Michael Laybourn: Local Clean Power News…



North Bay Business Journal:
The Sonoma County Board of Supervisors today voted unanimously to create an initial governing authority for a proposed countywide renewable energy-focused power agency known as Sonoma Clean Power, a step needed before determining rates to charge potential customers when service is targeted to begin in early 2014.”

Sonoma County Supervisors voted to create a CCA (community choice aggregation) and call it Sonoma Clean Power, following Marin County’s successful creation and operation of Marin Energy Authority aka Marin Clean Energy.

Sonoma Clean Power, the proposed agency, follows the “community choice aggregation” model made possible by California’s 2002 legislation, Assembly Bill 117 written by Paul Fenn. Like the Marin Energy Authority in Marin County, the proposed agency would serve its customers by feeding power into the current grid maintained by Pacific Gas and Electric Co.

A CCA allows a local entity to create an energy authority in order to purchase power from other sources besides PG&E, giving more freedom of choice and the ability to deliver power that comes from more sustainable sources.

“Sonoma Clean Power can provide multiple benefits to our community. These include greenhouse gas reductions resulting from greener, less carbon-intensive energy sources as well as job creation through the implementation of local efficiency and power projects,” said Shirlee Zane, Chair of the county’s Board of Supervisors and Water Agency.

Other benefits include local control, rate stability and the ability to create significant financial incentives for customers who generate surplus power on their own through photovoltaic or other systems.
A little timeline history from rhalstead@marinij.com

• November 2008: Marin Energy Authority legally formed after Fairfax and Tiburon vote to join with county of Marin in a joint powers authority.
• January 2010: Marin Board of Supervisors votes to remain in authority and proceed with Marin Clean Energy initiative.
• February 2010: Marin Energy Authority finalizes five-year contract with Shell Energy North America and begins sending notices to its 7,500 “phase one” customers, the biggest energy users in the county. Also, the board approves guarantee of a $950,000 loan to provide working capital.
•May 2010: Marin Clean Energy begins to provide electricity to its initial customers.

Marin County is now the statewide leader in local public power, having formed their own energy authority with 7 municipalities in 2010.

I had been watching the move happen from reading the Marin Independent Journal, reading the step by step pros, cons and risks. A fascinating story.

Mendocino County’s 5th District Supervisor Hamburg and I decided to talk to the prime movers. On 3/8/11, Supervisor Hamburg, Deputy CEO Steve Dunnicliff and I met with Marin Supervisor Charles F. McGlashan, the person who spearheaded the effort that led to the formation of the Marin Energy Authority. After a tour of the Frank Lloyd Wright Marin Civic center, we sat down and heard the story of the conception and implementation of the Marin Energy Authority.

He noted immediately that he was just the cheerleader for the concept and that he had a gifted crew that put the nuts and bolts together. A smart, energetic team has to be put together to make it happen, he emphasized. Sadly, Charles McGlashan passed away in Lake Tahoe of a heart attack on March 27, 2011, a couple of weeks after we talked to him.

“MEA board members take great pride in their achievements and are deeply engaged, like the talented staff, led by executive director Dawn Weisz. Everyone’s commitment deepened after the loss of Supervisor McGlashan, the first chair of MEA, who died in April 2011. Charles put his heart, soul, and buoyant energy into MCE, and he is deeply missed.” – Barbara George, executive director, Women’s Energy Matters

Charles McGlashan  was upbeat. Whenever you met him, you couldn’t help but remember that big smile and enthusiastic attitude.

July 18, 2012, Sierra Club Yodeler: “ In the next few years MEA will have even more options for developing resources in the county and the region, including financing with “revenue bonds”. These bonds are repaid from the revenue from a project (unlike “general obligation bonds” which are repaid from taxes).

This is now possible because MEA has demonstrated its fiscal viability to local financial institutions, which would not loan it a nickel two years ago, under pressure from PG&E.

Applying monthly revenue from customers to pay for renewable-energy is the secret to why forming a CCA is the most effective action that cities and counties can take to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions.”

Supporters of the initiative, which placed a modest public authority consisting of the county of Marin and seven Marin municipalities  acknowledged there were risks but argued those risks were offset by potential benefits.

The biggest risk, however, was PG&E, which squealed like a stuck pig about the competition MEA might give the so-called public utility. Marin County Supervisor Steve Kinsey said he considered PG&E’s opposition to Marin Clean Energy to be the biggest threat to its survival.

In addition to an aggressive marketing campaign against Marin Clean Energy, PG&E threatened to sue the county of Marin and the Marin Municipal Water District if they provided the authority with loan guarantees. PG&E refused, initially, to provide access to its energy distribution system, then threatened to launch a legal challenge based on the California Environmental Quality Act. Kinsey said the most aggressive move was Proposition 16, a measure that PG&E qualified for the June 8, 2011 ballot that would have amended the California State Constitution to require two-thirds voter approval before public entities could use taxpayer funds to provide electrical service to new customers. We all remember PG&E ’s ill-advised, senseless  spending of upwards of 45 Million dollars to change California’s Constitution to eliminate any competition to their monopoly. Happily, PG&E’s ballot measure did not pass.

Supervisor Hamburg and I then went to visit the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors, then chaired by Efren Carrillo. Again, another positive meeting letting us know that Sonoma County was going to do a study about the same  CCA ideas, forming an energy authority. At that point, we were told they would share some of that information with us in Mendocino County.

A few months went by and Supervisor Hamburg emailed me about doing a Ukiah Rotary program about Sonoma Clean Power. Sonoma County was getting close to implementing the authority. I said I would book the program. The talk on November 27 was by the Deputy Chief  Engineer at the Sonoma County Water Agency, Cordel Stilman, who explained CCAs and talked of the study that convinced Sonoma County that things looked very positive for them to move forward and create a CCA. The study ‘s conclusions are posted on the Sonoma Clean Power site. CCA Feasibility Study (Posted 10/13/11).

Two weeks later, as I’ve noted at the top, the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors today (Dec 4) voted unanimously to create a energy authority for a countywide power agency known as Sonoma Clean Power.

Sometimes the news is good.