MARIN COUNTY PIONEERS CALIFORNIA RENEWABLE ENERGY EFFORT
BY STAS MARGARONIS, RBTUS
California-based Marin Clean Energy (MCE) is pioneering a county-based effort to source high levels of renewable energy for consumers.
As of April 2013, the average MCE residential customer can expect to pay about 90 cents more per month for MCE’s 50% renewable energy, as opposed to Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E), the local utility, which offers 20% renewable energy. The average commercial customer can expect to save $8.07 per summer month and $2.05 per winter month.
Jamie Tuckey, MCE Communications Director, says that since 2010 MCE has moved from providing 27% renewable energy to its customers to 50% in 2012. MCE also offers a 100% renewable energy option to its customers and it is MCE’s long-term goal to be 100% renewable.
As a not-for-profit public agency, MCE reinvests locally and “supports a number of community projects and programs that help advance sustainability, because we are not an investor owned utility in which dividends are returned to investors. These projects include funding the solar field at the airport, rebates to customers, and energy efficiency education for young people.”
Tuckey notes that two other counties are in the process of creating renewable energy programs similar to Marin: Sonoma and San Francisco.
Cordel Stillman, deputy chief engineer for the Sonoma County Water Agency (SCWA) is heading the Sonoma Clean Power Authority (SCPA). Initially, he says, rates for Sonoma customers will be slightly higher than those paid to the local utility, Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E): “We are in the process of determining what rates for SCPA customers will be. A conservative estimate is that they will be slightly higher initially.”
He adds: “There are multiple benefits that are described in the feasibility study. They include local control of rates, broader efficiency programs, incentives for local renewable generation, long term cost benefits, etc.”
Tuckey says: “As of July 2012 we serve approximately 75% of utility customers in Marin County and by this summer we will provide service to customers from the City of Richmond. We are a Community Choice Aggregation program that allows customers from a locality to choose their power sources.”
MCE’s Deep Green program costs on average of $5 per month to source 100% renewable energy. For more information please see: www.mceCleanEnergy.com
MCE customers have two renewable energy alternatives. One is the Light Green Program which is 50% renewable energy and the second is the Deep Green Program which is 100% renewable energy.
MCE provides 78% carbon-free power from a variety of sources that include hydroelectric power from the Tri-Dam Power Authority in San Joaquin County to wind and biomass power from Washington State. MCE is promoting a feed-in tariff that is a procurement mechanism “designed to encourage the adoption of renewable energy sources…it allows small renewable generators to sell their electricity directly to MCE with a standard contract.”
“We opted to move toward a multi-supplier relationship with 10 suppliers supporting 15 projects. At the same time, as we have gained expertise we have taken over more of the administration side of the power business using consultants we have on staff to do forecasting and procurement.”
A Community Choice Aggregation (CCA) program is a hybrid between traditional investor-owned utilities (IOU’s) such as PG&E and municipal utilities. CCA programs, such as MCE, still rely on IOU’s for transmission and distribution, customer service and billing but MCE purchases energy on behalf of local cities and towns so as to reduce dependency on sources with a high carbon content.
The result is that CCAs like Marin and Sonoma’s SCPA are laying the ground work for sourcing 100% of their customers’ energy needs from renewable energy and placing public pressure on investor owned utilities to do more.
In 2002 legislative bill AB117, enabling California communities to choose their own energy suppliers and form Community Choice Aggregations, passed.
By 2007, a Marin County survey revealed that 75% of residents supported local government becoming a provider of renewable energy. Ninety percent of residents said that reducing greenhouse emissions was a priority, 69% of residents were willing to pay 5% more for a mix of green, renewable energy and 58% were willing to pay 10% more. Community activists led by Sustainable Marin’s Rebecca Collins, Marin County Supervisors Charles McGlashan and Hal Brown, and Dawn Wiesz, MCE Executive Officer, organized to determine the feasibility of renewable energy sources and CCA’s for their communities.
In 2008, business plans were finalized and Marin city councils were approached in an effort to set up a CCA.
In December 2008, Marin city councils voted to join the Marin Energy Association (MEA). A board of directors was formed with one person from each city and town in Marin. Shell Energy North America was the first bidder and provider of renewable energy to eight Marin towns. Today, all 12 towns in Marin are members of the renewable energy program and the City of Richmond joined in 2012.
In 2010, the California Public Utilities Commission thwarted PG & E’s attempts to launch a legislative bill against CCA’s. Currently, MCE works closely with PG & E for transmission, billing, etc.