Close to Home: Invest now for a clean energy future

Press Democrat June 3, 2015 By Dick Dowd and Brad Baker

On May 1, Sonoma Clean Power
celebrated its first year of delivering greener, cheaper power to
customers. Here is a snapshot of Sonoma Clean Power’s enormous success:

With its basic service, Sonoma
Clean Power supplies electricity that is 6 to 9 percent less expensive
and 34 percent lower in greenhouse gas emissions than PG&E’s. In its
first year, Sonoma Clean Power kept an estimated $6 million circulating
in Sonoma County. Additionally, Sonoma Clean Power offers EverGreen, a
100 percent renewable, locally sourced option, and NetGreen which pays
more than PG&E does to customers who feed solar power into the grid.
Last year, Sonoma Clean Power signed a contract for 70 megawatts of new
solar that doubled the amount of solar in the county’s energy mix. It
also recently contracted for 12.5 megawatts of local floating solar
through the Sonoma County Water Agency. And Sonoma Clean Power is
ramping up its purchase for local geothermal electricity from The
Geysers, projected to be 23 percent of its power mix by 2018. 

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Darn good for a first year.
Kudos to Sonoma Clean Power’s board, staff and all of its customers.
Sonoma Clean Power offers lower rates because PG&E is locked into
more expensive long-term electricity contracts while the price of solar
and other renewables continues to descend. This situation that gives an
advantage to the home team will not last forever and is a perfect
opportunity to increase our investment in a sustained clean energy
economy. Plentiful opportunities for investment exist such as more
rooftop and parking lot solar, energy efficiency projects, pilot
projects for storage, microgrids and demand response programs that save
customers money by managing when they use electricity. All of these
generate local jobs. Modernizing the local grid so it is more resilient
and thus more able to accept even more local renewable energy will not
only keep energy costs low and save us money in the long run, but it
will also help keep greenhouse gas emissions significantly lower with
more local solar, energy efficiency and conservation.

 
 

 

 

 
 
 

Investing now means that, in
decades to come, our community will be less susceptible to the
volatility of world energy markets and less vulnerable to natural
disasters and other threats to our power service. Low-income customers
will not be impacted because they will continue to be served by the CARE
program and, with good planning and by building its reserve, Sonoma
Clean Power’s rates will continue to be competitive with PG&E’s.

Energy markets are going
through big changes with positive disruptions from renewables, storage
and localization. If we make smart choices today — innovative programs,
public-private partnerships and committed investment — we will give
customers more options, reduce dependence on fossil fuels and move
toward a more sustainable and resilient energy system.

Traditional utilities are slow to
embrace such opportunities because they do not fit their business model
or provide short-term returns for shareholders. Sonoma Clean Power is
different. Its only obligation is to the community, not short-term
shareholder dividends. Sonoma Clean Power can be agile and innovative.
As a community, we can think beyond the short term, spend a little less
now on lowering rates and a little more on long-term investment. The
logic that applies to investing in our children’s education applies to
investing in our clean energy economic future. The era of big polluting
electricity plants and powerless ratepayers is ending. We fought hard to
establish Sonoma Clean Power so we would have local control over rates
and our power mix. Now is the time to exercise this control by making
policy and budget choices to enhance our long-term future.

Dick Dowd is vice chairman of
The Climate Center and vice chairman of the Sonoma Clean
Power business operations committee. Brad Baker is chairman and CEO of
Codding Enterprises.

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