An Inside Look at a Groundbreaking Solar-Storage Procurement in California

Source: Greentech Media

By: Jeff St. John

A group of CCAs are looking to aggregate 30 megawatts of distributed energy resources. Here are the details.


The Bay Area CCAs want at least some of the new systems in place by next year's fire season.
The Bay Area CCAs want at least some of the new systems in place by next year’s fire season.

Early this month, three community-choice aggregators and one municipal utility serving much of California’s San Francisco Bay Area launched a 30-megawatt distributed energy storage-plus-solar solicitation.

It breaks ground on multiple fronts. First, it’s one of the largest-ever efforts to aggregate distributed energy resources (DERs) at a scale that can help California’s power grid meet its capacity needs.

Second, it’s being launched by CCAs, the city or county energy procurement entities that are taking over an increasing share of customers from the state’s investor-owned utilities — and thus an increasing share of responsibility for securing the state’s long-term clean energy needs.

Then, of course, there are the blackouts. East Bay Community Energy, Peninsula Clean Energy and Silicon Valley Clean Energy are all served by bankrupt utility Pacific Gas & Electric, which has cut off power to millions of its customers over the past two months as part of a statewide fire-prevention regime. PG&E has warned that these blackouts could continue for another 10 years, despite its efforts to reduce their scope and scale over time.

The safety threats from blackouts have outraged state lawmakers and regulators, forcing counties and cities to foot the bill for emergency services to deal with them. And because CCAs’ interests are aligned with the cities and counties they serve, they’re positioned to act far more quickly than utilities to supply their most vulnerable customers with solar-storage systems that can help them survive blackouts.

That’s important, because the CCAs want at least some of these new solar-storage systems to be in place for next year’s fire season.

However, many of the details on how these novel solar-storage deployments will work, and which customers will end up getting them, are still to be determined.

The CCAs have set targets for at least 20 percent of this investment into DERs to be made in low-income and disadvantaged communities. Half of the new systems are to come from single-family homes, and the other half from multifamily and small commercial customers.

Beyond those guidelines, the CCAs are giving potential vendors plenty of flexibility, said J.P. Ross, East Bay Community Energy’s senior director of local development, electrification and innovation.

“We are really open to creative approaches to this problem,” Ross said. There’s been a lot of interest, and they are “looking forward to seeing what comes back” by the Dec. 23 deadline for proposals.

In an interview with GTM, Ross sketched out some key details of what East Bay Community Energy (EBCE) and its partners are looking for. Here are the highlights.

Is this a first-of-a-kind project, in terms of aggregating solar-storage for grid needs? 

It depends on how you look at it.

Certainly this month’s solicitation is the first by a CCA for megawatt-scale DERs, Ross said. But it’s not the first in California.

Southern California Edison, for example, has contracted for hundreds of megawatts of behind-the-meter batteries from Stem and Advanced Microgrid Solutions, load-shifting air conditioning systems from Ice Energy and NRG, and other DERs, as part of a 2-gigawatt procurement to make up for the unexpected closure of the San Onofre nuclear power plant in 2013. And the Demand Response Auction Mechanism pilot project has allowed multiple vendors to aggregate batteries, plug-in electric vehicles, and smart-thermostat-enabled homes and businesses in fulfillment of Resource Adequacy requirements.

But beyond breaking ground for CCAs, the new procurement could happen much faster than previous utility-led efforts to aggregate DERs. For example, beyond Advanced Microgrid Solutions’ systems, which rely on large-scale batteries at a handful of commercial buildings, Southern California Edison’s DER procurements, ordered by the CPUC in 2014, have yet to deliver aggregated DERs to market in advance of a 2021 deadline.

EBCE has done some advance work to prepare for integrating DERs at grid scale, Ross said. This summer, it contracted with solar installer Sunrun to provide 500 kilowatts, or 2 megawatt-hours, of solar-storage capacity to meet the CCAs’ Resource Adequacy requirements, starting in 2022.

What are the models for how behind-the-meter solar-battery systems can serve grid needs? 

Right now, EBCE is assuming that its vendors, including Sunrun, will use a mechanism known as Proxy Demand Response (PDR), Ross said. That’s a well-established method for selling the load-reduction capacity from solar-storage systems into the markets run by state grid operator CAISO, having been piloted by behind-the-meter storage startup Stem and PG&E in 2014.

Still, “solar and storage in this program is a bit of a square peg in a round hole,” Ross said.

Because PDR is a demand response program, it can only pay for demand reduction, not for any energy that solar or batteries can provide the grid. It also requires some machinations behind the scenes, like shutting off batteries a certain number of days per week to establish the “baselines” against which that load reduction is measured, that could restrain the systems from providing their full range of services, he said.

That’s why, while EBCE is assuming that PDR will be the preferred mechanism from vendors, “We have made it clear that if vendors have an alternative approach, we’re open to hearing them.”

The California Public Utilities Commission is in the midst of rewriting the rules for how utilities, CCAs and other load-serving entities meet their Resource Adequacy requirements, which is mostly provided by natural-gas-fired peaker plants today. But with more of those plants set to close, California is increasingly looking to solar-plus-storage to meet those needs — including distributed solar-storage.

Could part of the 30 MW procurement come from existing resources?  

That’s definitely possible.

According to EBCE’s data, about 10 megawatts of behind-the-meter batteries are already interconnected in its Alameda County service territory, about the same amount as EBCE is seeking to procure through the RFP.

“There might be some proposals that come to us that have storage in the pipeline, or even already interconnected,” Ross said. “If that’s the case, we might have some of that enrolled and available to us for the next Resource Adequacy year” in 2020.

Can SGIP-backed projects for high fire-threat zones be included? 

Yes, according to Ross.

Back in September, the CPUC ordered the state’s Self-Generation Incentive Program (SGIP) to earmark $100 million from its “equity budget” for low-income and medically vulnerable customers in high-fire-risk parts of the state. That incentive of $1 per watt, which could cover almost the entire cost of a typical solar-battery system, could theoretically apply to qualified customers in Alameda County’s highest-fire-threat areas as well, he said.

And while many of California’s utility-run DER aggregation pilots have excluded SGIP-funded systems, CAISO’s PDR program doesn’t exclude them from participating, he said.

