All of San Mateo County's small and medium businesses, city government facilities and about 20 percent of homes across the county just got greener by doing nothing.
As of Oct. 3, Peninsula Clean Energy took over Pacific Gas & Electric as the default energy provider for those buildings selected to be included in the first of two phases of the initiative's rollout. The second phase, which will cover the rest of San Mateo County, will launch in April 2017.
Peninsula Clean Energy is a public energy provider governed by a joint powers authority led by all 20 of San Mateo County's cities, plus the county itself.
Except for users that have chosen to opt out, that means that the selected electricity accounts will automatically be signed up for "ECOplus," or energy in which 50 percent comes from renewable sources and 75 percent from carbon-free sources. On ECOplus, people also save 5 percent compared to PG&E's generation rates.
If they choose, users can opt "up" for ECO100, or energy that's 100 percent renewable and carbon-free, for an additional 1 cent per kilowatt hour, or roughly $4.45 a month for the average household.
If users want neither, and wish to keep PG&E as their provider (which contains less renewable energy and is slightly more expensive than the ECOplus option), they can also do that.
Peninsula Clean Energy, which now has four employees, including CEO Jan Pepper, will likely expand to about 20, according to Ms. Pepper.
The agency has contracted with a separate energy service provider called Direct Energy to source the clean energy, which is generated from renewable sources like solar, wind, and small hydroelectric plants in California and the Pacific Northwest. The agency uses the collective purchasing power of participating cities to buy and deliver it via the existing PG&E grid.
Areas that were switched over to the clean energy program in the first phase are unincorporated areas of Menlo Park; various clusters of homes in incorporated Menlo Park neighborhoods; in Atherton, segments mostly south of Atherton Avenue; in Woodside, clusters mostly east of Interstate 280, and part of North Fair Oaks.
See the online maps for more information.
Portola Valley has opted to automatically enroll all of its residents in the 100 percent renewable energy mix, though residents and businesses will still have options to select the 50 percent renewable energy mix, or continue receiving energy from PG&E. As a result, the town will begin to receive energy from Peninsula Clean Energy during the second phase.
At an event held Oct. 6, a ceremonial switch was flipped at the County Center in Redwood City, signaling the program's launch.
Jeff Aalfs of the Portola Valley Town Council, who works in the energy efficiency industry and is Portola Valley's representative on the agency's board, attended the event.
In launching Peninsula Clean Energy, he said, the agency collaborated with other clean energy agencies, such as Marin Clean Energy, Sonoma Clean Power and Lancaster Choice Energy, to figure out what might work best. He said he expects programs such as Peninsula Clean Energy and others to change the electricity business in California, and ultimately, globally: he recently attended a conference where similar strategies are being discussed for implementation in China.
"This may have the most measurable impact of anything I do on the planet," he said.
Editor's Note: A previous version of this story had imprecisely described specific "clusters" of Menlo Park homes that had been moved to Peninsula Clean Energy, which created confusion.