Yet another attempt to kill community energy choice in California

by Betsy Herbert

published in the Santa Cruz Sentinel 6/20/2014

Remember in 2010 when PG&E poured some $44 million into state ballot initiative Proposition 16 in hopes of subverting the growing public support for community controlled electric power alternatives?

Voters apparently saw the light and rejected Proposition 16. Since then, the momentum for locally controlled energy--known as Community Choice Aggregation (CCA)-- has steadily increased.

In June 2014, the state awarded a $344,246 grant to Santa Cruz County and its 20 governmental partners to explore a locally controlled alternative to energy supplier PG&E in the Monterey Bay region. If the Monterey Bay region CCA were implemented, it would be the first multi-county CCA in the state and one of the largest in the country. 

Almost simultaneously with this grant award, a bill (AB 2145) flew through the State Assembly. AB 2145 was designed to knock the wind out of CCAs in California. It was authored by Assembly member Steven Bradford (D-Gardena), a former executive of Southern California Edison, one of the three major supporters of the bill. 

Assembly member Mark Stone (D-Scotts Valley) voted against AB 2145, which has now moved onto the state senate, where it will be heard by the Energy and Utilities Committee on June 23. 

Community Choice Aggregation, which has been successfully implemented in Marin County and in other areas of the state and country, puts control of energy purchasing and pricing into local hands and allows the community to determine what type of energy mix best serves its needs. Energy transmission, line maintenance and customer service remains the responsibility of PG&E,  which would continue to handle all customer service and support of the grid.

Santa Cruz County’s comprehensive Climate Action Plan identifies Community Choice as its highest priority tool for reducing greenhouse gases in the area. That’s because a locally controlled CCA can potentially deliver more renewable energy “bang for the buck” than PG&E. For example, Marin Clean Energy, the first CCA in California, has more than doubled the amount of clean electricity provided by PG&E to customers while maintaining standard rates.

Another potential benefit from CCAs is that profit from energy sales, which would normally flow to PG&E, would remain in the community to help fund renewable energy projects, create jobs, and stimulate the local economy.

According to Gine Johnson, analyst for Santa Cruz County Supervisor Bruce McPherson, Marin Clean Energy has so far pulled some $79 million away from PG&E profits. Johnson notes that PG&E employees are also shareholders of the investor-owned utility. Is it any surprise that PG&E, Southern California Edison and the labor unions representing utility employees are the primary supporters of AB 2145? 

While AB 2145 supporters claim that CCAs could cause higher rates and loss of jobs,  Johnson disagrees. She says that Marin Clean Energy’s rates are the same as PG&E after six years of operation, and that the newly implemented Sonoma CCA charges customers five percent less than PG&E after two months of operation.  Johnson also says,“Not one job has been lost due to either CCA agency being formed.”

Johnson, who labels AB 2145 as a “poison pill bill” for local CCA efforts, urges supporters of locally controlled public energy to write letters opposing AB 2145 before June 23. More than 150 local governments, non-profits, and trade associations and more than 50,000 individuals stand in support of CCA.

To express your views on AB 2145, write to: 

The Honorable Alex Padilla, Chair

Senate Energy, Utilities and Communications Committee

State Capitol, Room 4038

Sacramento, CA 95814-4900