EBCE Launches Clean Electricity to Residential Customers

Source: Independent News

Alameda County residents living in the cities of Albany, Berkeley, Dublin, Emeryville, Fremont, Hayward, Livermore, Piedmont, Oakland, San Leandro, Union City as well as unincorporated areas of the county, such as Sunol, have a new electricity provider as East Bay Community Energy (EBCE) launches its clean energy services throughout November. EBCE serves more than 500,000 accounts across the county, which represents a population of nearly 1.4 million people. EBCE is committed to providing electricity generated from a high percentage of renewable sources such as solar and wind.

Customers are automatically enrolled in the service based on their local city council or board of supervisors’ decision to join the EBCE program. Tri-Valley residents in the cities of Dublin, Livermore, and Sunol will be automatically enrolled in EBCE’s services. Residents in these cities may also elect to opt-out and remain with PG&E. Pleasanton residents are not eligible for EBCE service because the city declined to participate in the program.

The residential launch marks a major milestone for Alameda County, as customers may now select a greener, lower cost choice for electricity. As one of the state’s newest and largest Community Choice Energy providers, EBCE is governed by a board of local elected officials and its meetings are open to the public. EBCE’s mission is to provide higher percentages of renewable and carbon-free energy compared to PG&E at competitive rates. EBCE will also invest in local energy-related programs within its participating communities.

“Residents of Alameda County and our 11 partner cities can now power their homes with cleaner energy. We are committed to building a sustainable East Bay for years to come,” says Nick Chaset, Chief Executive Officer of EBCE.

Residents have a choice between three EBCE services: Bright Choice, Brilliant 100, and Renewable 100. The standard service, Bright Choice, offers customers a 1.5% discount compared to their PG&E rate while receiving 5% more renewable energy. Customers can also choose Brilliant 100, which provides 100% carbon-free service for the same cost compared to PG&E, or opt up to Renewable 100, which provides 100% renewable and carbon-free energy sourced by solar and wind sources from within California.

A not-for-profit government agency, East Bay Community Energy will keep its rates competitive and reinvest earnings back into the community to create local green energy and clean power projects that benefit the Alameda County economy within the program’s area. For more information about EBCE, visit www.ebce.org.

East Bay Community Energy Launches!

After years of planning and preparation, and countless hours of hard work by hundreds of stakeholders, East Bay Community Energy has officially launched!

We began serving commercial, industrial, and public accounts on June 1. Those 55,000 customers consume about 63 percent of the total energy we will serve when fully operational.

Residential customers, about 37 percent of our load, started getting service on November 1. We are initially serving about 500,000 customers, or about 1.5 million residents of Alameda County.

While launching our service of clean, green energy has been our number one priority, we have a host of other activities underway and coming soon.  Our Local Development Business Plan spells out an aggressive set of options for local energy projects, including energy efficiency, demand response, distributed renewables, and vehicle electrification.

Stay tuned as we roll out these and other programs and policies. To track our progress sign up for our mailing list here, follow us on LinkedIn, and follow our CEO Nick Chaset on Twitter.

Relief is On the Way for West Oakland Air Quality

Relief is on the way for a polluting power plant in Oakland’s Jack London Square. The historic Lightship RELIEF is docked next to the Oakland Power Plant.

There is an odd building near Jack London Square in Oakland.  On the street side, the building looks somewhat classical, with tall arches reaching up to a crenellated portico. But viewed from the other side, from the Inner Harbor waterfront, you see it’s real mission — black smokestacks betray the home of three power generators at the 165 megawatt Dynegy Oakland Power Plant.

While the plant dates back to 1888, the current generators were installed in 1978 and run on jet fuel, hardly the cleanest source of energy.  With Jack London Square evolving from an industrial zone to a mix of retail, office, residential, and industrial uses, the local air quality impacts of the plant have been a lingering problem.

Now relief is on the way.  East Bay Community Energy is partnering with PG&E on the Oakland Clean Energy Initiative (OCEI), to replace the plant with a mix of clean distributed energy technologies.


The Oakland Power Plant dates back to 1888, and was owned by PG&E from 1905 to 1998.

