by Tiny Casey, Clean Technica
Despite America’s obsession with gadgets, electricity sales have been flatlining. So, what’s a utility company to do? Sonoma Clean Power in California has hit upon one answer: get people to buy more EVs, with hefty discounts and a free home EV charger, to boot — and an extra break for low income eligible buyers, too.
As a not-for-profit company with a clean energy mission, SCP has a slightly different perspective on the bottom line than a private utility, but if Sonoma can make the rebate work that could be good news — eventually — for prospective EV buyers everywhere.
Huge Deals On New EVs
The Sonoma Clean Power EV rebate program kicked off on August 8 and runs through October 31. It’s timed for the deal-hunting season, when auto sellers are trying to shed stock and make room for next year’s models. So, the rebate program will have plenty of competition from gasmobiles.
Or, not. It’s hard to match the SCP deals, which have been negotiated with seven local dealerships.
Enthusing over the new EV program, the Santa Rosa Press Democrat provides a rundown of the discounts for the e-Golf hatchback:
The e-Golf, a hatchback with a 124-mile range, comes with a $7,000 dealer credit and a $2,000 Sonoma Clean Power incentive for the average utility customer, plus the possibility of a $2,500 state rebate and a $7,500 federal tax credit. The incentive package, which totals $19,000, slashes the price to $9,995.
That’s just the general discount. In parts of Sonoma County where air pollution management has been stepped up, additional incentives are available and the final price sinks to $4,495.
SCP serves Mendocino County as well as Sonoma County, and in case you’re wondering, no, you can’t run over from some other county to get these deals. Purchasers and leasers have to verify that they’re SCP customers.
The Power Of Not-For-Profit Power
So, here’s where it gets interesting. SCP is a creature of the growing community choice aggregation trend. Aggregation enables electricity customers to pool their load and form public agencies to negotiate with local utilities. It began in the US in 1995 with an initial focus on negotiating lower rates than investor-owned companies, but with the advent of renewable energy local communities are more interested in getting their hands on wind and solar power.
Generally, the existing utility continues to provide transmission, distribution, billing, and other services, so it’s still in the picture. However, under community aggregation, a local board of directors has the authority to determine where the electricity is coming from.
That’s an important benefit for cities (and corporate citizens) that are trying to establish green cred.
According to SCP, in just the first year of service its emissions clocked in at half the amount of its competitor, PG&E.
Until recently, the renewable energy focus of community aggregation could generally translate into higher rates. Now that renewables are dropping in price, aggregation communities can have their energy cake and eat it too, with clean power and lower rates.
As of last March, SCP rates for the average residential and small or medium businesses were generally at or slightly lower than PG&E rates. Interestingly, though, PG&E currently has an edge when it comes to providing large commercial and industrial companies with 100% renewable-sourced electricity.
Community aggregation laws are only on the books in half a dozen states including California (no surprise), and even in that state only a handful of communities have adopted it so far. But, the prospect of reducing rates — and meeting greenhouse gas emission goals — will help advocates make the case for more widespread adoption.
That’s already starting to happen. Somerville, Massachusetts just launched an aggregation program last May. Although the new program can’t absolutely guarantee lower rates for the entire 30-month length of the contract, its rate is currently lower than the existing provider (the existing provider is entitled to adjust its rates periodically).
What it can guarantee is rate stability and an improved clean power picture. Somerville attributes 22% of its greenhouse gas emissions to grid-supplied electricity, and the new program will chip away at that:
In addition to stabilizing and reducing costs, Somerville CCE will bring more renewable energy to Somerville’s supply. The default supply will contain 5% more renewable energy than what is currently required by the State of Massachusetts. In addition, ratepayers have the option to either increase their renewable energy percentage to 100%, or drop down to the minimum state requirement…
San Diego could be next up for community aggregation. A new study indicates that shifting to clean power through aggregation would result in higher rates in the first year or so relative to the current electricity provider, but rates would drop after that and land at 11% lower by 2026.
More Good News About Community Aggregation And EVs
Aside from lower rates and cleaner power, aggregation can involve other important local benefits.
One significant benefit is that communities can lobby for more renewable energy to be sourced locally as part of a holistic job-creating economic development package, rather than simply shopping around for the lowest available rates.
SCP already has an advantage in the local sourcing department. It is deploying an existing geothermal complex along the border of Sonoma and Lake counties to market a 100% renewable energy option dubbed “EverGreen.” EV owners who opt in and take advantage of the free home charger discount can lay claim to driving on 100% geothermal.
Local boards can also be more responsive to opportunities for stimulating employment related to EV ownership.
In addition to the discounts already in place, SCP is currently hammering out the details of an incentive aimed at attracting Uber and Lyft drivers.
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