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Marin energy aggregator could benefit from PG&E bankruptcy

MCE and the other eight community choice aggregators in Northern California will be watching closely if Pacific Gas and Electric Co. files for bankruptcy as expected on Tuesday.

Assembly Bill 117, which made it possible for local governments in California to buy electricity directly from suppliers and sell it to their residents, was passed by the Legislature in 2002 on the heels of the state’s failed experiment with deregulation of the electricity market and PG&E’s related bankruptcy in April 2001.

Community choice aggregators in Northern California focus exclusively on securing electricity for their customers. Transmission and distribution of the electricity as well as meter reading, billing and revenue collection are left up to the investor-owned utility, PG&E.

“CCAs will want to make sure there is no interruption in that revenue collection and billing process, and the transfer of revenue that keep the CCAs operating,” said Shawn Marshall of Mill Valley, executive director of LEAN Energy U.S., a nonprofit organization that supports the formation of CCAs nationwide.

She said CCAs will also want to make sure they and their customers are not asked to pick up the tab from contract restructuring due to the bankruptcy that may result in some PG&E power vendors “being forced to take a haircut.”

Longer term, however, a PG&E bankruptcy could benefit CCAs, Marshall said.

For example, she said some of PG&E’s transmission and distribution could be municipalized, allowing CCAs to get involved in that end of the business.

In a release issued on Dec. 21, the California Public Utilities Commission, which regulates PG&E and the CCAs, said it is considering a range of possibilities in response to PG&E’s tarnished safety record and threatened financial state due to related lawsuits. Those possibilities include reconstituting the company as a publicly owned utility.

The San Francisco Public Utilities Commission, which operates CleanPowerSF, San Francisco’s Community CCA program, has said it is exploring the possibility of acquiring or building electrical infrastructure assets.

Marshall said longer-term CCAs could also benefit if the bankruptcy proceeding results in the restructuring of some of PG&E’s older, more expensive contracts. That might result in customers leaving PG&E to join a CCA having to pay lower exit fees.

When a PG&E customer switches to MCE or another community choice supplier, PG&E is permitted to charge that customer an exit fee to compensate it for the power contracts it previously entered into to supply that customer electricity. The fee was imposed by the California Public Utilities Commission to ensure that customers remaining with the utilities do not end up footing the entire cost of the contracts.

Dawn Weisz, MCE’s chief executive, said the main thing CCA customers need to know is, “There won’t be any impacts to community choice aggregation customers due to this potential bankruptcy filing.”

“PG&E has stated publicly that they will continue in a business as usual fashion,” Weisz said. “The lights will stay on. This was the case when PG&E filed for bankruptcy protection in 2001, and we don’t expect anything different to happen here.”

Severin Borenstein, a business professor at the University of California, Berkeley, and faculty director of the Energy Institute there, said, “The bankruptcy itself is not going to change PG&E’s function as a transmission and distribution provider so it’s not going to hurt CCAs in an actual delivery sense.”

He doubts that many CCAs will want to get into the transmission and distribution business.

“They are not in a physical energy business, and I’m pretty sure they don’t want to be,” he said.

Borenstein, however, sees PG&E’s bankruptcy as an opportunity for CCAs to woo new customers. He said the filing will be a blow to PG&E’s reputation.

“Part of what has made the CCAs so attractive is they are viewed more positively by people in the towns which have joined,” Borenstein said. “So I think the bankruptcy will accelerate interest in CCAs.”

In addition, Borenstein said, “There is a real question regarding the investment of PG&E in renewables if they’re in bankruptcy.”

He said if PG&E has to cut back on investments in renewables that could serve to further differentiate the CCAs’ product.

“They already make a big deal of being much greener that PG&E, and the reality is the difference isn’t that large,” Borenstein said. “It could potentially become larger.”

MCE says 61 percent of its energy comes from renewable sources, while PG&E says 33 percent of its energy comes from renewable sources.

Weisz said MCE signed three new contracts with renewable energy producers at the end of the year. The producers — solar farms in Fresno County and Lancaster and a wind farm in Mohave – will deliver 728,000 megawatt hours of electricity annually.

