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California’s three big utility companies stand in the way of consumer choice

by Sam Liccardo and Sheila Kuehl, San Francisco Chronicle


Highlights

San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo and Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors member Sheila Kuehl wrote an opinion piece addressing the Power Charge Indifference Adjustment, otherwise known as the PCIA or “exit fee”:

  • Since 2013, exit fees have risen more than 600% in the PG&E service area
  • The PCIA is a fee that Community Choice Energy customers pay to the major investor-owned utilities to compensate for the expensive electricity supply contracts that utilities signed on their behalf many years ago
  • In theory, the PCIA helps the ratepayers at the major utilities avoid overpaying to make up for the electricity that was bought at higher rates for the customers that left for Community Choice
  • Community Choice Energy programs are locally controlled utilities that provide residents and businesses with an energy mix that usually contains more renewables and typically at cheaper rates compared to PG&E, Edison, or SDG&E
  • State regulators have shifted hundreds of millions of dollars in the utilities’ costs to local residents and businesses using the PCIA

Liccardo and Kuehl suggest these solutions:

    • The California Public Utilities Commission should reverse recent rule changes that have accelerated rate hikes
    • The California Public Utilities Commission and legislature must adopt common-sense transparency measures around rate-setting and fees
    • The California Public Utilities Commission should adopt the recommendations of its public working group to require utilities to optimize their energy supply portfolio. Doing so would reduce energy costs for all customers

Community Choice Energy can be one of the most powerful ways to accelerate the transition from dirty fossil fuels to clean energy sources, and The Climate Center is working to spread it throughout California for a climate-safe future


Read More: https://www.sfchronicle.com/opinion/openforum/article/California-s-three-big-utility-companies-stand-15528929.php

Community Choice Energy: A California transformation in one decade

by Ann Hancock, The Climate Center  |  March 10, 2016

In October 2014, at our first Business
of Local Energy Symposium, only two operational Community Choice programs
existed in California: Marin Clean Energy and Sonoma Clean Power. A mere
sixteen months later, Community Choice is taking off across the state.

We reported this story in our February 24, 2016 blog post called “The accelerating pace and
growing number of Californians served by Community Choice.” For the March 4 Symposium
we elaborated on this story.

The combined population of areas with
existing and about-to-launch programs, as well as large population areas
considering Community Choice programs, is about 17.6 million. If all of these
had operational Community Choice programs by 2020, and if we subtract out the
approximately 25 percent of Californians already served by Municipal Utility
Districts (therefore ineligible for Community Choice), then about 60 percent
of eligible Californians would be able to select Community Choice. This transformation
would happen ten years from the time Marin Clean Energy went live.

From a climate protection perspective,
the impact of this transformation is potentially huge. Consider the impact if
results are similar to Sonoma Clean Power, for example, which in 2014 realized
a 48 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions relative to PG&E’s last
reported data from 2013.

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In addition to the communities
listed in the table above, many other California cities and counties are in
varying stages of exploring Community Choice.

California’s Community Choice movement
faces many hurdles, such as exit fees (also known as the Power Charge
Indifference Adjustment rate) charged by the Investor-Owned Utilities, access
to start up financing for Community Choice Energy programs, and the long time
it takes for communities to get programs up and running. Still, the data show
that momentum is building for Community Choice.

Last month, I was interviewed
about Community Choice by two members of an international team studying
emerging local energy solutions worldwide through the Enel Foundation. I asked
the researchers how Community Choice compared with the other solutions they
were studying. They responded, “Community Choice Energy is one of the most
powerful solutions we have found.”

Community Choice is a platform for
innovation where public/private partnerships build something that is both
dynamic and enduring. It is up to us to bring the energy revolution home to our
communities. That requires leadership and hard work.

Given the impacts of climate change, it
is also our moral obligation to accelerate this trend, and leave our children
and grandchildren a sustainable energy system that supports future prosperity.