At the same time, $100 million spread across California “is a lot of money — but it’s not that much money when we think about what’s necessary for building resilience, in light of these [public safety power shutoff] events.”

Four Bay Area Community Energy Agencies Kick Off New Program to Provide Local Resiliency

Program will result in thousands of homes and businesses installing backup power

Mountain View Vice Mayor and SVCE Board Chair Margaret Abe-Koga, Portola Valley Vice Mayor and PCE Board Chair Jeff Aalfs, Oakland Councilmember and EBCE Board Chair Dan Kalb, and Santa Clara Councilmember Teresa O’Neill applaud Fremont Fire Chief Curtis Jacobson for his leadership and support of microgrid technology.

Fremont, CA (November 5, 2019) – Local Bay Area energy agencies are joining forces to stabilize California’s grid by providing residents and businesses with economical and emissions-free battery backup systems. East Bay Community Energy (EBCE), Peninsula Clean Energy, Silicon Valley Power (SVP), and Silicon Valley Clean Energy (SVCE) are issuing a joint solicitation for the installation of over 30 megawatts of battery storage for their customers. The program will provide resilient solar power combined with battery storage to approximately 6,000 homes and hundreds of businesses in Alameda, San Mateo, and Santa Clara counties, including those hit by recent Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E) power shutoffs.

This innovative program also enables the use of local resources to fulfill state “Resource Adequacy” requirements. Resource Adequacy refers to energy generating capacity that local agencies and utilities must contract to ensure the safe and reliable operation of California’s  electrical grid in real time. This requirement has historically been filled through purchasing Resource Adequacy from distant power plants. This new program shifts the purchase of Resource Adequacy to new local solar power and battery storage systems that provide the benefits of backup power directly to local homes and businesses as well as bill savings.

The announcement was made outside the Fremont Fire Station #6, where a microgrid powered by a solar and battery system ensures the lights stay on for emergency responders through the outages that have affected more than one million customers in PG&E territory alone during the past several weeks.

The Request for Proposals, issued today, calls for proposals to install battery systems on local homes and businesses that may be combined with new or existing solar systems. The systems will lower energy bills, increase reliability, and help stabilize the power supply for the community at large. A minimum of fifty percent of the systems are earmarked for residents and the remaining capacity for multifamily properties and commercial buildings. Partner vendor(s) will be selected in early 2020, with the intent of announcing the program details in spring 2020, and projects to be underway soon after with the intent of preempting the next fire season.

EBCE, Peninsula Clean Energy, and SVCE are Community Choice Energy providers; public agencies that for the past few years have provided businesses and residents in Alameda, San Mateo, and Santa Clara counties respectively with clean power at rates below PG&E’s. The agencies have collectively saved customers tens of millions of dollars each year on electricity while funding the development of hundreds of megawatts of new renewable energy projects. They are joined by SVP, the long-standing municipal utility serving the City of Santa Clara.

While the solicitation is not prescriptive, it lists goals of supporting low-income residents, customers with life-dependent medical equipment, and residents and businesses located in disadvantaged communities. One potential model for the program is EBCE’s ten-year agreement with San Francisco-based Sunrun for 0.5 megawatts of energy storage in and around Oakland drawn from new solar plus storage installations on low-income housing. The program will also complement Peninsula Clean Energy’s commitment of up to $10 million to provide clean backup power in Santa Mateo County, as well as additional customer programs provided by SVCE and SVP.

The Request for Proposals can be found at, or, or

Customers within Alameda County interested in participating in the program can sign up to receive updates at, in San Mateo County at, and in portions of Santa Clara County at


About East Bay Community Energy (EBCE)

EBCE is a not-for-profit public agency that operates a Community Choice Energy program for Alameda County and eleven incorporated cities, serving more than 550,000 residential and commercial customers throughout the county. EBCE initiated service in June 2018 and is one of 19 community choice aggregation (CCA) programs operating in California. CCAs are expediting the climate action goals of their communities and those of California. EBCE is committed to providing clean power at competitive rates while reinvesting in our local communities. For more information about East Bay Community Energy, visit

Contact:          Dan Lieberman,, M: 925-579-1591

About Peninsula Clean Energy

Peninsula Clean Energy is San Mateo County’s official electricity provider. It is a public local community choice energy agency that provides all electric customers in San Mateo County with cleaner electricity at lower rates than those charged by the local incumbent utility. Peninsula Clean Energy saves customers an estimated $18 million a year. Peninsula Clean Energy, formed in March 2016, is a joint powers authority made up of the County of San Mateo and all 20 cities and towns in the County. The agency serves approximately 290,000 accounts.

Contact:          Kirsten Andrews-Schwind,, M: 650-260-0096

About Silicon Valley Clean Energy (SVCE)

Silicon Valley Clean Energy is a community-owned agency serving the majority of Santa Clara County communities, acquiring clean, carbon-free electricity on behalf of more than 270,000 residential and commercial customers. As a public agency, net revenues are returned to the community to keep rates competitive and promote clean energy programs. Member jurisdictions include Campbell, Cupertino, Gilroy, Los Altos, Los Altos Hills, Los Gatos, Milpitas, Monte Sereno, Morgan Hill, Mountain View, Saratoga, Sunnyvale and unincorporated Santa Clara County. SVCE is guided by a Board of Directors, which is comprised of a representative from the governing body of each member community. For more information, please visit

Contact:          Pamela Leonard,, M: 530-306-0122

About Silicon Valley Power (SVP)

Silicon Valley Power (SVP) is the trademark adopted for use by the not-for-profit electric municipal utility of Santa Clara, CA, serving residents and businesses for over 120 years. SVP provides power to nearly 55,000 customers, at rates 25 to 48 percent below neighboring communities. SVP is the only full service, vertically integrated publicly owned utility in Silicon Valley owning generation, transmission and distribution assets. See more at:

Contact:          Astra Kredel,, M: 408-615-2719


Statements Regarding this Request for Proposals


Who Statement
Jeff Aalfs,

Chair of PCE Board and Portola Valley Vice Mayor

“Power in large parts of San Mateo County was turned off three times this October. We hear our customers’ concerns and are creating this opportunity to help them become more resilient.”
Margaret Abe-Koga,

Chair of SVCE Board and Mountain View Vice Mayor

“In order for us to implement a clean, all-electric future, solar-plus-storage is key to helping our customers achieve these goals. In the long term, this is a necessary step we must take to act on climate change and protect future generations.”
Jesse Arreguin,