If the PUC gives PG&E permission to pass along costs to ratepayers both PG&E and CCA customers will feel the pain equally. PG&E and CCAs charge different rates for their electricity, but all customers pay the same amount to maintain the electrical grid.

In December 2003, the PUC approved a bankruptcy plan that required PG&E’s customers to pay the company $7 billion to $8 billion over nine years. PG&E’s shareholders were required to contribute $2 billion in lost dividends.

“The collection of fees is bifurcated so customers are billed directly by PG&E for the transmission and distribution activity separate from the generation activity,” Weisz said.

Marshall said that also means that PG&E can’t blame increased competition from CCAs for its maintenance issues.

“The reason that PG&E is in the spot that it is in has nothing to do with emergence of community choice,” Marshall said. “It has everything to do with their maintenance of infrastructure, or lack thereof.”

 

Marin energy aggregator could benefit from PG&E bankruptcy, by Richard Halstead, Marin Independent Journal, January 27, 2019.

Napa County supervisors want to adopt rules before approving another solar farm

Napa County supervisors want to create rules for large commercial solar farms in the wake of people’s fears that photovoltaic panels might someday blight wine country.

Supervisor Belia Ramos brought up the topic of commercial renewable energy rules at the Jan. 8 Board of Supervisors meeting. Her colleagues quickly agreed they should craft policies for a use presently allowed in all zoning districts with Planning Commission approval.

“I think it’s prudent we address this sooner rather than later, as it has already proven to be contentious in our community,” Ramos said.

How soon the Board of Supervisors acts remains to be seen, as the issue has yet to be scheduled. A renewable energy ordinance is now one more thing on the county’s 2019 to-do list.

Renewable Properties LLC last year proposed to build county’s first commercial solar farms, one near American Canyon along Interstate 80 and the other in the rural Coombsville area near the city of Napa. The Coombsville proposal proved controversial among neighbors and has since been withdrawn.

The American Canyon proposal went before the county Planning Commission on Oct. 17, Nov. 28 and Dec. 5. It finally passed by a 3-2 vote amid concerns that the county has no regulations for commercial solar farms, as do neighboring Sonoma and Solano counties.

“This application sets a precedent that may be impossible to challenge for the next application or the one after that,” said Eve Kahn of Get a Grip on Growth and Napa Vision 2050.

Commissioner Joelle Gallagher voted against the American Canyon project.

“I want to see the regulations and guidance in place before we start approving commercial solar,” she said.

A majority of commissioners said they thought the American Canyon site a good place for 12,000 solar panels to provide power for Marin Clean Energy, which serves Napa County. But they too wanted more guidance from the Board of Supervisors on renewable energy projects.

In the wake of Planning Commission approval, the American Canyon solar project itself looked likely to go to the Board of Supervisors. Resident Laura Tinthoff said after the meeting that critics of the project would file an appeal. They never did.

On Thursday, Tinthoff said the potential appellants are new to the county government process. They started out concerned about the now-defunct Coombsville project and then saw the issue was much bigger.

“We were very sincere in realizing this could affect all of Napa County,” Tinthoff said.

She expressed satisfaction with the Board of Supervisors’ willingness to work on an ordinance, saying that’s what her group was seeking.

Ramos said a renewable energy ordinance will give more guidance to the Planning Commission. Also, the use permit application used for the American Canyon commercial solar farm project was for wineries, something she’d like to see changed.

Supervisor Brad Wagenknecht said he would have brought the renewable energy ordinance issue up if Ramos hadn’t.

“I really think we need this,” Supervisor Diane Dillon agreed.

 

Napa County supervisors want to adopt rules before approving another solar farm, by Barry Eberling, Napa Valley Register, January 15, 2019.

Marin-based energy aggregator decries state-approved fee hike

An MCE official calls the California Public Utilities Commission’s decision last week to require customers to pay more in exit fees to investor-owned Pacific Gas & Electric Co. a flawed approach that unfairly shifts costs to customers.

