California may very well be on the path to 100 percent renewable energy by 2045, but its cities likely won’t need that long. San Francisco plans to rid its energy mix of fossil fuels by 2030; San Jose aims to do the same by 2022.
One of the ways California municipalities are accomplishing this accelerated switchover is by forming Community Choice Aggregation systems (CCAs). The model (also referred to as Community Choice Energy) allows cities to buy power in bulk while using the state utility’s infrastructure. Laws in Illinois, Ohio, New Jersey and New York, among other states, allow similar setups.
Not too surprisingly, state utilities aren’t always keen on CCAs, since they diminish their customer base. Several years ago, California’s established players fought to tweak laws that automatically enrolled city residents into their regional CCAs, as Next City covered at the time. Now, residents joining their city’s utility may be hit with steeper “exit” fees.
The fees are “added to energy customers’ bills every month in perpetuity” when they join city-run power programs, the San Francisco Chronicle reports, but a proposal introduced by California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) Commissioner Carla Peterman would up them by as much as 25 percent.
The mayors of San Francisco, San Jose and Oakland have “substantial concerns” about this move, according to the paper. They wrote a letter to the CPUC urging commissioners to reject the proposal, claiming it would “reduce our investments in long-term renewable resources … and hinder our efforts in local development and customer programs.”
“This proposal would raise energy prices for all Oaklanders, but it would cost our most vulnerable customers the most,” Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf said in a statement. “Delivering clean energy at a low cost to all Oakland residents and businesses is an equity issue. I urge all Commissioners to make the right choice for fair and equitable energy regulations, and to allow us to meet our city’s ambitious climate goals while keeping our customers rooted in Oakland.”
In that same statement, San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo called out the established monopolies:
This utility-backed proposal threatens to deprive cities like San Jose of their most impactful tool for dramatically reducing GHG emissions: Community Choice Energy programs. This manipulation of the PUC rule-making process by PG&E and other utilities will handcuff our residents from making sustainable choices, undermine local control of green energy production, and harm our planet.
For their part, the established utilities claim that as CCAs draw rate-payers away en masse, they cause prices to go up for everyone else. The “big three” (PG&E and its two Southern California counterparts) “helped make the state a clean-energy leader by striking some of the first big deals to buy wind and solar power,” Chris Martin reported earlier this year for Bloomberg. “Problem is, those early contracts came with higher prices that were typically locked in for decades … .”
Rachel Dovey is an award-winning freelance writer and former USC Annenberg fellow living at the northern tip of California’s Bay Area. She writes about infrastructure, water and climate change and has been published by Bust, Wired, Paste, SF Weekly, the East Bay Express and the North Bay Bohemian.