EBCE Board member and Berkeley Mayor

“The need for sustainable, reliable, and resilient energy sources is crucial for the future of California. That is why I am excited for EBCE to launch this Request for Proposals to create a bidding process that will enable us to provide our customers with environmentally friendly electricity while keeping money in our local economy.”
Girish Balachandran,

CEO of Silicon Valley Clean Energy

“As local public agencies our obligation is to serve our communities, and we see arranging this bulk purchase of reliable battery systems for our residents and businesses as a smart way to meet a critical need. Partnering with private sector innovators is a way we can deliver solutions to our customers quickly.”
Adam Browning,

Executive Director of Vote Solar

“If the blackouts have you wondering why we don’t rely more on local solar and storage, well, wonder no more. These local public power agencies are rising to today’s challenge with tomorrow’s solutions.”
Nick Chaset,

CEO of East Bay Community Energy

“As the local energy provider, EBCE has the needs and interests of our communities at heart. With this RFP, we are pioneering innovative new approaches, at scale, to ensuring resiliency by partnering with customers on solar and storage solutions. This approach will not only enhance system reliability, but also support local jobs.”
Dan Kalb,

Chair of EBCE Board and Oakland Councilmember

“We’ve faced and are facing tragic wildfires, problematic Power Shutoffs, an investor-owned utility that prioritizes large shareholders over the public, and a global climate crisis that impacts us locally.”

“We have a lot to do, including additional policies and regulations to further reduce heat-trapping emissions; hardening of our electrical transmission and distribution system; improved dedication to effective vegetation management, more clean energy locally, and serious consideration of taking over elements of PG&E by creating new public power authorities.”

“This spate of power outages is simply unacceptable, particularly for the most vulnerable members of our community who depend on electricity for their health and wellbeing. EBCE and our partners around the Bay are launching this local resiliency initiative as just one way to combat the real challenges within our power grid.”

Derek Krause,

Oakland resident

“As a former first responder who’s just endured a PG&E public safety power shutoff for 48 hours, I believe that rooftop solar and battery storage is a necessity for safety, security, and sustainability. During PG&E’s mandatory power shutoff, my family was able to maintain our normal daily functions through our Sunrun Brightbox solar battery system. Local residents like me with this technology are less susceptible to the weaknesses of the current centralized power system. For these reasons and more, I am a strong believer in the value, safety and security of solar battery backup systems.”
Jan Pepper,

CEO of Peninsula Clean Energy

“Innovative clean energy solutions that are applied at the local-level is one reason we formed Peninsula Clean Energy.  This large initiative is a positive step in bringing costs down and goes hand-in-hand with our recently announced commitment of up to $10 million in battery backup storage for vulnerable residents and public facilities.”
Manuel Pineda,

Chief Electric Utility Officer, Silicon Valley Power

Our local public agencies are stepping up to the plate together, to provide greater resiliency, reliability, and sustainability where we need it most, in our communities. This is public power at its best.”


California’s blackouts could make fighting climate change even harder

Source: Los Angeles Times

The state’s electric grid was experiencing rapid and unprecedented changes even before Pacific Gas & Electric and Southern California Edison began shutting off power to millions of people in a desperate scramble to prevent their transmission lines from sparking wildfires.

Solar and wind power were booming. Gas-fired power plants were shutting down. Investor-owned utility companies such as PG&E and Edison were being replaced by city-run alternatives. And the falling cost of lithium-ion batteries was making some households less reliant on the grid than ever before.

The changes will only accelerate in the coming years, as California ramps up efforts to fight climate change by cleaning up its energy supply.

But the state’s plans for slashing climate emissions depend on a stable electric grid delivering clean electricity to the cars, homes and businesses of the world’s fifth-largest economy. The jarring new reality of preemptive blackouts could frustrate those plans by throwing the grid’s reliability into doubt.

“The issue of reliability is really put front and center by the anxiety that people are starting to feel about their electrical system, even if they’re not subject to the blackouts,” said Michael Wara, a Stanford University professor who was appointed by Gov. Gavin Newsom to a commission on wildfire costs.


A building is engulfed in flames at a vineyard during the Kincade fire near Geyserville, Calif., on Oct. 24, 2019.
(Josh Edelson/AFP/Getty Images)

That anxiety could complicate efforts to “electrify everything,” the mantra adopted by a growing number of climate activists and state policymakers.

The basic idea is that as the electricity supply gets cleaner — more than half of California’s power came from climate-friendly sources last year, and lawmakers have mandated 100% by 2045 — the state can use clean electricity to replace oil and gas in transportation and buildings. Think electric vehicles instead of cars and trucks that run on petroleum, and electric heat pumps and cooktops instead of traditional gas furnaces, water heaters and stoves.

The natural gas industry has warned that electrifying buildings could be a big mistake, citing the Public Safety Power Shutoffs, as the precautionary blackouts are formally known.

Southern California Gas Co. — which is engaged in a sweeping campaign to preserve the role of its pipelines in powering society — told the state’s Public Utilities Commission in August that communities affected by preemptive blackouts “need a hedge other than electricity for obvious reasons: Electricity is the one energy supply that will be turned off.” Those communities could use gas-powered microgrids to keep the lights on, the gas company suggested.

Similarly, the advocacy group Californians for Balanced Energy Solutions — which has received funding and political support from SoCalGas — tweeted about PG&E’s first round of preemptive blackouts this month, writing that policymakers should be wary of “putting all eggs in one energy source basket.”

“We must consider all energy methods to mitigate drastic and widespread impact,” the pro-gas group wrote in another tweet the next day.

No easy answers

Those types of warnings could have “a serious potential negative consequence” on efforts to slash planet-warming carbon emissions, said Severin Borenstein, a UC Berkeley energy economist who serves on the board of the California Independent System Operator, which oversees the power grid.

“The best hope we have of dramatic decarbonization is through electricity,” Borenstein said. “And that is going to be through an electrical grid.”

For that reason, it’s important not to let reliability concerns get in the way of electrification, Borenstein, Wara and some other energy experts say.

They point out that many gas appliances actually need electricity to operate, as do smart thermostats such as Google’s Nest. Although gas fireplaces and cooktops work during an electricity outage, gas furnaces generally don’t. Neither do tankless gas water heaters, unless they have battery backup.