But CEO Dawn Weisz said it won’t deter the community-choice aggregator from its core mission of “providing cleaner power at stable rates, reducing greenhouse gas emissions, and investing in local programs.”

Formerly known as Marin Clean Energy, MCE has seen sharper increases in the exit fee in past years, Weisz said. In January 2016, the PUC approved nearly a doubling of the fee.

“We’ve always maintained competitive rates with a lot of stability,” Weisz said, “and we’ll continue to do that.”

Supervisor Damon Connolly, who formerly served as chairman of MCE’s board, wrote in an email, “At a time when we are seeking to incentivize people to sign up for clean energy sources like MCE Clean Energy to meet Marin and California’s ambitious climate goals, this decision goes in the opposite direction by making it harder to do so.”

Richmond Mayor Tom Butt, an MCE board member, said, “All the community-choice aggregators are trying to do the right thing. They are on the front line addressing climate change and to get whacked down by a public agency, particularly in California, is really disappointing.

“The CPUC is basically a surrogate of the investor-owned utilities,” Butt said. “They have huge power over the CPUC commissioners, and I don’t know why. These people all get appointed by the governor, and the governor is supposed to be friendly to people who are trying to do something about climate change.”

When a PG&E customer switches to MCE or another community choice supplier, PG&E is permitted to charge that customer an exit fee to compensate it for the power contracts it previously entered into to supply that customer electricity. The fee was imposed by the California Public Utilities Commission to ensure that customers remaining with the utilities do not end up footing the entire cost of the contracts.

Weisz, however, says that PG&E shareholders should bear more of the cost for the utility’s poor decisions in building power plants and purchasing power. For example, Weisz said that in the early 2000s PG&E built a number of natural-gas-fired power plants that now might not be needed.

 

Marin-based energy aggregator decries state-approved fee hike, by Richard Halstead, Marin Independent Journal, October 15, 2018.

Explaining what MCE is all about

The recent public interest and controversy about a proposed solar field has reminded us that we as a community must come together to make choices that are good for the environment, good for our quality of life and good for our economy.

First though, we want to make sure we are all using the same facts about the role of MCE (formerly known as Marin Clean Energy) in supplying clean electricity to Napa County’s electricity customers. Some basics:

The name: Marin Clean Energy is, at this point, sort of a misnomer. Think “My Clean Energy” instead.

MCE is a not-for-profit public agency, a “community choice aggregator,” composed of member municipalities from around the North Bay. Members include all communities in Marin County (where it started), all communities in Napa County, the city of Benicia in Solano, and 14 communities in Contra Costa County.

MCE is one of several community choice energy suppliers across the state, including Sonoma Clean Power, serving Sonoma and Mendocino counties; Clean Valley Energy, serving Davis and Yolo County; and CleanPowerSF, serving San Francisco.

MCE is governed by a board of directors of elected officials, each of whom represent the communities they serve.

The job: MCE buys electricity generation supply for customers. PG&E still delivers your electricity. Typically, the reasons utility customers stay with MCE is because they’ve historically been slightly cheaper than PG&E while also getting more of their energy from renewable sources (economics and environment, hand in hand). MCE also offers a 100 percent Deep Green option for electricity that is currently less expensive that PG&E’s 100 percent renewable option.

The way it works: MCE buys renewable energy in the marketplace – as PG&E does—and uses its revenue to incentivize local solar installations, to increase the amount of locally-generated renewable energy available to its customers. Each of these projects must fulfill and conform to local regulations and the normal permitting process to be eligible for MCE’s contract.

MCE is not involved in finding and developing sites for projects, but is always interested in supporting local renewables if the project is approved by the community and it meets their requirements.

MCE’s energy portfolio is at least 50 percent renewable. Much higher that the 30 percent of PG&E’s portfolio that is from renewable sources. Given that the vast majority of Napa County’s customers are served by MCE, that 50 percent means that we have made significant progress toward our greenhouse gas reduction goals.