CleanPowerSF Community Choice Takes a Giant Step Forward

by Woody Hastings  |   September 30, 2015

Can you say “all oars rowing in
the same direction?”

On Friday, September 25, the San
Francisco Public Utilities Commission (SFPUC) and Local Agency Formation
Commission held a joint meeting to hear the latest from their respective staffs
about plans and timelines for moving forward with the Community Choice program
for San Francisco – CleanPowerSF.

As one after another commissioner
at the joint meeting questioned why there is a new estimated six-week delay in
the timeline, it became clear that there is no resistance whatsoever to moving
forward on CleanPowerSF. The line-up of ten public speakers, every one of them
with a message of “move forward quickly,” further confirmed the unanimity of
purpose.

The delay, which is not expected
to push the anticipated Spring 2016 program launch back, is only reflective of a
tendency on the part of staff to dot every “i” and cross every “t” as they
proceed, aiming to offer “affordable and reliable” service that is
significantly cleaner than the power mix PG&E offers.

Part of the delay is due to the
fact that they received not just 10, 20, 30, or even 40 responses to their Request
for Proposals – they received 52 responses from credible energy service
providers! And that high number of responses requires more time for adequate
review. Having a large number of responses opens up many opportunities for cost
savings and clean power.

The folks in San Francisco have
consulted Sonoma Clean Power and Marin Clean Energy extensively on how they
rolled out their programs. Although CleanPowerSF is echoing many of what both
of those Community Choice trailblazers did, there will be a key variation in
the launch of CleanPowerSF. CleanPowerSF is first, prior to program launch, formally
and aggressively marketing its “SuperGreen” 100% renewable energy product, similar to
Sonoma Clean Power’s “EverGreen” product. Doing this, according to SFPUC General Manager Harlan
Kelly, will give CleanPowerSF a chance to obtain upwards of 14% enrollment for
the premium product, compared to many other similar programs that gain
enrollments only in the single digits. 220 people have already enrolled,
according to SFPUC Assistant General Manager Barbara Hale.

Although no formal action was
taken, the direction to staff was to continue pursuing the program as quickly
as possible. Part of the urgency is based on the fact that PG&E plans to
offer its own “green” product, probably sometime in the next six months.

That San Francisco is launching a
Community Choice program is a big deal. When CleanPowerSF goes live, it will
send community power energizing ripples throughout the State. After over ten
years of effort in the City by the Bay, it’s heartening to see all oars, at
long last, rowing in the same direction. Stay tuned for future blogs on this
topic.

Woody Hastings is the Renewable Energy
Implementation Manager for The Climate Center. He can be reached
at woody [at] theclimatecenter.org

Profile: Geof Syphers, Chief Executive Officer of Sonoma Clean Power

By
Bill Skoonberg (Guest blog contribution to The Climate Center)

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Ever
wonder what you can do to address the climate crisis? The folks at the Center
for Climate Protection have been working on that question since their founding
in 2001. In 2005, they identified Community Choice energy as the single most
powerful tool available to local governments to rapidly reduce greenhouse gas
emissions.

Following
several years of community outreach and education, the Sonoma County Water
Agency stepped up to the plate in 2011 and allocated the funds needed to kick
off a formal evaluation. This led to the formation of Sonoma Clean Power in
late 2012 with the goals of offering a choice regarding electricity supplier,
reducing greenhouse emissions, and supporting the local economy by developing
local energy resources.

Local
resident Geof Syphers was hired as Chief Executive Officer the following year,
and the agency “went live” on May 1, 2014. SCP purchases electricity on the
open market and delivers it to approximately 200,000 Sonoma County customer
accounts over Pacific Gas and Electric Company’s power lines.

A
graduate of Sonoma State University, Syphers holds a bachelor’s degree in
applied physics, and a master’s degree in energy engineering from the
University of Massachusetts. Responsible for the strategy and vision of SCP,
Syphers oversees a staff of nine and works with a Santa Rosa-based call center that employs two staff
exclusively dedicated to Sonoma Clean Power.  