Electrification proponents also say phasing gas out of homes and businesses will take decades. Public Safety Power Shutoffs, on the other hand, could become less common within a few years as electric utilities harden their infrastructure, even if the phenomenon doesn’t go away entirely.


Southern California Gas Co.’s Line 235, seen on July 8, 2019, brings natural gas through the desert toward the Los Angeles Basin. The pipeline was out of service for two years following an October 2017 explosion near Newberry Springs, Calif.
(Brian van der Brug/Los Angeles Times)

Gas pipelines have their own reliability problems, said Maximilian Auffhammer, an environmental economist at UC Berkeley. He cited the PG&E pipeline explosion that killed eight people in San Bruno in 2010, and the massive methane leak at SoCalGas’ Aliso Canyon storage field in 2015-16.

“Nothing’s perfect. There is no perfectly safe way of delivering electricity or gas to people’s homes,” Auffhammer said.

Asked about the electric grid shutoffs, SoCalGas spokesman Chris Gilbride said it’s increasingly clear that the state needs “more than an oversimplified, one-size-fits-all approach to energy use in buildings that balances our climate goals with the diverse needs of California’s 40 million residents.”

“This is not a debate about which appliances work best in a power outage or natural gas versus electricity for that matter,” Gilbride said in an email. “This is about how best to keep Californians safe and provide every family and business with the affordable, reliable and resilient energy services they need.”

Electrification advocates, though, see a looming battle between natural gas and electricity, with the power shutoffs as a wild card. They say local governments and state policymakers must limit the effect of the preemptive blackouts and make sure California’s climate programs aren’t derailed.

Perhaps the most obvious solution is helping homes and businesses install backup power systems, such as solar panels paired with batteries. The state ought to provide funding for low-income households that can’t afford to spend tens of thousands of dollars on those systems, Borenstein said.

“We pay for a lot of infrastructure through the state budget,” he said. “We do lots of low-income support programs through the state budget.”

Looking to local government

Government-run energy providers known as community choice aggregators, or CCAs — which now serve about one-quarter of California residents — say they could play a major role in helping homes and businesses install rooftop solar systems and batteries to protect themselves against blackouts.

CCAs don’t operate the poles and wires at the heart of the state’s wildfire crisis — that’s still the job of investor-owned utilities across most of the state. But they are responsible for electricity rates and customer incentive programs, and many of them have chosen to prioritize local energy resources.

The CCA serving Alameda County, East Bay Community Energy, recently signed a contract with the San Francisco-based company Sunrun to buy 500 kilowatts of “resource adequacy” from rooftop solar panels and batteries the company plans to install at low-income single-family and multifamily homes.

Basically, the CCA will pay Sunrun for the right to draw power from the solar-plus-storage systems. And when PG&E’s electric grid goes down during a preemptive power shutoff or other emergency, those low-income homes will be able to keep the lights on, East Bay Chief Executive Nick Chaset said.

A crew from Sunrun home solar company installs a solar system on a Van Nuys house. Some in the indus

A Sunrun crew installs a rooftop solar system at a house in Van Nuys.
(Irfan Khan/Los Angeles Times)

East Bay is planning a much larger purchase of similar solar-plus-storage resources. This time, the CCA may tell potential vendors to prioritize homes most likely to have their power shut off preemptively by PG&E, or perhaps customers who depend on medical devices that run on electricity, Chaset said.

“So far, we have not seen PG&E come out and do this,” he said. “This is more in the wheelhouse of a CCA.”

Some experts are thinking about ways to make PG&E and other for-profit utility companies more supportive of customer-owned power sources.

Take Lorenzo Kristov, an energy consultant who spent nearly two decades as a top policy expert at the California Independent System Operator.

Kristov has been working with two clean energy advocacy groups on a proposal to convert PG&E to an “open access distribution system operator.” It’s a fancy way of saying that the beleaguered utility — which filed for bankruptcy protection earlier this year in the face of tens of billions of dollars in potential wildfire liabilities — would largely become a poles-and-wires company, more interested in facilitating electricity transactions than in selling power.

In Kristov’s vision, PG&E shareholders would be rewarded when the utility works with clean energy developers and local governments to promote “distributed energy resources” such as rooftop solar panels, community microgrids and solar-plus-storage systems at hospitals and other crucial facilities.

“Part of the answer to this anxiety on power shutoffs is, ‘How do we become less dependent on the grid?’” Kristov said. “Not, ‘How do we become less dependent on electricity?’”

Utility customers who reduce their dependence on the grid could avoid another pitfall of electrification: The likelihood of electric rate increases as PG&E and Edison spend billions of dollars insulating wires, trimming trees, building weather stations and taking other steps to limit wildfire ignition risk.

Mike O’Boyle, director of electricity policy for San Francisco-based research firm Energy Innovation, said electrification is key to California’s climate goals. But consumers already pay more for electricity than they do for gas. A widening price gap could “tip the scales” against electrification, O’Boyle said.

“We need to have affordable, cheap, clean electricity,” he said. “If we don’t have that, it’s going to stand in the way of progress.”

Power transmission lines crest a hilltop above Camp Creek Road, the point of origin of the Camp fire

Power transmission lines crest a hilltop above Camp Creek Road, the point of origin of the Camp fire, in Pulga, Calif., on Nov. 11, 2018.
(Noah Berger/Associated Press)

A grid in transition

Wildfires and blackouts are far from the only challenges facing California as the state works toward a goal of 100% clean energy by 2045.

In the short term, energy regulators are worried the planned shutdown of three Southern California gas plants will threaten reliability by making the state too dependent on solar and wind farms, which generate electricity only when the sun is shining or the wind is blowing. In the long run, there’s no good solution yet for how to run a grid dominated by solar and wind power, particularly during periods when the sun and wind disappear for days at a time.

Then there’s the Diablo Canyon nuclear plant, which can generate electricity around the clock and is California’s single largest source of climate-friendly power.

State officials approved an agreement between PG&E and environmental groups to replace the nuclear plant’s output with a combination of renewable energy and storage. But the details of that replacement power are yet to be determined, and critics say natural gas use is likely to rise.

Consumers, meanwhile, are increasingly being asked to change the way they use energy.

