Monday, December 10, 2012

Another Step Toward a Big Green Energy Jobs Program for the East Bay

By Darwin BondGraham
Mon, Dec 10, 2012 at 11:41 AM

As the Express reported back in May local governments throughout the East Bay have been exploring the possibility breaking free from PG&E's mostly carbon and nuclear mix of electricity for several years now. The goals, say activists behind the push, are to localize and green our energy grid, to create thousands of local jobs, and to address environmental problems linked to our energy consumption — like climate change, and potential nuclear catastrophes.

Tomorrow, the East Bay Municipal Utility District's board of directors will receive a long-anticipated report on the feasibility of establishing a Community Choice Aggregation program (CCA) for Oakland, Berkeley, Emeryville, Albany, and other cities within East Bay MUD's service area.

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CCA is best understood as the big green jobs program hidden in plain sight, awaiting the political will to activate it. State law already allows local governments to aggregate the energy purchasing power of their residential and commercial ratepayers, and to use this power to break PG&E's monopoly by buying energy from wherever they choose. Even better, local communities can also opt to build publicly owned energy resources. At the center of the CCA concept is ratepayer revenue, the monthly bills we pay. CCA allows local governments to take control of ratepayer funds and direct these toward investments of the community's choosing, instead of using them to pay PG&E's executive bonuses and stock dividends.

Even though CCA has been an option since 2002, many local governments have been squeamish about establishing an energy authority, and PG&E has aggressively attacked the program. East Bay MUD is a utility, however. The agency has experience delivering water and sewer services to 1.3 million people. Andy Katz, an East Bay MUD board member who represents Berkeley and North Oakland, said the agency "has staff with significant experience in energy issues and effective utility administration,” and is well positioned to maximize the potential of CCA.

Even so, the agency's report says there are risks that should be taken seriously. East Bay MUD "does not have experience in providing utility services in a competitive marketplace" where customers may choose their providers, states the report. The report goes on to say essentially that while CCA busts PG&E's monopoly on energy procurement, it also creates the risk that CCA customers might leave the program, because CCAs by definition do not have a monopoly either. A CCA could conceivably get stuck with expensive energy contracts and too few ratepayers to offer competitive prices.

If that's the downside, the upside is potentially unlimited. If established, an East Bay MUD CCA would immediately be one of the largest CCA's in the nation, and likely also a major local economic boost. PG&E's current investment plans focus mostly on big gas-fired power plants in the East Bay and the Central Valley, energy sources that create relatively few jobs and a lot of pollution. An East Bay CCA on the other hand, would be able to focus investments on local solar, wind, biomass, geothermal, tidal, and small hydroelectric projects, while spending heavily on improving the efficiency of the grid, all of which would create far more jobs, and generate far less greenhouse gas and particulate pollution.

California already has one fully up and running CCA, the Marin Energy Authority, which covers the County of Marin and delivers the greenest portfolio of energy in the entire state. The City of Richmond announced its plans to join the Marin Energy Authority back in June. San Francisco is moving ahead with its own CCA, CleanPowerSF, which will initially serve about 90,000 of the city's customers. In Sonoma County, a CCA plan calls for a 50 percent renewable sourcing of energy by 2018, and the creation of 1,500 new jobs to rebuild and green the local grid.

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