A new electrical source is available to power the homes, offices and businesses of Alameda County residents.
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.
East Bay Community Energy is purchasing solar, wind and renewable hydroelectric energy and will partner with PG&E to distribute it.
PG&E will still handle billing and maintain the pipes and wires that distribute the energy, plus the utility will continue responding to requests and emergencies.
Nevertheless, the switch has confused some customers, especially because they must choose which level of service they want from the new provider, despite the automatic changeover.
Adding to the mix is that it’s up to the customer whether to opt out if they want to stay with PG&E.
“I really didn’t understand it when I read about it,” said Shannon Elliott, a house owner in Oakland’s Rockridge district. “It was too confusing, so I basically just dropped it and forgot about it.”
Marc Cryan, 25, of Berkeley, said he knew nothing about the change because the utilities in his apartment are in his roommate’s name.
“But if it’s good for the environment, then I support it,” Cryan said.
Alameda County residents can choose one of three levels under East Bay Community Energy: “Bright Choice,” which is 38 percent renewable and 47 percent carbon free; “Brilliant 100,” which is 40 percent renewable and 60 percent carbon free; and “Renewable 100,” which is 100 percent renewable and carbon-free energy.
Bright Choice rates will be 1.5 percent lower than at PG&E, according to East Bay Community Energy. Brilliant 100 will be offered at the same price as PG&E. People who choose Renewable 100, however, can expect to pay about $4 more each month.
The switch for residential customers in Albany, Berkeley, Dublin, Emeryville, Fremont, Hayward, Livermore, Piedmont, Oakland, San Leandro, Union City and unincorporated areas of Alameda County is happening this month. Businesses were automatically enrolled in June.
“Residents of Alameda County and our 11 partner cities can now power their homes with cleaner energy,” Nick Chaset, East Bay Community Energy’s chief executive officer, said in a release. “We are committed to building a sustainable East Bay for years to come.”
Newark and Pleasanton have not joined East Bay Community Energy. Alameda is not taking part since it has its own municipal utility.
A joint powers authority, East Bay Community Energy was formed in 2016 and is governed by a board made up of one elected official from each participating jurisdiction and one non-voting representative from a community advisory committee.
The board, which meets once a month in public session, sets rates and determines the mix of power sources.
The nonprofit’s creation followed state lawmakers passing legislation in 2002 for community choice aggregation, which allows municipal governments to decide which power providers to contract with on behalf of ratepayers — a flexibility that has become an attractive way among some to counter climate change.
Along with East Bay Community Energy, others community choice agencies that have started over the past few years include Marin Clean Energy, Peninsula Clean Energy and Silicon Valley Clean Energy, as well San Jose Clean Energy and South Bay Clean Power.
Twenty such agencies are projected to be operating in California by 2020.
All customers who do not opt out and do not choose a level of service will be enrolled in Bright Choice by default, except for Hayward and Albany. In those cities, unless customers choose a different option among service levels, they will be enrolled in the more expensive Brilliant 100 as a default. In Piedmont, the default is Renewable 100, the most expensive choice.
That is as a result of what elected officials in those cities felt would mostly closely align with their climate action plans, said Annie Henderson, an East Bay Community Energy spokeswoman.
So far, just 7,352 out of 568,916 eligible PG&E accounts have opted out, according to a background report for East Bay Community Energy’s Nov. 7 board meeting. Most are customers in Livermore and Oakland.
Alameda County Supervisor Scott Haggerty, the chair of East Bay Community Energy’s board, said some residents have told him the program should have asked people if they wished to opt in, rather than opt out.
The enrollment structure was required under state law, he said.
“I am very proud of the collaboration between all the cities that joined us, organized labor and the advocates for clean energy; together we have developed the best (community choice aggregation) in the state,” Haggerty said in an email.
East Bay Community Energy will be doing community outreach over the next few weeks, including 6-7:30 p.m. Nov. 15 at the San Lorenzo Library, 395 Paseo Grande; 10 a.m.-3 p.m. Nov. 17 at the downtown Berkeley Farmers Market, Center Street at Martin Luther King Jr. Way; and 6:30-8 p.m. Nov. 29 at Hayward City Hall, 777 B St.