15 Dec: Petaluma, CA City Council to Decide on Joining Sonoma Clean Power, Putting Exclamation Point on New and Vital Political Vehicle for Advancing Renewable Energy

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Sonoma Clean Power (SCP), a Sonoma County CA government agency set up to help reduce GHG emissions, promote renewable energy development, and save ratepayers money has proven itself more successful than anyone could imagine when it began operations barely seven months ago. Beginning in May 2014 with a start-up debt of about $7 million, the agency quickly paid off its loans and moved to a $5 million positive cash position in its first six months of operation. SCP achieved this startling success while providing its customers with lower electricity rates and a greener energy mix than the local Investor Owned Utility (IOU) Pacific Gas and Electric, the utility company that serves much of Northern California. Established under California’s “Community Choice Aggregation” legislation, Sonoma Clean Power now serves all incorporated communities and county rural areas in the California Wine Country’s Sonoma County except the City of Petaluma (one other city, Healdsburg, has its own independent municipal utility). Petaluma’s City Council will deliberate joining the Sonoma Clean Power at its regular meeting on December 15, potentially capping a remarkable bright spot in the political quest for local, renewable energy.

Sonoma Clean Power’s publicly debated and continuously updated “Resource Plan” specifies a list of four “consolidated goals and objectives” for the agency. They are:

1) Reduce Greenhouse Gas (GHG) emissions;
2) Increase renewable energy;
3) Competitive pricing;
4) Increase local resources and benefits;

The Center for Climate Protection (formerly called the Climate Protection Campaign) of Santa Rosa, CA helped shepherd Sonoma Clean Power into existence. That citizen’s group now evangelizes for CCA adoption throughout California. While most interest exists in counties close to Marin and Sonoma Counties (Napa County also recently joined Marin Clean Energy), interest in Southern California has picked up, with San Diego and other areas expressing strong interest. The much publicized community of Lancaster, CA, where a Republican mayor has advanced a full solar power agenda, is trying to move forward to create a CCA. Lancaster was one of many communities participating in a symposium entitled “The Business of Local Energy” held by the Center for Climate Protection in October.

Shawn Marshall, Executive Director of the LEAN, a non-profit working to advance CCAs in California and other states, points out that “Compared to CCAs elsewhere, Sonoma Clean Power and its predecessor Marin Clean Energy are more focused on GGH reduction as a central mission.” Listing GGH reduction as a primary goal sets a new course for the CCA model. Ms. Marshall points out that about ten California counties, encompassing perhaps 100 cities, are watching Sonoma Clean Power’s success closely and are in various stages of exploring their own CCA development. She says that, “CCAs are certainly facilitating the development of renewable energy in California.”

If Petaluma joins Sonoma Clean Power, the city’s residents will automatically be enrolled as SCP customers and enjoy its lower rates. However, all infrastructure and electricity grid hardware will continue under PG&E’s ownership and responsibility. Payment to SCP and PG&E for their respective services will automatically appear on PG&E’s monthly billing statement for all customers. Customers who elect to stay with PG&E can “opt out” of SCP’s customer base and continue to buy power from PG&E instead. Transfering from one service to another in the future may subject the customer to some small service charges. PG&E specifies that customers who join that service must commit to one year’s continuous service before transferring out again.

SCP’s rooftop solar customers will continue to enjoy net metering (NEM) services. A wide range of other methods of for facilitating local renewable energy development and conservation are currently under public discussion due to SCP’s success. Moreover, SCP has moved quickly to leverage their new resources to meet their “increase local resources and benefits” objective, signing a contract with an independent solar power provider in the county. Topics under active discussion for the future include increasing incentives for energy efficiency, as well as adoption of new energy saving technologies.

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