Stockton City Council votes unanimously to consider Community Choice Energy

On Tuesday, November 9, at a specially planned study session, the Stockton City Council directed city staff to prepare a report and recommendation on joining an existing Community Choice Aggregation (CCA) joint powers authority. The council members present voted unanimously to take this next step after hearing from a number of experts and representatives from operating CCA agencies. There are currently 23 CCAs in California, and Stockton could join any one of them that is interested in taking in a new jurisdiction. 

A CCA would allow the city to buy electricity at competitive rates on behalf of Stockton residents and businesses and reinvest net revenues back into the community. PG&E would continue to provide distribution services through its power lines, while a governing board of local elected officials would decide what electricity sources residents buy from, develop local energy programs, and set rates for power generation. 

The city council previously explored Community Choice Energy when it received the results of a technical study that focused primarily on the prospects of the city starting its own CCA. The technical study found that “a CCA program is financially feasible for Stockton [and] would likely be able to offer Stockton residents and businesses power that is priced at [the same rate] or a few percent lower than that offered by Pacific Gas & Electric.” The study also found that “a CCA would be well-positioned to provide additional energy services to [Stockton] businesses and residents,” provide “economic and employment benefits to the region [through] lower rates, local solar or other renewable development, and the implementation of energy efficiency programs … and create and induce over 300 jobs in the Stockton area and add over $30 million to the area’s economy.”

At a city council meeting on March 23, 2021, council members decided to evaluate other options. Joining an existing CCA allows Stockton to avoid many of the costs and steps needed to start a CCA from scratch and minimizes financial risk to the city. “Joining a JPA would be the right move for Stockton, allowing our city to leapfrog a lot of the hurdles of a single city CCA,” said Councilmember Dan Wright, a long-time champion of CCA in Stockton. 

In joining a CCA, Stockton would be taking the same steps as 170 California cities and 20 counties. The state’s 23 CCAs have collectively invested in more than 9,000 megawatts of new renewable energy infrastructure, creating thousands of construction jobs in the process. They’re now serving more than 11 million customers with cleaner energy at rates competitive with or lower than the existing utility in their service areas. The Climate Center has been advocating and supporting the formation of CCAs in California since 2006 and has been working with the Stockton community since 2016 on its effort.

The report on Stockton’s options for joining an existing CCA is expected to be ready for review at a city council meeting in early 2022.

Electricity alone powers one quarter of U.S. homes

by Ingrid Lobet, Inews Source

Recently we reported that for climate reasons, some environmental groups are starting to advocate for all-electric homes. Those are homes in which all the appliances including heaters, hot water heaters and stoves run on electricity, not natural gas.

When it is burned, or particularly if it leaks out unburned, natural gas contributes to climate change. The electricity we get from the grid, on the other hand, is getting cleaner every year, with more solar and wind power.

It turns out one out of every four homes in the United States already is all-electric, according to data from the most recent household energy survey by the U.S. Energy Information Administration. That includes rented and owned homes, single and multifamily.

It was the 14th time the agency did the survey. It selected 5,686 households as representative of four census regions and the entire country. It gathered the information three ways: through in-person interviews with trained employees, online, or on paper.

The highest proportion of electric-only homes is in the South – 44 percent. These homes aren’t necessarily better for the climate because much of the electricity across that region comes from burning coal. In the West, which comes in a distant second, 17 percent of homes are electric-only. The EIA notes the proportion is rising nationwide. The steepest increase was in the Midwest, where the share of electric only homes rose from 9 to 13 percent, a 44 percent increase over the decade from 2005 to 2015.

Professional Builder magazine highlighted this all-electric home back in 2013.

No one could immediately say why more homes are getting built this way.

An EIA analyst didn’t wish to speculate. The National Association of Home Builders and four of the nation’s largest homebuilding companies did not respond by deadline. A representative for Lennar said the company had no comment. One heating contractor said his apartment owner clients had been moving away from natural gas in rental units because they believed it was riskier than electricity.

Occupants of all-electric homes, however, may find they are at the mercy of utility rates more than people who have both gas and electricity. Increasingly, utilities charge people based on time of use. You may be able to control what time you do laundry, run a dishwasher or charge an electric car. But heat and hot water tend to be needed at certain times. If your heat and hot water run on gas, then it doesn’t matter when you use them. But if they run on electricity, the electric bill may come as a shock.


El Paso Electric powers up state’s largest community solar grid

by Steve Hanley, Clean Technica

El Paso Electric has powered up the largest community solar grid in the state of Texas. As a kind of trolling of the outgoing pollution industry (unintentional trolling, we would presume), the community solar facility is located next to an existing natural gas generating facility. It’s a 21 acre solar farm, which would be hard to miss, and has a max output of 3 megawatts of power thanks to the whopping 33,000 solar panels in the “farm.” Basically, this makes it “commercial scale” more than “utility scale” (large solar farms go into the hundreds of megawatts), but the “community solar” designation means that consumers can buy into the ownership and rewards of the solar project.

The community solar farm “is currently maxed out at 1,500 customers with an additional 500 customers on a waiting list,” Fox News reports.

The solar panels are mounted to racks that tilt to follow the sun during the day, maximizing efficiency. Each has been treated with a special coating to reduce the reflected heat they give off on a sunny Texas day, something that has proven hazardous to birds in some areas.

El Paso Electric began the permitting process in June of 2015. Construction began in November of last year. Enrollment opened in March 2017. And the community solar project was fully subscribed by the end of April. In other words, there seems to be clear and strong demand for community solar power opportunities … even in Texas (which already has large and well known wind power and natural gas industries).

“This is actually one of the first facilities where we actually now own it. And now with our customers voluntarily being part of that program it becomes a program I think our customers will be proud to see,” said Eddie Gutierrez, a spokesperson for El Paso Electric.

Community solar is designed to meet the needs of people who can’t have rooftop solar of their own, like renters and condo dwellers. There’s a large portion of the population that simply doesn’t have a roof they can put solar panels on in order to clean up their electricity supply, or who perhaps have a roof but one that is not able to produce a lot of solar power (often due to shading). Community solar is the solution that allows them (you?) to go solar as well.

Subscribers pay a fixed rate of $20.96 per kilowatt per month for their community solar power. That’s higher than the regular retail rate in the area but it protects customers from any price increases for conventional power in the future, which are likely. Subscribers must sign up for a minimum of one kilowatt but can add to their subscription in half-kilowatt increments. Pricing details are available on the company website.

A one-year agreement with El Paso Electric is required initially, but customers are free to leave the program at any time after the expiration of the first year. The membership is portable, provided the subscriber moves to another location in the EPE service area. El Paso Electric is planning similar community solar projects for subscribers in New Mexico in the near future.

“Utility community solar programs have proven to be successful around the nation as electric utilities are able to utilize cost effective utility-scale solar resources in developing customer offerings, and EPE is excited to bring this new program to our community,” says former EL Paso Electric CEO Tom Schokley. (What are the odds that a utility company CEO would be named Schokley?)