Electric utilities are implementing time-varying rates meant to encourage people to use more energy in the afternoon, when solar power is plentiful, and less in the evening.

Electric cars and home batteries could help consumers balance out their demand — if they charge and discharge strategically. Some experts have also called for larger “demand response” programs where utilities pay customers to cut back when extra power is needed on the grid.

Transitioning to an emissions-free power grid was never going to be easy, said Carl Zichella, director of western transmission for the Natural Resources Defense Council, a nonprofit environmental group. The threat posed by fires to grid reliability makes the work even harder, he said, but not impossible.

“This is something we cannot shirk. We have to get ahead of it,” Zichella said. “I don’t see any diminishment of the intensity or interest in doing this.”

The Future of Buildings Is Electric

JP Ross speaks at an electrification forum in Berkeley, April 2019

California cities, including EBCE members, are pursuing aggressive decarbonization goals to help fight climate change.  A big part of that is replacing natural gas use with low-carbon electricity in buildings.

“If we are burning fuels in buildings and vehicles, we won’t solve climate change,” says JP Ross, EBCE’s Senior Director for Local Development, Electrification and Innovation. “We need to get the fuels out.”

EBCE is helping member cities by providing $400,000 worth of technical assistance on building electrification strategies, including consulting support and grants to cities.  So far seven cities have taken up the offer.

The main thrust is to help cities develop “reach” codes that encourage electrification. The state Energy Commission sets building energy codes for new construction, ratcheting up the efficiency requirements every three years.  

“A reach code is when a city goes above and beyond requirements in the state code,” explains Ross. “The reach codes we are supporting our cities to implement will require all-electric construction, or at least heavily de-incentive gas as well as require electric vehicle charging infrastructure in new construction.” 

While electrification is coming along, much work remains to convince builders and homeowners to make the switch.

“Developers support the concept, but are nervous about implementation,” says Ross. “An all-electric building is cheaper to build, since you don’t have the gas lines. They like that part but are nervous to be doing something new or unproven, and worry about how cities will respond to it. Will it delay their permits and plan checks?  EBCE support for cities is intended to smooth the way.”

For customers, the challenge to overcome is cooking, even though it is a small part of residential gas consumption. “People don’t care so much about space heating and water heating, as long as they work,” says Ross. “But there is a heart pull about cooking, and people think of their grandmother’s lousy electric resistance stove, and they don’t want that. The good news is that modern induction cooktops and stoves are far superior for cooking, even beating gas cooktops for power and performance ”  

To get people familiar with newer electric induction cooktops, EBCE is planning to develop a mobile induction cooking demonstration kitchen  to take to farmers’ markets and other public events, so residents can see how superior new electric cooking can be.


An induction cooktop played a cameo role in Berkeley’s big step toward electrification.  In July the Berkeley City Council prohibited natural gas connections for new low-rise buildings. At the council meeting on the topic, Councilmember Kate Harrison had her staff demonstrate induction cooking by making chocolate fondue.

This “gas ban” garnered international headlines, and has inspired a wave of other cities to look at following suit. As many as 50 California cities are looking at it, including Oakland, along with Seattle and Brookline, MA.

The move is in line with Berkeley’s voter-approved climate action plan from 2006, which aims to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 80% below 2000 levels by 2050. More recently the city council declared a Climate Emergency and set a goal of becoming “fossil fuel free” by 2030.

Harrison, author of the legislation, was motivated not just by the climate benefits, but by the benefits to safety, energy resilience, and indoor air quality. The natural gas system, since it is largely underground, is at high risk of disruption from earthquakes, a major concern for city officials as the Hayward fault cuts through the Berkeley hills. 

In a 2014 report, the Association of Bay Area Governments (ABAG) estimated that a magnitude 7.9 earthquake (comparable to the 1906 earthquake) could knock out electricity supplies for a week and natural gas supplies for up to six months.

Gas can also harm indoor air quality, contributing to asthma and other respiratory diseases.


But the reach codes and gas ban, so far, cover only new construction.  A bigger concern is how to get the gas out of existing buildings.

A recent state utility commission ruling may be a major step in that direction.  

Until recently, the state’s billion-dollar annual energy efficiency fund could not be used for fuel switching, such as replacing gas appliances with electric — even if there was a major efficiency boost.  An electric heat pump water heater is four times more efficient than a gas heater, for example.

In an August vote, the commission opened up the fund to beneficial fuel switching. Once new programs are developed, this decision could unleash hundreds of millions of dollars to help with building electrification.

“That’s going to be huge for electrification,” says Ross.

He also cites SB1477, passed in 2018, that earmarks $50 million per year for the Technology and Equipment for Clean Heating (TECH) Initiative, a statewide market development program for low-emission space and water heating equipment.

“We need a market transformation in the heat pump space,” says Ross.  “Those are big loads and the pricing is still high. It’s still early days, and that means higher cost.”

The reach codes could also help with market transformation, especially if they go statewide.  

Ross credits city reach codes that required solar on new homes, from Lancaster, Fremont, Santa Monica and others, for spurring the state Energy Commission to include a similar solar requirement in the 2019 state code.  He thinks the same can happen with reach codes for all-electric construction.

“The long play is that we want all-electric code to be statewide,” he says. “The CEC saw the solar mandate in the cities and saw that it worked.  We hope in the 2023 code there will be enough momentum from these reach codes to go all electric across the state.”

Power Shutoffs to Prevent Wildfires Put a Premium on Energy Resilience

Photo by evdropkick, Flickr CC.

Over the last two years, wildfires have decimated some California communities and killed dozens of people. Some of the fires were started by power lines touching trees or dropping sparks onto dry grass. 

As a result, utilities are increasing the use of “public safety power shutoffs,” shutting off high voltage power lines on hot, dry, and windy days, when the threat of wildfires is high.

A single high-voltage power line may serve many communities and thousands of homes and businesses, traffic lights, water pumps, cell phone towers, and all the myriad things that make our society tick. PG&E has warned that power could be out for two or three days, or in a worst case scenario, as long as eight days.

“When you look at what PG&E is saying about the shut offs, it could be longer,” says Deidre Sanders, EBCE’s Director of Public Policy. “If the system is damaged they have to inspect and repair and test it before turning it back on. That takes time.”

