Community Choice Expands in Bay Area

13 Mar 2015

The number of customers served by non-utility, community energy providers in the Northern San Francisco Bay Area is rising at a steady clip.

Marin Clean Energy, California’s first community choice aggregator, serves power to 139,000 customers. It provides energy to all of Marin County and the cities of Benicia, El Cerrito, Richmond and San Pablo. Last month, 14,500 new customers in Napa County were added to the list.

Marin’s neighbor, Sonoma Clean Power, is rolling out service to 145,000 customers throughout Sonoma County.
Petaluma marks the latest city to join the community choice aggregation program. It now includes all unincorporated areas and cities in the Sonoma County.

“Participation continues to be higher than expected,” according to Sonoma’s chief executive officer Geof Syphers, because of a lower than expected opt-out rate.

Both Marin and Sonoma purchase power on behalf of their customers, which Pacific Gas & Electric delivers. The two counties aim to develop and expand local renewable generation capacity and provide power for less than competitor PG&E, which used to be the sole power provider.

Customers are automatically enrolled in the two public energy programs. They have the choice to opt out and continue to get their power from PG&E.

Just 13.6 percent of the first wave of Sonoma’s enrolled customers chose to opt out and only 6.3 percent of those being enrolled in the community choice aggregation program’s second wave of expansion are opting out.

Sonoma Clean Power anticipated a 15 percent opt out rate following notification of enrollment.

As a result of the lower than expected drop out rate, Sonoma’s power sales revenues last year topped $30 million, 16 percent more than projected, according to an agency financial report.

Marin Clean Energy’s attrition rate has been 8 percent, said spokesperson Jamie Tuckey. She said, however, that of the 14,500 new customers in Napa, up to 20 percent are expected to drop out.

To expand its resources and provide cleaner power, Marin and Sonoma entered into new power deals.

Marin March 9 inked a three-year deal with Calpine Corp. The power is to come from the Delta Energy Center with backup power from three other Calpine natural-gas fired facilities to reduce Marin Energy’s carbon footprint.

“It allows us to support local jobs, reduce greenhouse gas emissions attributed to [Marin Energy’s] energy supply, and reduce average energy costs through the use of a highly reliable energy source,” said Dawn Weisz, Marin Clean Energy chief executive officer.

The new power supply is to replace 588,015 MWh of “unspecified power” Marin bought under a five-year contract with Shell Energy. That represents 11 percent of its portfolio, according to Tuckey.

The contract with Calpine runs from April 1, 2015, to Dec. 31, 2017.

The three-year limit “ensures that we’re not locked into a long-term contract for conventional power,” Tuckey said.

Most of the power supply feeding Marin is expected to come from the Delta plant with other resources supplied from Calpine’s Los Medanos, Sutter and Metcalf plants “as appropriate,” said company spokesperson Ned Wigglesworth.

The expiration date of the new three-year agreement coincides with the end of Marin’s contract with Shell Energy.

Before the Marin community choice aggregator’s launch, it signed a five-year agreement with Shell for power, including renewable energy credits to offer energy resources that were greener than PG&E’s.

This is the third deal between Marin and Calpine. Last year, they signed an agreement for 3 MW of geothermal energy from the Geysers in Sonoma and Lake Counties. In January, the two signed a 10-year contract for 10 MW from the Geyser facilities starting in 2017, totaling more than 900 MWh.

To meet higher than expected demand, Sonoma Clean Power contracted with Pristine Sun at the end of last month to construct a 12.5 MW floating solar project on irrigation water storage ponds operated by the Sonoma County Water Agency.

Sonoma Clean Power Board chair Mark Landman called the project “groundbreaking.”

It will be the largest floating solar project in the U.S. when completed at the end of 2016 and the second largest in the world, according to Sonoma Clean Power. It will power up to 3,000 homes.

While floating solar technology is new, Syphers noted there is potential to place similar systems at ponds on wineries around the county.

—Elizabeth McCarthy & William J. Kelly

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