Must electricity come from PG&E?

County, local towns are looking for an option

Town councils in Portola Valley, Atherton, Woodside and Menlo Park have taken the first steps in working with San Mateo County in a plan to find an alternative to Pacific Gas & Electric Corp. for supplying electricity to homes and other users. The councils have authorized the release of community electricity usage data to the county.

The county Board of Supervisors on Feb. 24 approved spending $300,000 to explore an alternative to PG&E as the sole provider of electricity to communities in the county, according to Jim Eggemeyer of the county's sustainability office.

The alternative, which goes by the name "community choice aggregation," takes advantage of group purchasing power and focuses on finding sources of green electricity. Green sustainable sources of electricity include solar panels, wind and hydroelectric.

The California Public Utilities Commission certifies and oversees the "community choice" programs, which deliver electricity over PG&E's grid. PG&E is compensated in the form of fees.

The PG&E usage data given to the county is stripped of names, addresses and phone numbers, Mr. Eggemeyer told the Woodside Town Council on Feb. 24.

Woodside Councilwoman Deborah Gordon, who chairs a climate protection committee for the City/County Association of Governments, proposed a working session to educate the Woodside council and the public on the "community choice" program.

A phased-in program

Between now and October, in addition to contacting local government officials and gathering data, the county will be forming a steering committee, hiring technical consultants and preparing a study to be completed by mid-August.

If the county decides to go ahead and form a "community choice" program, it would be under the common control of the communities involved. Such a program in San Mateo County in 2013 could have generated $356 million from residential customers alone, according to a staff report.

To create buying power and discounted rates requires plenty of buyers. As the report says, "Competitive rates are a must." Participation would be automatic, but customers would have the option to refuse to opt out.

The program would have bonding authority to initiate local power projects. With no shareholders or highly paid executives, overhead would be low, the report notes.

"Community choice" programs are in place in Marin and Sonoma counties, are in progress in Alameda County, and are under consideration in Santa Clara and Contra Costa counties, the report says, citing figures from Mill Valley-based Lean Energy US.

The report says that residential participants in Sonoma County who buy electricity that is 100 percent from sustainable sources pay a premium of about 13 percent over what they would pay PG&E for electricity that is 28 percent sustainable. At a mix of 33 percent sustainable power, the cost is 5 percent under what PG&E customers pay.

Residential customers in Marin County can choose 100 percent sustainable electricity and pay only a 2 percent premium, the report says. For commercial customers, PG&E offers a 22 percent mix, but that choice is more expensive than if the customers were to go with a "community choice" program with mixes of 50 percent or 100 percent sustainable power.

The Woodside council, before authorizing release of its electricity usage data, removed from the resolution wording that, to Councilman Peter Mason and some of his colleagues, made unproven judgments about the potential benefits of the program.

The Portola Valley and Atherton councils approved release of usage data earlier in February. The Menlo Park council approved release on Feb. 24.

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2 people like this
Posted by Gertrude
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Mar 12, 2015 at 5:34 pm

If it's cheaper and as (or more) reliable than PG&E, I'm all for it.

Like this comment
Posted by Louise68
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Mar 12, 2015 at 6:34 pm

I'm all for this -- but ONLY IF there will be enough well-trained and experienced staff to administer this program, and to handle emergencies 24/7. And this agency must be under the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, or whatever regulatory agency exists to make sure consumers never get gouged. (I understand that Palo Alto's community utility organization is exempt from such regulation. Is that correct?)

And what recourse will we customers have if PG&E understaffs their maintenance and repair crews, or refuses to properly maintain its infrastructure? Remember -- we will be using PG&E's infrastructure!

As I understand it, I will be able to opt out of this new program at any time. Is that correct? ("Better the devil you know than the devil you don't know." And I am NOT a supporter of PG&E's management.)

"The devil is in the details,"as the saying goes.

I welcome all respectful answers to my my questions.

2 people like this
Posted by Menlo Voter
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Mar 12, 2015 at 6:50 pm

Menlo Voter is a registered user.

works well for Palo Alto and Santa Clara.

Like this comment
Posted by rural mom
a resident of Woodside: other
on Mar 16, 2015 at 12:14 pm

If it increases the percentage of sustainably produced electricity, I'm all for it. I'd happily pay a little more and know that I'm not contributing to coal burning and mountain top removal mining.

Like this comment
Posted by Linda S.
a resident of Woodside: Skywood/Skylonda
on Mar 16, 2015 at 1:21 pm

This topic is of interest to me to follow.

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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