Petaluma’s City Council will consider joining Sonoma Clean Power at its regular meeting on December 15, potentially capping a remarkable bright spot in the political quest for local, renewable energy.
Sonoma Clean Power (SCP), a local government agency set up to help reduce greenhouse gas emissions, promote renewable energy development, and save customers money, has proven more successful than envisioned when it began serving customers barely seven months ago.
SCP achieved this startling success while providing its customers with lower electricity rates and a greener energy mix than the local Investor Owned Utility (IOU), Pacific Gas and Electric, the utility company that serves much of Northern California. Established under California’s “Community Choice Aggregation” legislation, Sonoma Clean Power now serves all incorporated communities and county rural areas in Sonoma County except the City of Petaluma. (One other city, Healdsburg, has its own independent municipal utility.)
If Petaluma joins Sonoma Clean Power, the city’s residents and businesses will automatically be enrolled as SCP customers and enjoy its lower rates. All infrastructure and electricity grid hardware will continue under PG&E’s ownership and responsibility. Payment to SCP and PG&E for their respective services will automatically appear on PG&E’s monthly billing statement for all customers. Customers who elect to stay with PG&E can “opt out” of SCP’s customer base and continue to buy power from PG&E instead.
The Climate Center (CCP) helped shepherd Sonoma Clean Power into existence. CCP now works to facilitate Community Choice adoption throughout California. While most activity exists in Northern California, interest in Southern California has picked up, with San Diego and other areas expressing strong interest. The City of Lancaster is creating a Community Choice program, led by a Republican mayor with a full solar power agenda. Lancaster was one of many communities participating in a symposium entitled “The Business of Local Energy” held by The Climate Center in October.
Shawn Marshall, Executive Director of the LEAN, a non-profit working to advance CCAs in California and other states, points out that “Compared to CCAs elsewhere, Sonoma Clean Power and its predecessor Marin Clean Energy are more focused on greenhouse gas reduction as a central mission.” This focus sets a new course for the Community Choice model nationwide.
About ten California counties, encompassing about 100 cities, are in various stages of exploring Community Choice, and are watching Sonoma Clean Power’s success closely. SCP’s net energy metering enables rooftop solar customers to enjoy an improved arrangement over what they had with PG&E. Among other benefits, solar customers will be paid the retail rate plus one penny per kilowatt-hour for surplus clean power they feed to the grid, as opposed to the current wholesale rate they are paid.
A wide range of other methods for facilitating local renewable energy development and conservation are currently under discussion at Sonoma Clean Power. Moreover, SCP has moved quickly to leverage their new resources to meet their “increase local resources and benefits” objective, signing a contract with an independent solar power provider in the county. Topics under active discussion for the future include increasing incentives for energy efficiency, as well as adoption of new energy saving technologies.
Advisory Board Member