“The
Board has been quite pleased with Mr. Syphers’ performance,” said County
Supervisor Susan Gorin, a member of SCP’s Board of Directors. “He was
instrumental before Sonoma Clean Power was an entity and has been key to
assembling an entire organization focused on providing renewable energy to our
ratepayers.”

Syphers
took an hour out of his busy schedule to talk about his background and the
future of his organization.

How did you end up running
Sonoma Clean Power?

Soon after entering the work
world, I realized I was pretty good at something people needed, and that was
taking very complicated topics and communicating or “translating” them to
people in the industry in ways that they could understand. I worked as an
energy consultant to several clients, among which was the Sonoma County Water
Agency designing their energy management programs and helping them find
financing.

I began to work as a consultant
with Sonoma Clean Power in 2012, helping get the program started. This was an
exciting project for me; I was very attracted to it. While helping with the
candidate search and recommending people for the position to head up Sonoma
Clean Power, we found three really good people but each of them ultimately
turned the job down. Then I was asked by the group to see if I would consider running
it myself, and I said no. Then a month or two went by, and the Sonoma County Board
of Supervisors approached me and asked me to consider taking the position,
which turned out to be the culmination of everything I had done before. I
applied, the application process went long, and I was ultimately selected.

Have you experienced any
failures along the way?

Scientifically, if you don’t
have any failed experiments you can’t find the ones that work. In the world of
energy management, what I’ve learned is how to set up these experiments so that
the risks are well managed. You get a tremendous amount of data, then you study
it, and get other people to study it, and you learn everything you can.

For example, in the early ’90s
the focus was on renewable energy, as a goal. What’s really fascinating is that
there are a number of people who still see that as a key goal of Sonoma Clean
Power.

One of my jobs is to educate
people that renewable energy is a tool and not a goal. The goals ought to be
reducing greenhouse gas emissions, providing energy at competitive prices, and
helping employ people in local jobs. That is what we ought to teach. Renewable
energy is a tool that we can use to get there, but it is only one of a whole
bunch of tools. There is conservation, efficiency, controls, education, the
whole package.

My translator role at SCP has
been to communicate the clarity of staying focused on the real goals so we
don’t confuse the tools with the goals.

Who are your biggest influences?

It’s a long list, but I’d like
to call out one person in particular, and that is Ann Ludwig, an Alameda County
employee. She was one of my clients when I was a consultant. Very early on in
my career she taught me that “being right” has virtually nothing to do with
human decision making. The notion of convincing someone to do something because
it is the “right thing to do” needs to be thrown out, because it has never
changed anyone’s mind.

Finding the real motivators of
why people can learn new things and change their behavior is one of the lessons
she really, really taught me. The reason people change their behavior is
because their peer group is changing and the reason people change their
behavior is because they are rewarded in some way, or they feel included, or
heard, or respected, not because of a moral compass, or because of facts or
data. That insight was so important in learning whether an environmental
initiative could succeed or fail. I see SCP as an environmental initiative, but
run within the context of a business.

It is really important for us to
understand that to reduce greenhouse gases, we are providing our customers with
the tools that they need to succeed by their own metric. That might be saving
money, that might be getting credit on their annual report if they are a big
company, might be feeling good about helping out a local school district.

What did you set out to do with
your life, and what have you accomplished?

When I was in high school, I was
going to go into mining landfills for valuable materials, or I was going to
test whether nuclear energy or solar energy was going to win. As I left high
school, I saw that nobody was mining the landfills yet, so I went into a
combined nuclear and solar program to study the difference between them. I was
definitely motivated to try to find ways to make a living doing things that
would also bring benefit to the planet. My theme was “try to find ways to
achieve environmental outcomes by moving the center of gravity of human
behavior.” So instead of trying to look at extremes, and instead of looking at
outliers, let’s focus on ordinary people who may not be thinking about these
things in their daily life, and make it so easy, convenient and attractive so
they do it naturally. It is not an issue or a campaign for them, but becomes
the default.