Simply shutting down the plant is not possible, since it provides essential reliability to the Oakland grid, getting “reliability must run” or RMR payments from CAISO, the state’s grid operator. Another option, stringing new transmission lines across Oakland, was a non-starter.

Instead, the plan is to deploy battery storage, demand response, and energy efficiency improvements in the neighborhood, along with upgrades to the local distribution system. In all, EBCE will have 20 to 45 MW of new clean energy resources, in line with the Local Development Business Plan.

CAISO approved the plan in March, and EBCE and PG&E are currently reviewing bids from developers.  EBCE will buy local energy and capacity products while PG&E purchases reliability products from the same resources.

The project will then need to be approved by state and federal regulators, and is expected to come online by the middle of 2022.

For more information:

EBCE press release

PG&E press release


Customers Are Opting Up to Cleaner Energy

EBCE serves clean energy, but customers can opt up to even cleaner choices, through the Brilliant 100 and Renewable 100 options.

Our three levels of power products have different mixes of renewable and carbon-free sources. (By “renewable” we mean sources that are eligible for the state renewables portfolio standard, like wind, solar, geothermal, biomass, and small hydropower. Our “carbon-free” power is from large hydropower).

Bright Choice is at least 38% renewable plus 47% carbon-free, and is currently priced 1.5% below PG&E’s generation rates.  Brilliant 100 is at least 40% renewable and an additional 60% carbon-free, and is priced on par with PG&E. Renewable 100 is entirely from in-state RPS-eligible renewables.  Renewable 100 has a premium of 1 cent per kilowatt-hour above PG&E rates.

And customers are already opting up to greener energy. The Piedmont City Council voted earlier this year to enroll all residential accounts in Renewable 100.  By opting up, they said, “our community will make significant steps towards reaching the greenhouse gas emissions reduction targets of our recently-adopted Climate Action Plan 2.0.”

Hayward and Albany have opted for Brilliant 100 for all accounts, both residential and non-residential. 

Businesses too are opting up to help do their part to save the planet.  Schnitzer Steel, Roam Artisan Burgers, and Numi Tea are just a few that have voluntarily opted up to Brilliant 100.

One of the largest customers in the East Bay, U.C. Berkeley, is opting for Brilliant 100. The statewide University of California system announced on September 4 that all ten U.C. campuses and five medical centers will switch to zero-carbon power by 2025.

Faces of EBCE — Nick Chaset

Nick Chaset has energy in his blood.

The EBCE CEO is the son of two lawyers with decades of experience in energy and telecom. His father, Larry Chaset, spent time at the Air Resources Board and the Bay Area Air Quality Management District, and helped pursue refunds after the 2000-01 Western power crisis while on the staff of the California Public Utilities Commission. His mother, Gretchen Dumas, spent 35 at the CPUC as a telecom and energy attorney.

But it goes back further — Larry’s father and grandfather ran a home heating business in Providence, Rhode Island, delivering oil and coal door-to-door.

That makes Nick a fourth generation energy professional.

While his passion for energy may be genetic, it is also a response to the threat of global warming.

“Every facet of our lives relies on electricity but we often don’t think about it,” he says. “It’s so ubiquitous and important, yet we have a moral and personal imperative to transition to carbon-free energy.”

Nick has spent 13 years in the energy business so far, including his own stint at the CPUC, as Chief of Staff to CPUC President Michael Picker. After undergrad at Tufts University and an MBA from Georgetown University, he worked for clean energy companies and consultants, before landing on the staff of Governor Jerry Brown.

It was there that he made his biggest mark so far in energy, he says, by shepherding the evolution of net energy metering (NEM) from version 1.0 to version 2.0. NEM is a foundational policy that sets out the rules for customer-owned generation, primarily from solar panels. As solar power took off in California, it was bumping up against caps on deployment, while raising questions about how solar should be valued to maximize benefits to the grid.

“I worked with the legislature and the CPUC to lift the cap and move to a system that would allow for the continued growth of rooftop solar,” Chaset recalls. “There was a concern that without reforming the rules solar would not scale up, and it would be limited it to very high income customers.”

The NEM 2.0 decision lifted the cap, but also required customers with solar to switch to a time-of-use rate, better aligning solar with the value of energy on the grid. He points to the continued robust growth of solar as evidence that the new policy is working.