EBCE can help play a role in facilitating communication and preparedness for its Alameda County customers, but PG&E is solely responsible for maintaining the transmission system, which includes making decisions about power shutoffs.  


While an outage of hours or even a day can be inconvenient and expensive for homeowners and businesses, it can be potentially dangerous for some.  People who depend on powered medical equipment, such as ventilators and oxygen concentrators, need to be prepared for prolonged outages with backup power or have other plans in place to see them through until power is restored.

The US Department of Health and Human Services counts 5,425 households in Alameda County with Medicare beneficiaries that rely on electricity-dependent medical equipment. But EBCE has about 13,000 customers on a “medical baseline” rate.  Medical Baseline provides certain protections for residential customers that have special energy needs due to qualifying medical conditions. 

But Medical Baseline enrollments may not accurately capture all vulnerable customers, nor do they all have the same needs and risks. EBCE is working with the Alameda County Office of Emergency Services to better identify electricity dependent medical customers, assess their needs, and figure out the best plan for helping them during an outage.


Electricity is also a vital need for the facilities that protect public health and safety, like hospitals, police and fire stations, and emergency shelters.  Even designated “cooling centers,” which provide air conditioned space during periods of extreme heat, can be vital.

These “critical facilities” will be especially important in a long power outage as they respond to emergencies and the needs of vulnerable populations.

Some critical facilities, like hospitals, already plan for reliable electricity, with strict state regulations requiring diesel-fueled generators and large amounts of fuel on site. But not all are so carefully regulated. Those that do have backup generators may not have a secure fuel supply, limiting the length of time they can operate. 

Plus gas and diesel generators come with their own problems, such as noise and air pollution, and the hazard of carbon monoxide poisoning if they are not properly vented.

This is where resilience efforts come into play.  


While EBCE has no role in calling public safety power shutoffs, it has a strong role in promoting a resilient grid through clean distributed energy resources like solar power and batteries. EBCE can set favorable distributed energy policies, like net metering, and pay for distributed resources for their capacity, through resource adequacy payments.  EBCE has enrolled over 25,000 solar customers, and anticipates another 4,000 to transfer over from PG&E by the end of the year. 

Combining solar with distributed batteries can make “resilient solar,” on-site power systems that can operate independently of the grid during outages, and provide energy and grid services during normal times.

EBCE recently awarded a contract to Sunrun to combine storage batteries with solar on low-income single-family homes scattered throughout the service territory, with an emphasis on West Oakland. This “virtual power plant” approach will provide onsite customer benefits while also providing grid services and resource adequacy for the whole system.  

“This deal is part of the transition of customers to being a producer-consumer or ‘prosumer,’ where they invest in energy to serve their own needs and also to serve the grid,” says EBCE CEO Nick Chaset.

Supported by a grant from the Bay Area Air Quality Management District (BAAQMD), EBCE is working with Peninsula Clean Energy to assess the potential for resilient power systems on critical facilities in Alameda and San Mateo County.  The core of such systems would be onsite solar and battery storage.

EBCE member city Fremont is home to such a project, on three Fremont fire stations. The project by Fremont engineering firm Gridscape Solutions was funded by a 2015 grant from the California Energy Commission.  After a four year demonstration period, the project was dedicated at a ribbon-cutting ceremony on April 2, attended by Fremont Mayor and EBCE board member Lily Mei.

Fremont fire station with solar microgrid.  Photo from the California Energy Commission.

The fire station microgrids will protect emergency services against power outages, while also reducing Fremont’s utility bills by approximately $215,000 over ten years (plus $32,000 already saved during the demonstration period). They will also cut the municipal government’s carbon dioxide emissions by around 80,000 pounds per year.

The state is also ramping up support for energy resilience, as CPUC commissioner Cliff Rechtschaffen released a revised decision on September 12th that would create a new $100 million “equity resiliency” budget in the long-running Self Generation Incentive Program (SGIP). The rule would boost incentives for storage systems for low-income customers, medical baseline customers, and critical facilities in high-risk fire areas to $1.00 per Watt-hour, enough to fully cover their cost.

While EBCE can’t control the risk of wildfires, we can help prepare our communities for outages due to fire prevention, as well as earthquakes and other natural disasters.

Faces of EBCE: Dan Kalb

Dan Kalb counts himself as an early supporter of community choice energy.

Kalb has represented District 1 (North Oakland) on the Oakland City Council since 2013, and was recently chosen by his colleagues to be the Council’s President Pro Tempore. He also serves as the new Chair of the Board of Directors for East Bay Community Energy (EBCE). 

Dan is not new to the clean energy world. Before entering public service, Dan was the California Policy Director for the Union of Concerned Scientists from 2003 to 2012, working on climate change, renewable energy, air quality, green jobs, and clean transportation issues. 

He cites passage of the 2011 state renewables portfolio standard (RPS), which required utilities to get to 33 percent renewables, as a key accomplishment.  The goals were upped in 2018 to 100 percent “clean” power by 2045, with at least 60 percent from renewables.

“I felt that a public sector and community based electricity provider would do a better job to create a portfolio that is cleaner than what is required of an investor-owned utility,” he says.  “EBCE and other CCAs will do more to meet and exceed the renewables requirements, and get us to 100 percent clean as quickly as possible.”

Kalb sees cleaning up the power supply as a necessary first step to cleaning up other sectors to meet greenhouse gas emission reduction goals.

“As the state and region moves forward to electrify a larger part of the transport and building sectors, it becomes all that much more important to clean the power sector,” he points out.  “Those sectors will only be clean if we have clean electricity.” 


Electrifying transportation and buildings also highlights the importance of EBCE’s commitment to local development, a key motivation for the existence of CCAs.

“EBCE made an explicit commitment to develop projects locally, in Alameda County and the East Bay,” Kalb says.  

The Joint Powers Agreement and the adopted Local Development Business Plan, two foundations of EBCE, were developed through a year and a half process of community engagement, with elected officials, stakeholders, experts and advocates meeting to answer questions, debate the issues, and review studies.

“The end result was strongly supported by many clean power advocates in the region,” Kalb recalls. He is especially proud of the engagement with many labor union locals. “We were probably the first CCA to have union locals involved from the git-go.”

Kalb believes that the attention to creating local benefits are what sets CCAs apart from larger investor-owned utilities. 