What is it that makes you who
you are?

I have been unbelievably blessed
by having strong, caring people in my life who told me things like “everyone is
doing the best they can, and if you don’t see that, it just means that you
don’t understand them well enough.” And that led to a philosophy of kindness,
believing that there’s an obligation to give back when you’re privileged, when
you’re born in the United States, when you’re born Caucasian, when you’re born
male. I grew up with tremendous privilege. That kindness, along with a sense of
privilege, has led me to a sense of duty and obligation.

We in Sonoma County have a
history of getting involved, and have left our mark on things like the Coastal
Commission and the Golden Gate Bridge. There is a legacy of giving that
prevails here, like the Doyle Scholarships that make a difference in people’s
lives. The world looks at us to see what’s coming next.

What would it take for you to
leave this job?

I would only leave if it would
make the organization stronger. One of the most powerful things that a manager
can do is to recognize that the organization they are leading could be better
off without them. That happens in the evolution of an organization at some
point. It might happen after a very long time, or shorter if it turns out that
the organization needs a totally different kind of leadership. That’s what it
would take for me. This is not just a job for me but something I want to feel
incredibly proud of late in my life. Sonoma Clean Power is doing better than I
ever thought. This is an all-consuming proposition, and I have narrowed down my
life to keep my focus here.

What’s in this interview for
you, why are you doing this?

My default is to be open and
responsive when I can. I guess what is different about a local organization and
power agency, is that we get to have a connection with the people in our
community in a way that is atypical. When I worked as a consultant to PG&E
in the early ’90s there was a sense of being out in the community, and
connecting. Here, what excites me, for example, is that we had a third grade
class that wrote letters to us suggesting what they wanted to see with clean
power. And we got to write back. That kind of connection with the community
creates a sense of pride in ownership, and I think when that is real and it
gets deeper over the years instead of shallower, then eventually people will
believe in and understand that Sonoma Clean Power is theirs.

What’s in it for me is the sense
that little by little, after we have done a thousand things like this, the
community understands that they not only can manage environmental problems, but
that they can be successful. If they want to see something happen, it may take
a few years, but they could do it and it’s theirs. That sense of empowerment is
the goal. To have the community feel like they are in charge of their energy
and their economy. And as a result, that means they are in charge of economic
development and in charge of how they contribute to climate issues.

In fact, we are turning
seriously to transportation, and trying to figure out how to electrify personal
transportation. That idea came to us from community members who said we
shouldn’t be trying to reduce total electricity usage, but instead we should be
trying to reduce total emissions. That’s what’s in it for me.

What is it about you that you
would not want us to know?

As the CEO I am out in front of
this organization, and am a reluctant public figure. I am more interested in
the results than in the fame. I do have a private life that I don’t plan to
give up. I see the value of being in the public because it is helping achieve
what we are trying to do here.

What do the next three years of
Sonoma Clean Power look like to you?

I think in three years we are
going to make steady progress on greenhouse gas reduction through wholesale
contracting. We are going to build out a significant amount of local solar
capacity and maybe some other types of resources, and we are going to get some
consumer programs up and running. I am excited about programs like Energize™ that
will allow customers to manage their energy use and get paid for responding to
events when wholesale prices go high. And there are other tools for engaging
customers.

In that time we will have enough
data and political buy-in that we will be able to articulate some of our
long-term goals. We should be able to form a consensus of where we are going
and how fast we want to get there.

What makes you happy?

Working with people I respect,
doing something I can feel proud of. When you do something you love it doesn’t
feel like a job. I think that the lesson is that worrying about picking the
right thing is not helpful. But diving into the thing that feels engaging and
exploring it and really giving it your all, gives you the opportunity to feel
happy with something that you might not have expected, but it also gives you
the opportunity to adjust and fine-tune over time.

Where are you in your life?