“I see a lot of parallels between that and what is happening now with CCAs,” he says. “We’ve reached a critical mass with CCAs and now we have to come up with a system that allows for continued growth. I’m putting a lot of my attention to policies that allow for that growth.”

While California is on a path toward a cleaner energy system, Chaset thinks that CCAs can help in going greener quicker, while delivering more local benefits.

“My goal for EBCE is to deliver lower carbon, lower cost energy solutions that benefit all residents of Alameda County — especially those that have borne the brunt of our past environmental mistakes.”

“And as a community energy supplier, we want to create local jobs and local economic benefits,” he adds. “The East Bay is home to many energy innovators, including Berkeley Lab and Tesla. We want EBCE to foster an ecosystem for innovation, to become the epicenter of clean energy innovation.”

In the News

New energy provider begins this month in Alameda County, East Bay Times, November 13

East Bay Community Energy, launching this month, promises greener and in some cases less expensive service to about 568,000 Pacific Gas & Electricity customers, who are getting automatically enrolled as a result of their local city council or county supervisors joining the program.

San Diego Moves Ahead With 100% Clean Energy Community Choice Program, Greentech Media, October 25

San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer announced that the city will move ahead with plans to create a CCA.  “This is not a partisan issue,” he said. “It’s a ‘right thing to do’ issue.” The city has a goal of 100% clean energy by 2035. If approved by the City Council, San Diego will be the 20th CCA in California and will serve 1.4 million customers.

10 Southern California municipalities commit to 100% renewables through CCA program, Solar Power World, November 5.

Nine SoCal cities plus Ventura County have opted for default 100% renewable supply for all residential, business, and public accounts through the Clean Power Alliance CCA. CARE and other low-income customers will get 100% renewables at no additional cost. The group has a combined population of approximately 750,000.

3 Bay Area cities ranked among greenest in U.S. — and one aims to keep improving, San Jose Mercury News, October 11.

Fremont was ranked the seventh greenest city in America by WalletHub. They tied for first on clean energy, thanks to their membership in EBCE, their local code requiring solar panels on all new residential construction, and their Fremont Green Challenge program to help households cut carbon.

The Growth in Community Choice Aggregation: Impacts to California’s Grid, Next10, August 2

The UCLA’s Luskin Center for Innovation released a report on the recent growth of CCAs in California. They found that CCAs got between 37 and 100 percent of their power from renewables last year, with a statewide average of 52 percent, higher than the IOUs at 32 to 44 percent.  CCAs also had lower rates, ranging from 0.1 to 2.1 percent lower.


California regulators prod utilities to start drafting roadmap to 100% clean energy

Source: Utility Dive

California’s 44 electricity providers are updating their formal plans to meet the state’s new 60% renewables by 2030 mandate and its 100% clean energy by 2045 goal.

Investor-owned utility (IOU) regulatory filings say they have adequate renewables to meet the 2030 requirement and will begin procuring again after that. Customer choice aggregator (CCA) filings say they will procure adequate renewables to meet the 2030 mandate, though they do not specify how or when. And electric service providers (ESPs) say they don’t do long-term procurements.

The sum of the new renewables procurements from California’s 44 load serving entities (LSEs) do not add up to what will be needed to meet the ambitious Senate Bill 100 mandate and goal. Yet their filings reflect confidence that the state will meet its demanding ambitions and the LSEs will meet their obligations. Regulators and policymakers are not so sure.

Thanks to the IOUs’ existing long-term renewables contracts, the state is on track to meet its 2030 goal, CPUC Energy Division Director Edward Randolph recently told Utility Dive. But it is “premature for the CPUC to speculate” on the CCAs meeting 2020 and 2030 targets.

A few CCA long-term renewables procurements, a tiny portion of the state’s demand, are essentially the only new ones from California LSEs in the last two years. This is a hesitant changing of the guard in procurement that raises big questions about achieving the state’s goals. The questions were not answered by responses to the California Public Utility Commission’s Sept. 19 order to LSEs to update their renewable portfolio standard (RPS) plans.

Questions emerge

The news was good on the state’s then 50% by 2030 renewables portfolio standard (RPS) in the November 2017 annual report from the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC). The IOUs said they would meet the 2030 RPS requirement of 50% by 2020, and CCAs and ESPs said they would meet or exceed 2020’s 33% RPS requirement.