“We don’t want to be merely an electricity provider,” he argues. “That’s the core of what we do, but we should be doing and are doing much more than that. Especially to reduce emissions throughout our local economy.

He points to the recent contract for distributed solar and battery storage that will help replace an old and dirty jet-fuel peaker plant at Jack London Square. EBCE also is working with Sunrun to deploy solar+storage on low-income housing in West Oakland.  While the systems will create benefits for the tenants, they will also be aggregated and managed by Sunrun, to provide services to the system as a whole.  

“That has greenhouse gas emissions benefits but also local air pollution benefits for the people that live and work in the area,” Kalb says. “That area has been heavily impacted by air pollution, and now we’re taking one pollution source away.”


Kalb hopes projects like this, that combine climate action with local health benefits and local jobs, will help change attitudes in Sacramento.

“There was initially a lot of skepticism about CCAs among Sacramento policymakers and interests,” he recalls. “It’s taken a while for that to change, which is disappointing.  

“Even though CCAs are here to stay, there are some who appear unwilling to work with us, and who may even work against us,” he says.  “Some want to make it more difficult for CCAs to do our job, when in reality we can all make progress together.”  

“CCAs are still the new kids on the block and we will overcome that.  We’re just going to do good work and eventually people in Sacramento will recognize that,” added Kalb. “I see EBCE becoming a model for CCAs across the state and across the country. I’m proud to be the Chair and I want to thank our hard-working staff and our immediate past chair, Scott Haggerty, for their great work to get us off the ground. EBCE is already a success story, but we have a lot of good things yet to do.”

Myth of the Month: Cleaning Up the Power System Means Solving Global Warming

Image by Egor Shitikov from Pixabay.

Every day brings news of solar and wind power getting cheaper.  Coal has fallen from half of US power supply to less than a third in the past decade.  Emissions are plummeting in the power sector, helping in the fight against global warming.

California has been leading the transition, cutting power sector carbon emissions in half over the last decade. This progress inspired the legislature to expand the state clean energy mandate to 100 percent zero-carbon power supplies by 2045.  


But good news from the power sector is masking the lack of progress in other major areas.  

The California Air Resources Board recently updated the California Greenhouse Gas Emission Inventory, with data through 2017.  While power sector emissions continued to drop in 2017, by nine percent, overall emissions fell only one percent that year.  Power sector gains were canceled by rising emissions from the transportation and buildings sectors.  

The power sector now accounts for only 15 percent of state emissions, compared to 41 percent from transportation. If oil drilling and refineries are included, transportation amounts to about half of all state emissions.

Transportation emissions fell from 2007 to 2011, but have since started to rise, growing another one percent in 2017.  While hybrid and electric cars are becoming more common, they are being outpaced by growing amounts of driving and the popularity of trucks, SUVs, and vans as passenger vehicles. New registrations of trucks outnumbered passenger cars in California for the first time in 2017.

Other sectors have seen little change in the past two decades. Carbon emissions from natural gas used in residential and commercial buildings are staying flat at 12 percent of the total.  This is despite world-leading efforts to promote energy efficiency through building codes, appliance standards, and programs.

Clearly if California is going to solve the climate problem it will have to go beyond the power sector.


The key to cleaning up transportation and buildings is to use increasingly clean electricity — to “electrify everything.” 

In buildings, most emissions come from natural gas used for space heating and water heating, with smaller amounts for cooking, laundry, and other uses.  The key technology fix is the electric heat pump. While old heaters used electrical resistance to generate heat, heat pumps simply move heat around, vastly increasing their efficiency and cost effectiveness.  Refrigerators and air conditioners are heat pumps, moving heat from inside a building or refrigerator to the outside. Heat pumps can replace gas furnaces and gas-fired water heaters.  

For cooking, the latest electric technology is induction cooktops, which use magnetic waves to heat up pots and pans much more quickly and efficiently than resistance coils.

In July, Berkeley became the first city in the country to ban natural gas hookups for newly constructed housing.  As described in another article in this issue, EBCE is working with member communities to educate the public and professionals about building electrification, and supporting efforts to reform building codes. 

Cutting emissions from vehicles is the other priority.  In 2018, Gov. Jerry Brown set a goal of 1.5 million zero-emission vehicles (ZEVs) to be on the road by 2025, and then 5 million by 2030.  Alameda County’s share would be 80,000 ZEVs, and we are on our way with 27,000 currently.

EBCE is prioritizing vehicle electrification initiatives through its Local Development Business Plan. The first step is collaborating with local government partners on a Municipal Fleet Electrification Study that will enable cities to lead by example in the communities they serve. Electric fleets can deliver lower lifecycle costs and  reduced fuel price risk, in addition to clean air.

To do the study, EBCE plans to hire a consultant to assess municipal fleet electrification opportunities and barriers for each participating local government. The study will also look at how EVs can be integrated with onsite renewables, battery energy storage, and managed charging systems, to reduce grid impacts.

A clean power system is good in its own right, but it can become a powerful tool in decarbonizing the rest of the economy.  Clean local power, integrated with vehicles and buildings, can help save the planet even as we keep energy dollars in the community.

Data Corner: Getting To Know Our Customers, Statistically

Photo by NASA

EBCE is stepping up its big data game, to better understand and serve the needs of our customers.  We are now digging into residential load data as a first step in better focusing energy efficiency efforts.

EBCE has invested in a powerful database that enables administrators and implementers of energy efficiency, demand response, and energy management programs to access information that increases building upgrades in Alameda County. This data is also valuable to EBCE’s local government partners who are developing greenhouse gas inventories.

Kevin Li of the EBCE technology and analytics team is putting the data to work comparing hourly residential demand against hourly weather to identify and understand customers that are likely to have air conditioning or electric space heating.  These “weather responsive” customers use more electricity overall and see much higher periods of peak demand.

Thanks to the East Bay hills, EBCE’s service territory covers two distinct climate zones:  the temperate bayside cities around Oakland, and the warmer inland cities of Dublin and Livermore, where air conditioning is common.

Sure enough, summertime data shows that household electricity demand in Livermore and Dublin correlates closely with high temperatures, while every other jurisdiction — west of the hills — has fairly average consumption.  Weather responsive customers on average use 1.7 times as much electricity in the summer as non-responsive customers.

