Portola Valley council to set baseline of 100% green electricity

Peninsula Clean Energy launches in April 2017

Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that Peninsula Clean Energy will be offering three options -- 100, 50 and 35 percent -- for the share of electricity from renewable sources. The program will actually be offering just two options: 100 percent and 50 percent.

Portola Valley's Town Council approved a plan on May 25 that will have the greenest baseline possible in effect when a program launches in April 2017 offering residents renewable sources of electricity as alternatives to the sources used by Pacific Gas & Electric company.

By unanimous vote, with Councilwoman Ann Wengert absent, the council's action assigns households in Portola Valley to the greenest of two choices -- 100 percent of electricity from renewable sources or 50 percent -- expected to be on offer from the countywide Peninsula Clean Energy program.

For the 50-percent choice, the program, managed jointly by officials from participating communities, would offer rates lower than PG&E's current rates, officials say. The 100 percent option is expected to be higher by about $3 -- between $5 and $20 a month for larger houses, Councilman Jeff Aalfs said -- but even that rate is expected to drop as time goes on.

As the program gets underway, customers will have several opportunities to opt out of the 100 percent baseline choice and go with any of the others. An option to return to PG&E will always be available.

By law, PG&E will continue to handle customer billing and maintain the infrastructure supplying the electricity.

For communities starting at a baseline other than 100 percent, the program debut is set for October 2015. The six-month difference in launch dates is meant, in part, to allow time "to procure the power" for communities that opt for 100 percent green, said Brandi de Garmeaux, who manages Portola Valley's sustainability programs.

"I'm so excited that Portola Valley is being true to its roots," said Mayor Maryann Moise Derwin before the vote. "This is completely in keeping with our ethos."

"I think it would be a great thing to do," said Councilman Craig Hughes. "It's well worth it, given the greenhouse gas reductions."

If the 100 percent option is widely supported in town, Portola Valley would be "just shy" of its greenhouse gas reduction goal for the year 2020, Mr. Hughes said.

Records show that Portola Valley residents use two to three times more electricity than the average customer in San Mateo County, Ms. de Garmeaux noted.

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6 people like this
Posted by Hopenchange
a resident of Portola Valley: Brookside Park
on Jun 1, 2016 at 3:42 pm

Lots of virtue-signaling by the PV city council.

I wonder what the unintended negative consequences will be for the customers.

I hope it's nothing like what happened in Germany where government mandates dictated a portion of their grid be supplied by wind and solar energy. Since the wind and solar are intermittent, backup generators run off of coal and oil had to be kept in constant standby mode. The result? More use of oil and coal, and higher electricity costs for German consumers.

2 people like this
Posted by Jeff Aalfs
a resident of Portola Valley: Brookside Park
on Jun 2, 2016 at 9:24 am

You bring up a good point: energy policy is complicated and very hard to get right. Germany (and Denmark, to an even greater extent) has pushed renewables through a very aggressive set of policies, which has led to large-scale adoption of solar and wind. And yes, this has increased electricity prices, but that was a policy decision: ten years ago, both solar and wind were much more expensive than they are today, so the only way to develop more of them was to require electric utilities to buy them. Those purchases helped drive prices down to where they are today.

California, incidentally, has had a similar policy (the Renewable Portfolio Standard) in place since 2005; PG&E bought renewables at prices well above market to meet its RPS requirements, and continues to do so. Those purchases are reflected in your current bill, and that has been a policy decision, not an "unintended consequence". The benefit of those above-market purchases, beyond the carbon-free electricity they're delivering, has been a dramatic decrease in the cost of solar and wind, to the point where renewables are nearing cost parity with fossil fuel generation (even before you factor in a price on carbon). Peninsula Clean Energy is seeing a premium for renewables over conventional sources, but that premium is much smaller and dropping steadily.

The challenge in the coming years will be matching our renewable portfolio (wind, solar, small hydroelectric, geothermal, biomass,and emerging wave technologies) to our loads; we rely on fossil fuel (almost entirely natural gas in California) as a backup to renewables, and will do so for the foreseeable future. Sound policy, however, can minimize that reliance through a combination of efficiency, demand management, "firming" of renewable sources over a wide geographic area, and the small but growing electricity storage industry. There's no question that this will be a long and technically daunting challenge, but I think its one worth pursuing, and I'm proud that Portola Valley is committed to doing its part. And as a resident, you are also free to either re-join PG&E or choose PCE's lower (50%) renewable product.

As you may have gathered, I've spent a fair amount of time thinking about this and other energy questions. Thank you for the comment; very topical.

Best Regards,

Jeff Aalfs
Council Member, Portola Valley
Vice Chairman, Peninsula Clean Energy

4 people like this
Posted by Jim Dandy
a resident of Portola Valley: Ladera
on Jun 5, 2016 at 8:07 pm

If I go with the 100% plan for my home, how many birds on average will have died per month by being mauled to create the wind power component of my energy cocktail.

Serious question: Is it possible to configure my energy supply so that there is no wind component in my consumption? I don't want the dead birds on my conscience.

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

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