But the report only covered procurements of the five longest-standing of the nine CCAs at that time. As California’s customer choice movement accelerates, the new groups join the list of those not on track to meet RPS obligations.

“Ten CCAs just launched this year,” California Customer Choice Association(CalCCA) Executive Director Beth Vaughan told Utility Dive. They are too new to enter into long-term contracts, but there are “almost 10,000 MWs of new renewable construction” planned by 2030, and “there is no indication the CCAs will not meet their RPS obligations,” she noted.

Other stakeholders say the big concern is the RPS requirement that LSEs have 65% of their power under long-term contracts by the end of 2021.

“Their filings show they need 6,700 MWs of new renewables online by 2022,” Large Scale Solar Association Executive Director Shannon Eddy told Utility Dive. “That is an amazing amount of power, considering their limitations and capabilities.”

The newer CCAs “will need to really scale up to meet the 65% obligation,”American Wind Energy Association California Caucus Director Danielle Mills told Utility Dive. “But credit and buying power limitations could make that challenging. We want the commission to pay attention to that issue.”

Stakeholder concerns with ESPs are different. SB 327, passed in the most recent legislative session, expanded the 13% limit on ESPs’ share of California’s commercial-industrial load to 16%. Yet ESPs “do not provide long-term forecasts on their renewable procurement,” the CPUC reported.

ESP plans “do address the RPS long-term contracting requirement,” according to the RPS docket filing by the Alliance for Retail Energy Markets. Its member ESPs will “enter into additional long-term contracts to meet the RPS requirement,” it wrote.

But its members’ customer commitments “rarely exceed 36-months,” making longer-term contracts “unrealistic” and “uneconomical” for those providers, the filing acknowledged.

However, “a 16% market is not inconsequential, and ESPs have near zero MWs of renewables contracted for after 2020. That appetite can help meet California’s long-term goals,” Matthew Freedman, staff attorney for consumer advocacy group The Utility Reform Network (TURN), told Utility Dive.

These questions are important, but the CPUC’s order was for a routine RPS update that is unlikely to provide big answers, Vote Solar Grid IntegrationSenior Director Ed Smelof told Utility Dive. “The real question is how RPS compliance fits together with the statewide strategy.”

That strategy will be determined in the state’s integrated resource planning (IRP) proceedings. California’s three dominant IOUs, Southern California Edison (SCE), Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E), and San Diego Gas and Electric (SDG&E), are also thinking about how the RPS and IRP proceedings fit together.

But they are more immediately interested in the CPUC’s October 11 rulingon the Power Charge Indifference Adjustment (PCIA),

The MWs are still similar but the percentages are higher because customers have departed

IOUs, the PCIA and the clean net short

In the PCIA ruling, the commission chose a new method to calculate the charge added to the bills of customers who move to CCAs. It compensates IOUs for the cost of generation they procured to serve those departing customers.

The method favors IOUs because it increases the charge, making CCAs unable to fulfill their commitments of customer rates lower than those of the IOUs. The higher rates will “stifle” CCAs ability to compete, Vaughan said. It is a “devastating blow to the flourishing CCA movement” and “could deter further market entry by CCAs.”

The decision will increase bills of CCA customers in PG&E territory by 1.68% this year, those in SCE territory by 2.50%., and those in SDG&E territory by 5.24%, according to the CPUC. And rate increases for customers departing their IOUs to CCAs are offset by rate decreases for customers remaining with their IOUs.

The PCIA ruling will affect whether customers return to the IOUs and necessitate new procurement, SCE VP for Energy Procurement and Management Colin Cushnie told Utility Dive. In the near term, the challenge will be identifying what the load will be for each LSE.

“Our current portfolio and commitments will meet the 2030 RPS requirement, based on indications of what load the CCAs in our territory plan to meet, Cushnie said. “If the PCIA changes enough to drive customers back to us, that may change.”

PG&E and SDG&E agree. The renewables sector see this uncertainty, and the resulting small amount of new procurement being done by the CCAs, as a missed opportunity.

Right now, wind’s federal tax credit, which is already phasing down and will be fully phased out by the early 2020s, “makes it the cheapest clean resource available,” American Wind Energy Association California Caucus Director Mills said. “We don’t want LSEs to think 10 years ahead and miss the opportunity right in front of us.”