Livermore and Dublin customers are also the most responsive to winter  temperatures, while Piedmont and unincorporated Alameda County are the least responsive.  These winter-responsive customers use 40-50 percent more power than others, implying they rely more on electric heat, which fluctuates with temperature.  

As shown in the charts below, weather-responsive customers also see much higher evening demand peaks.  This can drive up bills for customers on time-of-use rates, which are highest in summer afternoons and early evenings.  It also increases EBCE’s need to buy Resource Adequacy services and more expensive evening electricity, which raises costs for all customers.


Residential Load Profiles for Winter (top) and Summer (bottom)

While weather is a major driver of residential electricity demand, other factors are also at play.  Piedmont and Livermore had the highest average daily consumption (kWh) per customer, while Berkeley and Emeryville had the lowest, both in the winter and in the summer.  Piedmont, on the west slope of the hills, has mild weather but larger homes.

To better refine our analysis, we’ll be pairing demand with publicly available demographic and housing data, such as parcel data, the distribution of winter/summer sensitive customers among census tracts of varying poverty levels, and average bill amounts between weather sensitive and non-sensitive customers.

By getting to know our customers — statistically — we can make energy efficiency programs more accurate, more cost effective, and more equitable, lowering costs for all.

News Clips

Here Comes the Sun: Oakland Turns to Solar to Meet Peak Energy Demand

By Laurel Sheppard, Triple Pundit, July 25, 2019

The jet-fueled peaker plant at Jack London Square is getting replaced by clean distributed energy, cutting emissions.

Oakland Clean Energy Initiative to Replace Dirty Jack London Square Power Plant

By Jean Tepperman, East Bay Express, July 31, 2019

EBCE is pursuing a host of local development programs to reduce emissions and spur economic development, including clean distributed energy, new renewable generation, and electric vehicles for fleets.

Why Berkeley Banned Natural Gas in New Buildings

By Mark Specht, Union of Concerned Scientists, July 31, 2019

Berkeley became the first city in the nation to ban natural gas hook-ups in new construction. This article explains what the rule actually does and why it’s a great idea.

Bay Area cities poised to follow Berkeley’s natural gas ban

By San Francisco Chronicle, August 19, 2019

San Francisco, San Jose, Santa Rosa, and Petaluma are all looking at Berkeley’s natural gas ban, and may follow suit.

PG&E Alternative Headed To Pleasanton Residents, Businesses

By Tony McAllister, Patch, September 18, 2019

The Pleasanton City Council unanimously decided to move forward to join East Bay Community Energy.

California firm contracts ‘astoundingly’ cheap solar-plus-storage pipeline

By José Rojo Martín, PV Tech, September 30, 2019

EBCE has contracted for 225 MW of solar and 80MW/160MWh of battery storage, at an “astoundingly low” average cost of about 2.2¢ per kWh.  That brings the total portfolio up to 550MW of renewables and 137.5MW/390MWh of battery storage.

EBCE Signs New Power Contracts

At meetings in June, the EBCE board approved a string of new contracts for solar power, wind power, and battery storage that will help EBCE continue the transition to clean energy. Two of the projects are in Alameda County, and will deliver local jobs and economic benefits as well as clean energy.

The awards are the result of competitive solicitations, and are the first of several to be announced over coming months.  The contracts were signed at a ceremony on June 24 at Jack London Square in downtown Oakland.

The contracts include:

OAKLAND BATTERIES:  The first contract will fund a 20 MW / 80-megawatt-hour (MWh) battery installation that will partly replace an aging, jet fuel-fired power plant located in the heart of Oakland, near Jack London Square. The batteries are a major step in a joint effort by EBCE and Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E), dubbed the Oakland Clean Energy Initiative (OCEI), which aims to replace the decades-old plant, which was acquired by Vistra in 2018, with clean energy resources. 

The storage project will provide EBCE with local resource adequacy (RA) – electricity capacity that is available to serve demand even under stressful system conditions – and is contingent on approval of a transmission-related reliability contract with PG&E. The project is expected to be online by January 2022 and the contract with Vistra Energy covers a 10-year period. 

ALAMEDA COUNTY WIND:  A new wind project will be built in Altamont Pass, in eastern Alameda County, near Livermore. The 20-year contract with Salka LLC, a San Diego-based company, buys the output of a 57.5 MW wind farm, including energy, RECs, and RA, starting in December 2020.  Construction is anticipated to begin this December and will bring well over $250 million of capital investment into Alameda County.

Altamont is the birthplace of the global wind energy industry, with thousands of small turbines built in the 1980s. This project is part of the ongoing effort to replace those many small turbines with a few much larger, much more efficient turbines, thereby increasing energy output and reducing impacts on birds.

TULARE SOLAR:  A 56 megawatt (MW) solar system to be built in Tulare County, scheduled to come online by December 2021. Solar Frontier Americas will develop and operate the plant, delivering over 150,000 MWh of energy per year, plus renewable energy credits (RECs) and resource adequacy (RA) under a 15 year contract.  Solar Frontier will also contribute to a local investment fund, to be distributed with some EBCE guidance.  

FRESNO COUNTY SOLAR+STORAGE:  This 20-year contract covers a combined 100 MW solar plus 30 MW storage project located in the city of Tranquility, Fresno County, starting in December 2022. EDP Renewables, the American renewables division of Energias de Portugal, is the developer. This is EBCE’s first Solar+Storage contract, and there are very limited examples of such projects currently in operation. EBCE is partnering closely with EDPR to properly configure the system to optimize the RA value and match our usage. 

All projects are committed to using union labor and include funds to be allocated towards community investment.

The four contracts are the result of two solicitations.  One was for the Oakland battery project and the other was EBCE’s first long-term (10+year) renewable energy solicitation, issued in June 2018.  The solicitation asked for in-state projects with a preference for new construction, including at least 20 MW in Alameda County. 

EBCE received over 568 unique offers associated with 75 projects, representing approximately 20,000 megawatts of nameplate capacity.  

EBCE plans to announce additional contracts from this solicitation over the coming months.  Twenty projects were shortlisted in the process, and additional projects are currently in active negotiations.

The final portfolio is expected to include five to seven projects totaling approximately 500-600 MW in project capacity and up to two million MWhs per year.  Storage projects are expected to total between 40-60 MW of capacity with a four-hour duration.