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.