Near-term procurement is also needed so the commission can begin planning the transmission that will be needed, she added. “That planning cannot begin without committed LSE procurements.”

SCE “will presumably procure for the post-2030 period,” but to use the tax credits, resources would need to be in operation before they are needed, Cushnie said. “The curtailment would cost customers too much.”

In its next IRP filing, SCE will address 2045 planning, he added. “That could be transmission upgrades and energy storage procurements, but SCE will not be proposing more procurement.”

To meet the 2045 zero carbon goals, the IOUs want to link CPUC work with work being done by the California Air Resources Board (CARB), by using a clean net short (CNS) requirement, Cushnie added.

The CNS concept “is a metric now being used by CARB to help guide what new clean resources should be developed on the system to carry load and meet policy objectives,” Cushnie said.

As described in the PG&E IRP filing, the CNS compares a resource’s generation profile with the procuring LSE’s load shape. It could discourage the over-reliance on resources like solar that lead to over-generation, Cushnie said.

The CNS concept can be adapted for the IRP and for other proceedings, TURN’s Freedman agreed. It is also “a far more accurate method” of addressing the “more complicated” question of greenhouse gas emissions in LSE resource portfolios.

CCAs do have long-term contracts
Credit: From a CalCCA IRP filing (used with permission)

CCAs, ESPs and a procurer

CalCCA had no comment on the CNS concept, but is satisfied the CPUC is effectively coordinating the IRP and RPS proceedings, Vaughan said. An October 29 public stakeholder event will further identify “how the proceedings fit together and what the inter-relationships are.”

CalCCA supported SB 100 and its member CCAs have filed RPS compliance plans that show they will meet their obligations, Vaughan said. The filings forecast 44% of retail sales will be RPS compliant in 2020, 32% will be under long-term contracts in 2021, and 61% will be RPS compliant by 2030.

That is rapid movement, she added. “Two years ago, there were only five CCAs. Now there are 19 and they need time to get up and running.”

At the end of 2017, the nine CCAs serving load “had 1,100 MW of new renewables in long term agreements,” Vaughan said. “At the end of October 2018, that will be over 2,200 MW in 56 contracts, almost all for ten years or longer.”

Marin Clean Energy, the oldest CCA, has the only CCA credit rating. It has 803 MW of new renewables in contracts of 12 years or longer, according to CalCCA’s “Beyond Supplier Diversity” report. Filings in the RPS docket show the other established CCAs similarly moving ahead. But many of the newer CCAs’ filings offer assurance of compliance but little to no specificity.

This lack of specifics is concerning when the CPUC projects the 2030 goal will require 11,000 MW of new renewables, Vote Solar’s Smelof said.

It is not evident CCAs need help with procurement, Vaughan insisted. “Under the law, CCAs have the right and obligation to self-procure,” she said. “Communities form CCAs to be in charge of their own procurement.”

Many stakeholders understand CCAs’ challenges, TURN’s Freedman said. “The question is what they will do to meet their 65% long-term contracts by 2022 RPS obligation.”

The PCIA proceeding’s next phase may offer ways CCAs can cost-effectively assume IOU renewables contracts, “and they may build new projects, which is SB 100’s real goal,” Freedman said.  “But we may need outside-the-box strategies that identify and overcome barriers to procurement.”

TURN wants the commission to use a neglected provision in the RPS code that authorizes “a procurement entity” to contract for renewables to meet RPS obligations. If reviewed and approved by the Commission, the costs of the procurements could be recovered through rates, Freedman said. “And the commitments would be transferable if ESP or CCA customers move to other providers.”

If the CPUC develops the structure and the specifics, ESPs and CCAs without adequate credit or commitment capabilities could use the entity to secure long-term contracts, Freedman said.

Other options are unlikely to be workable. Neither the IOUs nor the CCAs would approve having IOUs procure on CCAs’ behalf, and a statewide central procurer is too politically controversial, he said. “Given the urgency of the RPS 65% obligation, the commission should make every effort to turn the code’s provision for a procurement entity into a reality before 2021.”

