it wants. The grid wouldn’t deliver that green power specifically to residents’ homes, he said, but 1 megawatt of clean electricity purchased would displace a dirty one in the state.

Pilot Power Group has been around since 2001, Vermette said, and has been securing power for commercial and industrial customers. It bought California Clean Power because it already has relationships with cities it’s been talking to about forming CCEs, he said.

“The CCE market has kind of ramped up, we obviously feel we have an expertise,” Vermette said. “It’s just sort of a natural segment we can move into.”

For a CCA to succeed, it needs at least 80 percent of the city’s consumers to stay as members, Vermette said.

“An attractive price, an attractive product” with renewable energy “has to be key,” because residents must be given four notices that they can opt out.

Twitter: @AnneCMulkern Email: amulkern@eenews.net