Friday, June 8, 2012

Mayor Quan Commits to East Bay MUD's Public Power Plans. Will the Council Follow Suit?

By Darwin BondGraham
Fri, Jun 8, 2012 at 10:05 AM

In a move that could dramatically increase the amount of renewable energy that East Bay residents use, Oakland Mayor Jean Quan is now supporting East Bay MUD's exploration of a public power program under the model of Community Choice Aggregation. In a May 23 letter sent to the East Bay MUD General Manager Alex Coates, Quan wrote, "the City of Oakland is interested in exploring with other East Bay cities and with EBMUD the possibility of forming a Community Choice Aggregation (CCA) partnership." Quan added that, "I see this as an opportunity to create green jobs in the region...." The Express learned of the letter after going to press with our feature story last week, "When Will We Go Green?"

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Oakland, along with Emeryville and Berkeley, expended tens of thousands of dollars and devoted considerable staff time in 2005 to exploring Community Choice Aggregation, a state program that allows cities to join together so as to increase the amount of green energy they use. Hopes were high back then that CCA could create thousands of local jobs, green the energy supply for the region, and reduce utility bills for homeowners and small businesses.

Unfortunately, a joint plan developed by a consulting company for the cities claimed that a CCA would be risky and possibly more expensive for ratepayers than sticking with PG&E. Councilwoman Nancy Nadel tried to keep CCA on the city's agenda, and to correct some of the flawed assumptions that led to the consultant’s conclusions, but with the economic crisis and budget meltdown, combined with skepticism from the City Administrator's Office, the plan to green Oakland's energy supply and dramatically stimulate the local economy experienced a blackout.

Quan's recent letter indicates that the plan is back on the table, at least in the Mayor's Office. If Quan and the City Council are serious, then the necessary next step will be for the city to formally request energy consumption data from PG&E so that Oakland can coordinate better with East Bay MUD's effort. Berkeley did exactly this back in January. However, a search of the Oakland City Council's legislative calendar shows no upcoming business related to CCA. The only business mentioning PG&E this year was approval of a $250,000 contract last month for PG&E to replace street lights in East Oakland.

The upcoming elections for two, possibly three seats on Oakland's City Council will certainly play a role in whether the city sticks with PG&E or embarks on a local, publicly governed, renewable resource development plan for electricity. Who replaces Nadel, who is retiring this year, matters a lot given that she has been the council's champion for CCA. New council members could shift the balance of power and propel a CCA plan for Oakland, or they could decide to stay with PG&E. New candidates seeking seats on the council have yet to elaborate their positions on the issue, but advocates with various green energy groups say they expect CCA to become a key issue in the fall election. However they campaign, any new council candidates and sitting members will surely be told to oppose CCA by Tom Guarino, PG&E's East Bay lobbyist who put pressure on Oakland's leaders in 2008 to kill the plan then.

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