There is a greater urgency, Large Scale Solar Association’s Eddy added. “In the United Nation’s report on climate change, the scientists wrote that avoiding the severest changes will require ‘a staggering transformation the likes of which we have never seen,'” she said. “SB 100 is an important step, but we need to be thinking about what is next.”

Alameda County residents can leave PG&E for another power company next month

Source: KTVU

 – In Alameda County, people who want to leave Pacific Gas & Electric’s (PG&E) monopoly will soon have the chance. The City of Alameda has had its own power company for many years. Soon, the rest of the county will have an alternative.

Come November 1, Alameda County will have an alternative electricity supplier, EBCE, East Bay Community Energy, a government agency not unlike water supplier East Bay MUD.

Residents have already received mailers on the coming change, but many likely threw them away as junk mail or did not understand its meaning. “That’s the impression I got was that it was affiliated with PG&E. So, how can it really be better?” said Janet an Oakland PG&E customer.

At Oakland’s Friday Farmers Market, we told PG&E customers that they can stay with PG&E or drop PG&E. “As long as there’s an alternative to what we’re getting now, that’s an absolutely good idea,” said Terrell, another Oakland PG&E customer.

Under state law, PG&E customers will automatically become EBCE customers if they do not take the initiative to opt out of EBCE. “Actually the option is important, partly because people don’t pay attention,” said Sandra Coleman, another Oakland PG&E customer.

East Bay Community Energy does have the legal right to charge each person who opts out $5 for the privilege of doing so. But the agency has decided to waive that fee entirely until at least the middle of next year.

“They can go online and do it online, they can call our call center and speak with a call center operator or use the automated call in system to opt out,” said East Bay Community Energy CEO Nick Chaset.

EBCE says it will sell you power for 1.5% less that PG&E charges. “As a public agency, we operate, at a lower rate of overhead than you would see form an investor owned utility,” said Chaset. “Cheaper is always better because the energy prices are already skyrocketing,” said CEO Chaset.

Many PG&E customers still have a bad taste in their mouths from the rate payer share of wildfire costs.

“I don’t think PG&E has that much good credibility anyway,” said Oakland PG&E customer Sandra Coleman.

Ironically, a lot of EBCE’s green power, solar and wind, will be purchased at wholesale rates from PG&E.
EBCE will also buy power from green suppliers such as British Columbia Hydroelectric as well as setting up some of its own green energy.

As more renewable sources come online, we’ll need fewer and fewer fossil fuel, greenhouse gas producing power plants.

EBCE Introduced Local Development Business Plan to Board

Alameda County, CA – East Bay Community Energy (EBCE) presented their Local Development Business Plan (LDBP) to the Board of Directors on July 18 for approval. The plan outlines a wide range of investments in local renewable energy, clean transportation and distributed energy resources as well as a framework for accelerating the long-term development of clean energy assets within Alameda County. The plan was developed through dozens of public meetings, focus groups and workshops and includes a series of innovative strategies that seek to encourage local development that benefits disadvantaged communities – including special incentives for rooftop solar systems for low-income customers.

The plan prioritizes local development efforts that will create good, green energy jobs, reduce greenhouse gas emissions and deliver low-cost clean energy solutions to all Alameda County residents. The plan includes detailed metrics to measure the ongoing impact of local development and will continue to draw upon the input of the Alameda County community to set investment priorities.

“This Local Development Business Plan represents the beginning of EBCE’s journey to deliver the benefits of clean energy to Alameda County through investments in electric vehicles, solar and more energy efficient buildings” says Nick Chaset, CEO of EBCE.

The LDBP also outlines key opportunities for local power development and a roadmap for maximizing EBCE’s community benefits goals in its early years of existence within the CCA program.

“The LDBP is a start toward community ownership of clean local energy resources, which will ensure the benefits of energy generation — like living wage jobs and a clean environment — benefit some of our most vulnerable community members,” says Anne Olivia Eldred, Chair of the Community Advisory Committee of EBCE.

“We applaud EBCE for prioritizing local renewable energy as it prepares its official launch of services to residents in Alameda County in November. The tools developed in the LDBP are key to long-term operations within EBCE’s service territory,” says EBCE Board Chair & County Supervisor Scott Haggerty.

EBCE holds its board meetings on the first and third Wednesdays of each month. All meetings are open to the public.

