Nearly half of greenhouse gas emissions from Santa Cruz, San Benito, and Monterey counties come from energy production. In our western energy region, which includes pretty much all of California, 63 percent of electricity comes from gas-powered plants like the one in Moss Landing, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.
A long-discussed solution—more than four years in the making—aims to create energy that’s cleaner, cheaper, and locally sourced. The reality is closer than ever. Monterey Bay Community Power (MBCP), a new group, aims to launch next spring as a green alternative to Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E).
Both the Santa Cruz City Council and the county Board of Supervisors officially signed on to MBCP, the tri-county Community Choice Energy (CCE) partnership, in late February. The agreement brings together local governments with ones from San Benito and Monterey counties.
“We understood that we have something in common, and that we can work together to solve our contribution to our greenhouse gas emissions and take control of our own energy,” says Virginia Johnson, the project manager for MBCP and analyst for County Supervisor Bruce McPherson, who also played a leading role in starting MBCP.
Johnson says there is a financial benefit of having more partners, as it increases the CCE’s purchasing power. Although not everyone has signed on so far, MBCP has more than enough partners to start the agency and be successful economically and environmentally, Johnson says, creating a local grid that harvests energy from solar and other renewables.
“CCE will allow us to do things more consistent with local values,” says Santa Cruz Mayor Cynthia Chase.
Two committees, one for policy and another for operations, will run the energy group, a joint powers agency with 18 municipalities.
Elected officials like Santa Cruz City Councilmember Sandy Brown will serve on the policy board, holding public meetings for input into deciding which types of electricity to purchase, setting the rate for customers, and deciding on how exactly to spend surplus revenue. MBCP will use that surplus revenue, expected to be about $9 million per year, to lower its rates, invest in local renewable electricity projects, and provide interest-free programs for solar home installations, says Johnson.
The operations board—made up of administrators like Santa Cruz City Manager Martín Bernal—will manage the agency’s day-to-day work. Both boards will meet monthly, with their first meetings coming up at the end of this month.
Municipalities with more than 50,000 citizens will get permanent seats on the 11-member boards, with the six remaining seats to be shared. Capitola and Scotts Valley, for example, will be swapping control of the seat every two years.
Starting this summer, MBCP will automatically enroll residents, who will have an option to opt-out and stay with PG&E, which will also operate the CCE grid, its meter readings, and maintenance services, PG&E spokeswoman Brandi Merlo says.
Santa Cruz County will set up a credit guarantee with a local bank for the projected $3 million cost of starting MBCP, and once it’s paid off by the end of 2018, the agency will be financially independent, says Johnson. Initially, MBCP will purchase green electricity from nearby renewable projects, like the local Panoche Valley Solar Farm, which currently sells its renewable electricity to Southern California Edison. But its leaders expect to buy renewable electric plants within the next several years, using surplus revenue.
“At some point, MBCP can choose to be an owner of plants or continue to purchase from renewable projects,” says Johnson. “In Southern California, we are overloaded with solar systems throughout the state. There are plenty of places to buy renewably generated power for our program.”
Of course, Santa Cruz residents can already install solar at their homes and sell it back into PG&E’s grid. MBCP could just make it even more lucrative for people to do so. A CCE in the Silicon Valley, for instance, will let residents sell energy at four times the rate that PG&E does, allowing such people to get up to $5,000 back, says Allterra Solar Marketing Director David Stearns, an avid supporter of the local CCE plan. “You’re taking the power back, literally and figuratively,” he says.
Today, in California, there are two fully functioning CCE programs, Marin Clean Energy and Sonoma Clean Power, and three other new ones—Clean Power San Francisco, Peninsula Clean Energy, and Silicon Valley Clean Energy—that are in the process of enrolling customers. Additionally, East Bay Community Energy, like MBCP, was recently approved, and more than 16 counties and cities, including San Jose, are exploring CCE programs.
This is the simplest and most effective way for Californians to make a big difference in reducing carbon emissions, says Tatanka Bricca, a long-time environmental activist who lives in Ben Lomond. He’s attended city council meetings on CCE in Santa Cruz and Watsonville.
“It’s a duplicatable model that is spreading across California,” says Bricca. “We can make a difference nationwide through CCE, even when the temporary residents of the White House make decisions hostile to the Earth and its people.”
A look at Community Choice Energy efforts in the Bay Area
- Marin Clean Energy (MCE)- Offers 50 percent and 100 percent renewable options for customers. 83 percent of meters in the municipalities served are signed-on with the CCE program.
- Sonoma Clean Power (SCP)- Offers 36 percent and 100 percent renewable options for customers. 88 percent of meters in the municipalities served are signed-on with the CCE program.
- Clean Power SF (CPSF) – Offers 35 percent and 100 percent renewable options for customers. 99 percent of meters in the municipalities served are signed-on with the CCE program, but they haven’t completed their enrollment.
- Peninsula Clean Energy (PCE) – Offers 50 percent and 100 percent renewable options for customers. 98.3 percent of meters in the municipalities served are signed-on with the CCE program, but they haven’t completed their enrollment.
- Silicon Valley Clean Energy (SVCE) – Offers 50 percent and 100 percent renewable options for customers. They are beginning their first enrollment phase this month.
- East Bay Community Energy (EBCE) – Will begin enrollment this summer, renewable options not yet established.
- Monterey Bay Community Power (MBCP) – Will begin enrollment this summer, renewable options not yet established.