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Sonoma Clean Power News and Public Meetings

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Sonoma Clean Power News
and Public Meetings

By Teri Shore

People in Sonoma and across the county are now choosing whether to buy electricity from Sonoma Clean Power or opt out and stay with Pacific Gas & Electric. In any case, PG & E will continue to send electric bills for both electricity providers, provide natural gas, operate power lines, and respond to power outages. The opt-out approach is mandated by state law in order to provide start-up community-based energy providers a chance to compete with established investor-owned utilities.

Sonoma Clean Power plans to spend about $18 million on energy this year to serve customers across Sonoma County now that all cities have joined, except Healdsburg which has its own power company.

Public workshops will be held in Petaluma, Rohnert Park and Cloverdale in both English and Spanish in February through April to inform people and  answer questions about Sonoma Clean Power. See full schedule here: sonomacleanpower.org/meetings/

At the January 8 board meeting, First District (Sonoma Valley) Supervisor Susan Gorin turned over the chair’s gavel to Cotati City Councilman Mark Landman. She served as the board chair for the past two years while Sonoma Clean Power started up as the county’s default electric power provider. Gorin will remain on the board.

At the meeting, Gorin said she was pleased with the success of Sonoma Clean Power so far. She also called for as much public oversight as possible without impairing the agency’s ability to negotiate good deals for renewable and standard electric power.

To fill vacated and expiring seats on two community advisory committees, Gorin requested that staff alert the public and all the cities that applications are being solicited for the Ratepayer Advisory Committee and the Business and Operations Committee. Interested people should contact Sonoma Clean Power at sonomacleanpower.org.

Sonoma Mayor David Cook has an important new role overseeing the purchase of electric power by Sonoma Clean Power for customers in Sonoma and across the county.  Cook represents the City of Sonoma on the Sonoma Clean Power board of directors, taking over the director seat previously held by former Councilman Steve Barbose.  

The mayor was chosen by the power agency’s board of directors at the January 8 board meeting to chair a new three-member panel charged with reviewing and approving electric power deals worth over $250,000. The two-year-old non-profit power agency buys electricity generated by geothermal, natural gas, and other renewable and conventional sources. 

The power procurement panel members will provide public oversight of power deals that are negotiated by Sonoma Clean Power Chief Executive Officer Geoff Syphers and his staff. David King of Petaluma and Patrick Slayter of Sebastopol were also appointed to the ad hoc power procurement panel. 

Gorin also asked for development of a policy that requires public sharing of third-party (ex-parte) communications held with board members and staff.

Sonoma Clean Power is also preparing to roll out new community based green power pilot programs this summer. Recently, about 50 people turned out for a workshop where SCP proposed three possibilities including installing solar panels on the rooftops or properties of non-profit organizations, installing new electric vehicle plug-ins or conservation incentive programs for homes and businesses. Ideas on those or other projects can be submitted until January 15. For more information, contact Sonoma Clean Power at sonomacleanpower.org

Sonoma Clean Power versus PG& E

Sonoma Clean Power’s mission is to provide locally based renewable energy at rates competitive to PG&E’s.  It was established under state hard-fought state legislation that allows for establishment of “Community Choice Aggregation” electric energy providers.

Instead of operating like a corporation charged with prioritizing profits and return to shareholders, Sonoma Clean Power is set up to operate as a non-profit government agency that re-invests profits in renewable energy projects and programs that benefit the community. Those programs are just beginning with a solar power project in Cloverdale that will generate enough electricity for 300 homes. Sonoma Clean Power does not generate power or build projects, but contracts to buy power.

Right now, Sonoma Clean Power’s basic residential rates are about 3 to 4 percent lower than PG&E’s overall. However, some PG&E plans may be better for low income customers that pay the same power costs every month based on average annual use. Homeowners with solar panels may also come out ahead by staying with PG&E in the short term until the true-up period for the past year. The rate difference between the two providers are likely to change over time.

See a full rate comparison here: www.pge.com/includes/docs/pdfs/myhome/customerservice/energychoice/communitychoiceaggregation/scp_rateclasscomparison.pdf

When it comes to renewables, Sonoma Clean Power offers a basic energy program called “CleanStart” and a more expensive all-renewable choice called “Evergreen” that is more expensive.

Right now, CleanStart is comprised of 33 percent renewable generation sources versus PG&E’s 22 percent (See sonomacleanpower.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/12/SCP-2013-Electric-Power-Generation-Mix.pdf). Geothermal power from Sonoma County’s geysers is the source of most of Sonoma Clean Power’s renewables with some wind and biomass. Natural gas is a big part of the mix. No solar is online yet, but the agency has contracted to buy from new projects coming on line in Sonoma County and the Central Valley.

PG&E generates and buys a mix of geothermal, wind, biomass, solar, nuclear and hydroelectric – though nuclear and most hydroelectric is not considered renewable in the state of California. PG&E  operates Diablo Canyon nuclear plant, which provides 22 percent of its power and is not considered renewable.

As with all California energy providers, PG&E is required to increase renewables to 33% of total procurement by 2020. Governor Jerry Brown recently called for  50% renewables by 2030. 

The mysteries of electricity and the grid

All the electricity that powers your home or business is the same. Electricity in itself is clean. There is no difference in the electrons that are transmitting through power lines to your home.

The key to whether electricity is clean or green or not is based on how it is generated and from where. Renewable energy such as geothermal, wind, solar generally produces far less negative impact on the environment and produces less air pollution and greenhouse gases than fossil fuels such as natural gas or coal.

So when you invest in a renewable energy plan, that cleaner energy is not delivered to your location, but rather is supplied to the electric grid. The more renewable energy that reaches the grid, the more dirty energy is displaced.

Ultimately, if enough renewable energy is produced to meet the demand for power, then dirty fuels will eventually be phased out if no longer needed.

Switching to cleaner fuels will require major changes to the way that electricity is delivered and stored. One of the biggest challenges we face in California is how to store ample solar and wind energy generated during the day to use in the evening when everyone is at home eating dinner, watching TV, playing games on the computer and listening to music.

Right now we rely on mostly fossil fuels such as natural gas, hydro and nuclear power that is up and running all the time or can be taken on and off line as needed.