About EBCE – East Bay Community Energy (EBCE) is a public agency power supplier committed to providing electricity generated from a high percentage of renewable sources such as solar and wind. Set to roll out from June through November 2018, Alameda County residents and businesses will soon have a greener choice for the source of electricity that powers their homes and businesses.

EBCE Media Contact
Annie Henderson

EBCE PR Contact
Rochelle Germano

East Bay Community Energy Wants to Power the Community

Source: East Bay Express

EBCE CEO Nick Chaset said community involvement was central to the creation of the local development business plan.

By the end of this year, most homes and businesses in Alameda County will be buying electricity, not from PG&E, but from the newly formed East Bay Community Energy (EBCE). This public “community choice aggregation” program, like those now operating in other Bay Area counties, was created to provide electricity at lower cost and with fewer greenhouse-gas emissions than the traditional investor-owned utility. (EBCE will buy electricity from suppliers and sell it to customers, while PG&E will continue to own the wires — “the grid” — and handle billing, as well as problems like outages.)

But EBCE is a new kind of community choice program, according to the unprecedented coalition of labor and community organizers whose years of advocacy helped to shape it. “The centerpiece of what makes EBCE different is the ability of the community to benefit from the development of renewable energy,” explained Al Weinrub, executive director of the nonprofit Local Clean Energy Alliance.

Last month, EBCE released a plan for making that happen. The draft “local development business plan” details strategies for creating local jobs, providing pathways to good jobs for disadvantaged workers, providing the benefits of clean energy to people at all income levels, and reducing pollution in communities where it’s worst.

Initially, EBCE will not have the capital for big investments. But it can immediately start working toward those goals by using its power as a purchaser of electricity. For example, EBCE proposes to pay higher rates for locally produced electricity and to give preference to union contractors, especially those with links to training programs for disadvantaged workers. It might also serve as a “developer” to help customers join together to create large solar-energy projects, thereby lowering installation costs through economies of scale.

The East Bay Clean Power Alliance, a coalition of community organizations that has been leading the campaign for local development, says the draft plan includes a lot of great ideas, but faults it for failing to set priorities or standards for evaluating programs. And Dave Thoni, former president of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 595, said, “significantly more needs to happen” to create jobs for local workers.

One of EBCE’s first projects will be helping cities put together big contracts to install rooftop solar panels on many municipal buildings. The same model could be used to combine residential rooftop solar projects in a neighborhood. EBCE will help by organizing these collaborative projects, streamlining permitting and administrative costs, and creating a revolving loan fund. In addition to lowering costs, the goal is to make projects large enough to be done with a union contract, so solar installers can earn more than many currently do. This creates the potential to overcome the chronic conflict between environmental groups and unions about local solar energy. In the past, some unions have opposed plans for rooftop solar because the workers who install the panels are often poorly paid.

Because community involvement was central to the development of the plan, said EBCE CEO Nick Chaset, it reflects community priorities such as “equitable access to things like rooftop solar.” Electricity companies now pay a standard rate to customers with solar panels for extra electricity they sell back to the system. The plan calls for giving low-income customers a higher rate — an “adder” — for the electricity they sell, to make up for some of the cost of installing solar panels.

The plan also calls for a pilot program of “community shared solar” in order to “bring the benefits of solar to people who aren’t homeowners or couldn’t afford to do solar on their own,” said Megan O’Neil of the East Bay Shared Solar Collaborative. Those households will be able to join a project to build solar panels on a central location in the community — say, the roof of a church or public building — and then share the savings.

And the plan calls for a Community Investment Fund to provide grants for innovative energy projects by community groups.

EBCE is already starting to enroll commercial customers. Residential customers will come online in November, unless they “opt out” to stay with PG&E. Bills will immediately go down, unless the customer chooses to pay more for electricity that’s even greener.

For most customers, EBCE’s default rate is set at 1.5 percent below PG&E’s rate, and will include more electricity from renewable sources. Or customers can decide to keep paying the same rate as PG&E so they can get electricity that’s 100 percent “carbon-free.” However, that includes power from large hydroelectric projects, which the state does not count as renewable because of the environmental destruction and greenhouse-gas impact of building and operating big dams. So, after a push by environmental groups, EBCE added a third, higher-priced choice that’s all from “renewable” sources such as wind and solar.