Especially now, with the county redrafting its Climate Action Plan this could be an excellent time to explore strategies for well-considered development of local renewable energy generation. For example, creation of renewable energy zones to identify the best and most appropriate locations for solar in advance of any particular project.

In short, the challenge is not that Napa customers get their electricity from MCE, nor that MCE is developing local sources of renewable energy generation. The challenge is finding the best locations to carry out this good idea. Astute use of renewable energy will be a significant resource in meeting our climate action goals and powering our communities with clean energy.

Dave Whitmer

Chair, Board of Directors

Sustainable Napa County

Brad Wagenknecht

Napa County Supervisor, District 1

MCE Board of Directors

 

Explaining what MCE is all about, by Dave Whitmer and Brad Wagenknecht, Napa Valley Register, September 19, 2018.

MCE Launches Electric Vehicle Programs, Offers Competitive Rates

SAN RAFAEL and CONCORD, Calif. — MCE has launched a generous rebate program to lower the cost of installing electric vehicle (EV) charging stations at workplace and multifamily properties. The program also offers rebates to low-income qualifying customers on the purchase or lease of new and used EVs.

“Transportation is the largest greenhouse gas-emitting sector in our service area and in California,” said Dawn Weisz, CEO of MCE. “This program is grounded in our mission and is focused on our customers — particularly those in underserved communities, reduces vehicle-related emissions, and provides greater access to EV charging where people live and work.”

EV Rebates for Low-Income Qualifying Customers

MCE is offering a $3,500 rebate for low-income qualifying customers to purchase or lease either a new or used EV. Additionally, MCE can help qualifying customers combine this rebate with Federal, State, and local incentives for a total discount of up to $12,000 for a new EV or $9,000 for a used EV. The final price of a used EV could now be as low as $2,000 after rebates. Qualifying households must receive MCE service and either be enrolled in California Alternate Rates for Energy (CARE), Family Electric Rate Assistance (FERA), or have an annual household income at or below 200 percent of the federal poverty level.

EV Charging Station Rebates for Workplaces & Multifamily Properties

MCE’s EV charging rebate program covers both large and small charging projects (from two to 20+ ports), allowing market rate and low-income multifamily properties and workplaces of any size and sector (including local government agencies) to save on hardware and installation costs — up to $2,500 per port. MCE will provide technical assistance in the application and installation process.

MCE’s EV program aims to add over 500 charging ports and 100 EVs to low-income households within MCE’s service area by March 2019. Improving charger access (particularly for renters and commuters) and reducing the purchasing price of EVs addresses two of the top barriers cited for owning an EV.

“MCE’s rebate program supports EV adoption by providing much-needed charging infrastructure, while making EVs less expensive than fossil-fueled cars for people who may not have the budget for car ownership otherwise,” said Contra Costa County Supervisor and California Air Resources Board Member, John Gioia. “Replacing a single gasoline-powered car with an EV eliminates an average of 4.6 metric tons of air pollution, which is like avoiding a trip of over 11,000 miles in a car.”

MCE’s EV Charging Rates

MCE’s residential EV rates are lower than investor-owned utility rates, providing EV drivers a cost-effective way of charging their car at home. MCE’s EV rates are flat, based on the time of day when a car is charged, with incentives for charging during off-peak usage hours, like at night when charging is least expensive. This helps to support the grid by shifting load away from times of the day when usage is high and there is more strain on the grid towards times when generation is plentiful and overall usage is low.

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About MCE: MCE is a not-for-profit, community choice electricity provider that provides all customers with electricity supplied from 50% to 100% clean, renewable sources such as solar, wind, bioenergy, geothermal, and hydroelectric at competitive rates. MCE provides service to approximately 470,000 California customers in Marin County, Napa County, unincorporated Contra Costa County, and the cities of Benicia, Concord, Danville, El Cerrito, Lafayette, Martinez, Moraga, Oakley, Pinole, Pittsburg, Richmond, San Pablo, San Ramon, and Walnut Creek. For more information about MCE, visit mceCleanEnergy.org.