Energy Aggregation Could Widen Renewable Choices – February 27, 2012

Monday, February 27, 2012

Daniel Mintz

Eye Correspondent

ARCATA – The Arcata City Council wants to expand renewable energy options and is considering joining a Marin-based Joint Powers Authority to do it.

At its Feb. 15 meeting, the City Council considered the prospect of joining what’s known as a Community Choice Aggregator (CCA) – a public agency made up of communities that procure electricity from a variety of sources, including renewable energy producers.

Environmental Services Director Mark Andre said one option would be for Arcata to join the Marin Energy Authority (MEA), a public agency formed in 2008 that includes Marin County and several of its towns and cities.

The MEA buys electricity wholesale from energy producers and offers customers two different options, said Andre – a “light green” plan that includes 27 percent renewable energy and a more expensive (by $10 to $15 a month) “dark green” plan that delivers 100 percent renewable energy.

The Pacific Gas and Electric Company (PG&E) is still involved, transmitting the electricity and handling metering and billing, Andre continued. Customers who prefer to stick with PG&E for electricity can opt to do so.

Joining a CCA is expected to increase Arcata’s opportunity to achieve the “ambitious” goals of its Greenhouse Gas Action Plan, Andre said. In 2009, PG&E’s renewable energy content amounted to 15 percent, he continued, but he also said the company’s energy blend could include more renewable content in the future.

Another option is joining the Local Power Program, which is working with the City of San Francisco and Sonoma County on forming CCAs. Environmental Programs Manager Julie Neander said that Local Power’s plan is to draw from energy sources within the area where the CCA is located.

Both options include similar preliminary steps and costs – Arcata’s “customer load” would have to be defined and an analysis of impacts would have to be done. The upfront costs would be about $25,000 if the MEA option is pursued and slightly more for Local Power but Neander said that either way, costs can be recouped through customer rates.

With Local Power, “You would really be emphasizing trying to develop local power here and as a way to provide local jobs and to keep that revenue source here, locally,” said Neander. “What’s unclear is whether or not joining (MEA) might allow the same thing.”

Andre said another question is whether Arcata would be a voting member of the MEA if it joined.

During public comment, Jim Zoellick of the Arcata Energy Committee said there are “mixed feelings” among commissioners about CCA options because more information is needed about them. He described the matter as an “important topic” in the context of meeting greenhouse gas reduction goals.

“There has been some progress but to the best of my knowledge, we’re not on track at this point,” said Zoellick. “I think it’s going to take a substantial decision like what sources our power comes from to get us to meet our goals.”

Councilmembers were mostly enthused about pursuing CCA options but had logistical concerns. Councilmember Mark Wheetley had numerous questions and wondered whether Arcata’s preponderance of marijuana grow houses would affect CCA dynamics.

Mayor Michael Winkler has advanced the idea of joining a CCA and council members thanked him for it. With a PG&E representative listening in the audience, Winkler related some of the company’s history with CCAs.

He said the first CCA in the state was tried by a San Joaquin Valley joint powers authority and was unsuccessful mostly because “PG&E had an extremely hostile attitude to them and severely undermined their ability to form a CCA.”

A lawsuit resulted, Winkler continued, which PG&E lost, leading to the company’s payment of the San Joaquin CCA’s legal costs.

Winkler also noted that PG&E spent $50 million on a ballot measure that would have made forming CCAs harder. “Fortunately, they were unsuccessful with that and I hope that PG&E will restrain themselves and allow competition,” he said.

Councilmembers unanimously agreed to have staff get more information on joining the MEA and share it with the city’s Energy Commission, which was directed to develop recommendations within three to six months.

Councilmembers also agreed that reps from the Local Power Program should be invited to make a presentation within the same timeframe.

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