In any case, the initial savings on electric bills will be modest, said Barbara Stebbins, a volunteer with the Local Clean Energy Alliance. Larger savings will come to those who take advantage of EBCE’s programs to help retrofit buildings to be more energy-efficient.

In addition, EBCE plans to lower the cost of electricity for the whole community by tackling the problem of peak demand. Electricity use varies a lot by time of day and time of year. Solar panels produce energy during the day, while more electricity is used in the evening. All these timing problems mean electricity providers end up meeting peak demand by buying electricity on the short-term market, when it’s most expensive and carbon-intensive.

The EBCE plan includes several strategies for solving this problem: Customers with solar panels who install batteries will also get an “adder” on the rate they receive for selling electricity back to the system. They also may be able to gradually pay off the cost of the battery as a small extra charge on their property tax or electricity bill. Customers who install batteries won’t have to draw extra electricity from the system at night or when they turn up their air conditioner.

Beyond that, EBCE is looking to develop a “virtual power plant”: Customers will get financial incentives to use less electricity during times of high demand, and to allow the system to draw electricity from their batteries when it needs additional power.

Despite the shared excitement about these innovative strategies, some renewable energy advocates say EBCE isn’t doing enough to promote local solar- and wind-energy projects. Thoni of the IBEW pointed out that the agency’s proposed 2018-19 budget allocates just $2 million for local development and includes no specifics about which projects the money will fund.

EBCE’s first request for bids from electricity producers demonstrates how it’s using its purchasing power to promote community priorities: It says EBCE will give preference to suppliers that develop new renewable energy capacity, have union contracts, hire Alameda County residents, and work with job-training programs for disadvantaged workers. But Thoni pointed out that the request for bids includes a goal of developing just 20 megawatts of renewable energy generation capacity in Alameda County, which would supply less than 1 percent of the amount of electricity needed.

Chaset struck a cautious note in discussing local energy generation. “We expect to be able to buy large-scale solar [from elsewhere] in California for very, very competitive rates,” he said. “We can have more impact if we use large cheap solar than expensive rooftop solar.”

Thoni responded that consolidating rooftop solar into large local projects can provide economies of scale that bring down the cost to be comparable with utility-scale solar, as has been done in Germany. And when Alameda County buys electricity from corporations with huge solar arrays in the desert, many of them fossil fuel companies like Mobil and Exxon, “every penny goes out of the county,” he said. EBCE’s mandate is not just to develop local jobs, but to further what Thoni says his union is already doing — providing pathways to good jobs for disadvantaged workers.

In its comment on the local development plan, the East Bay Clean Power Alliance praised many parts of the proposal but pointed to some “important enhancements needed.” It says the plan’s list of key strategies should highlight those aimed at “increasing equity and … social justice.” These include “adders” (higher rates paid for electricity) to promote community benefits, partnership with customers (like the “virtual power plant” deals), and measures to protect the most vulnerable communities.

In addition, the coalition calls for quantifiable standards for measuring the success of the plan, such as local hires, projects in disadvantaged communities, project ownership by low-income people, hires from communities of color, and progressive electricity rate structures.

The coalition that pushed for the local development plan — including the Local Clean Energy Alliance, the Sierra Club, the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, the California Nurses Association, and others — intends to continue the advocacy that has helped shape EBCE.

Utility companies, meanwhile, are not sitting idly by while solar panels and community choice systems take away their customers. They’ve proposed a stream of legislation and regulations that would hamper the development of community choice programs. Other proposals seek to limit or eliminate payments to customers with solar panels for selling extra energy back to the system.

A state law bars utility companies from lobbying against community choice, but the IBEW local that represents PG&E workers has served as a stand-in for the company. And the utilities have recently asked the California Public Utilities Commission to lift that ban. Recently, the CPUC adopted a rule that forces new community choice agencies to wait longer before coming online, making it trickier to finance new programs.

But meanwhile, said Chaset, community choice programs like EBCE are starting to provide “an opportunity for customers and communities to have a say in how much their energy costs and where it comes from.”

The EBCE board is taking comments on the local development business plan and is expected to vote on it at its July 18 meeting.