Community Choice to Determine California’s Energy Future
Source: San Francisco Chronicle
When the California Public Utilities Commission issued its May 3 white paper (PDF)on change in California’s electricity system and customer choice, it sounded an alarm of impending doom due to diversification coming from both local communities and technologies. Don’t be fooled by this false alarm.
Good things are happening in California’s electricity markets. Community choice aggregators are now providing electric generation service to millions of Californians. CCAs are public agencies that contract for cleaner, low-cost electric supply delivered to you by utilities such as PG&E.
The CPUC report asks important questions about the future of California’s electricity system, but it misses the mark through its lack of understanding of how CCAs are governed, whom they serve and what they procure. CCAs are a critical part of the solution for California’s challenges.
Renewable energy: CCAs across California are leading the charge to deliver ever higher quantities of renewable energy. In fact, since their formation in 2007, CCAs have gained the ability to power 300,000 homes with 100 percent renewable energy. Peninsula Clean Energy has a goal of 100 percent renewable energy by 2025. Marin Clean Energy, which serves Marin, Napa and Contra Costa counties and Benicia in Solano County, already serves its customers with more than 55 percent renewable energy.
Disadvantaged communities: By the end of 2018, CCAs will be operating in 18 counties, from Humboldt to Alameda, San Benito to Riverside. More than 22 percent of their customers receive special discounted rates designed for lower-income households. A study by East Bay Community Energy found that CCAs also serve high-poverty communities at the same rate as the investor-owned utilities — just over 19 percent each.
Governance: Every operating CCA in California is governed by a board of local elected officials. These mayors, council members and supervisors are directly elected by residents and actively govern a whole range of critical infrastructure, from water systems to mass transportation. Many have set stringent climate-action goals within their jurisdictions that far exceed the state’s goals. CCA boards have oversight over all facets of operations, from reviewing and setting rates to approving procurement. The local governance model helps to ensure that our procurement, rates and programs are designed to meet the specific demands of each community, instead of relying on the one-size-fits-all approach of the investor-owned utility model set by the commission.
Additionally, all CCAs must submit plans to the commission to ensure that they meet reliability and emissions reductions goals for all of California. In addition to the local boards, the California Energy Commission, the California Independent System Operator and the Legislature each have oversight responsibilities.
I appreciate the California Public Utilities Commission’s concern around rapid change in the electricity sector, but through my experience and from the track record of CCAs in California, community choice is the solution. Consumers deserve more choice through innovative community programs, renewable options and local control. They shouldn’t be forced into an antiquated monopoly structure pushed by the investor-owned utilities’ self-interest.
Nick Chaset was chief of staff to California Public Utilities Commission President Michael Picker until last August, when he became the CEO of East Bay Community Energy, a community choice aggregator.