I keep learning how and why to
go back to the basics of life, like why it is important to have a good
marriage, good friendships. I have been a planner my whole life, thinking
ahead, planning my career, my retirement. But I stopped doing that about 10
years ago when I began to pay more attention to what was going on in real time.
I realized that I wanted to take care of the present, to be more attentive to
it. Planning served me very well, and I can’t tell you why I turned away from
that mode. I can say that I am feeling freer, and able to be more responsive to
what is happening now and to take the opportunity when it comes along. That has
been an evolution for me.

Bill Skoonberg is a retired PG&E Electric Metering Systems
Technician and a student at Santa Rosa Junior College. He can be reached at
billskoonberg@gmail.com.

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Lancaster California Community Choice: Up and Running – Fast!New YOUtility launched May 6, 2015

By Woody Hastings

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Lancaster is well known in renewable energy circles as the first city in the United States to mandate solar on all new homes. In May, Lancaster achieved another big milestone when it began operating the third Community Choice energy program in California. Lancaster Choice Energy is live!

It took Marin and Sonoma Counties five years-plus to get their Community Choice programs up & running. In the case of Lancaster, the span from initiation to launch was only about two years. The difference comes down to unified leadership among the elected officials involved in the initiation.

Lancaster Choice Energy launched May 6th for their own municipal load with plans to launch for residential and commercial customers in October. The service features a default product at a lower rate than Southern California Edison that is 35% California eligible renewable energy (note that that is 2% higher than the 2020 State mandate!), with a 100% renewable energy product that costs a flat fee of $10 per month regardless of the amount of electricity used.

Lancaster has not wasted any time getting started on developing local renewables. They are already in contract negotiations for their first solar power purchase agreement for a project within their own service territory. Outreach to residential and commercial customers about the Phase 2 launch in the fall has begun, and a joint rate comparison card, approved by Lancaster and So Cal Edison, that shows lower rates offered by Lancaster Choice Energy, is scheduled to be published in July.

According to Deputy City Manager Jason Caudle, one of the key players in the development and launch of Lancaster Choice Energy, “There is no reason on Earth why every city in California should not be doing this…. any city that says they can’t do it, just look at Lancaster!”

Take a look at Jason’s short, fun video explanation of Lancaster’s approach to Community Choice.

Kudos to Lancaster for leading the Community Choice charge in the Southern California region! Now, let’s keep up the momentum… who will be fourth?

Woody Hastings is the Renewable Energy Implementation Manager at The Climate Center. He can be reached at woody@theclimatecenter.org

Another Important Legislative Victory for Community Choice Energy

A two-year struggle to defeat an insidious piece of legislation in Sacramento, Assembly Bill 976, has come to a happy conclusion. On September 27 Governor Brown vetoed AB976 and added a brief signing statement (see below). In this statement the Governor echoed what community choice proponents drove home repeatedly in committee hearings and elsewhere.

The Climate Protection Campaign worked with the Marin Energy Authority, the Local Energy Aggregation Network, the Local Clean Energy Alliance, and other community choice energy supporters throughout the state to pull off what many consider to be an upset victory. We fought big money and influential utility lobbyists trying to pass the bill.

It would have singled out community choice energy programs like Sonoma Clean Power and prohibited them from using the same consulting service before and after the launch of a program. Because Community Choice Aggregation is a relatively new field, few expert consulting services exist.

With the defeat of Proposition 16 in 2010, passage of SB790 in 2011, and defeat of AB976 in 2012, the coast is getting clearer and clearer for emerging community choice energy programs throughout California to launch.

Many thanks to all of you who joined the fight, signed on to opposition letters, and sent your own letters.

   – Woody Hastings

To the Members of the California State Assembly:

I am returning Assembly Bill 976 without my signature.

This bill prohibits any company from doing business with a Community Choice Aggregation program if that company advised a local government on establishing the program.

This goes too far –local governments already have plenty of laws on conflicts of interests and transparent decision making. Adding the restriction in this bill would serve only to impede efforts to establish community choice energy programs.

Sincerely,

Edmund G. Brown Jr.