Four community choice aggregators’ displayed their strategies for accelerating their clean energy portfolios to surpass state goals and meet local needs at the California Community Choice Association’s annual conference earlier this month.
Central Coast Community Energy and Clean Power San Francisco intend to reach 100% renewable energy by 2025, while Peninsula Clean Energy plans to do so by 2030. All three are ahead of the state’s 2045 energy decarbonization target. The Clean Power Alliance expects 19 of its 32 member communities to be 100% in 2022.
Some of the aggregators also are pushing to increase energy efficiency and add clean backup.
Central Coast Community Energy (3CEnergy) has committed its 436,000 customers to reaching 60% clean and renewable energy by 2025 and 100% by 2030, 15 years ahead of the state’s 100% zero-carbon goal.
Before adopting that target, 3CEnergy tested its feasibility, said CEO Tom Habashi. It modeled the approach in its Integrated Resource Plan and found that it could be done at a lower cost than if 3CEnergy were to continue operating to meet the minimum standard under SB 100, which requires 60% by 2030.
3CEnergy also has elected by 2030 to reach 100% renewable energy on a monthly basis. Load serving entities must meet the state Renewable Portfolio Standard on a 3-year rolling basis. That makes it easier to lean on the market for mandated RPS needs during summer when solar is at peak performance but extends the period fossil resources will run. “While minimizing [greenhouse gas] emissions, we need to move towards renewables 24/7,” according to Habashi.
It will be a bit more expensive to balance supply and demand monthly as it requires more storage. But given where market prices are heading, especially for storage, Habashi believes 3CEnergy may be able to exceed the 2030 target for balancing renewable supply and customer demand on a monthly basis.
3CEnergy also is involved in a 10-year project to build up to 3 GW of floating, offshore wind generation to take advantage of the strong wind conditions 30 miles off the coast of Morro Bay in federal waters. It also recently signed three contracts for 32 MW of long-duration vanadium batteries that can store power for more than eight hours, with an estimated online date of 2026.
Peninsula Clean Energy set a goal to deliver 100% renewable energy on a 24-7 basis by 2025—that is, matching its renewable energy supply with its load every hour of every day, reducing its demand signals for fossil fuel from the grid.
PCE now delivers half renewable and half greenhouse gas-free energy to its 300,000 customers. It has maintained rates 5% below those of PG&E since its start in 2016, saving customers an estimated $70 million through 2020.
“We’ve demonstrated we can reduce GHG emissions and save customers money at the same time,” said CEO Jan Pepper. With a load profile similar to California’s system-wide profile, PCE believes achieving the 24-7 goal will show its approach is scalable statewide and can be accomplished without increasing costs to consumers.
The CCA recently posted a white paper explaining its strategy and is set in early 2022 to publish a second describing the results of its modeling.
CleanPowerSF’s goal is 100% clean energy by 2025. We “are on track” with 650 MW of energy under long-term contracts,” said Barbara Hale, assistant general manager. CPSF has two programs: default and 100% renewables. The former now exceeds 50% eligible Renewable Portfolio Standard and nearly 100% GHG-free. Now that most customers are enrolled, CPSF is pivoting to local programs like developing disadvantaged communities, community solar, and a green tariff program.
It also is implementing a low-income inverter replacement program to help customers to whom it earlier provided incentives for solar systems but whose inverters are beginning to wear out. In addition, it has a local renewables request for proposals on the market to find partners to install renewables on city-owned land.
CPSF also wants programs that not only address equity issues and local development, “but programs that shrink the load before you serve it, making sure that we are as resource conservative as we can be,” Hale stressed. Such an approach can mitigate the grid impacts of long-haul electric transportation, she noted. “We can create some of that capacity by sticking with [the] state loading order priority,” by funding efficiency programs and marketing those that are already in place.
Ted Bardacke, CEO of the Clean Power Alliance, the state’s largest CCA with one million customers, “set its target in response to feedback from its 32 member communities. That resulted in a three-tier product framework: a 40% clean power product, a 50% clean power option and 100%.
Ten communities selected 100% at the get-go with the rest roughly split among the other options.
Because “our elected officials didn’t all get thrown out of office, the sky didn’t fall and people didn’t opt out, it became easier and easier for some cities to move to 100%,” Bardacke said. Now 15 cities are at 100% and by next year CPA expects four more will take the plunge, putting 65% of its customers at the top level.
The trend is heading toward a portfolio that will be 70- 80% renewable “in the next several years.” Now, he said, CPA’s customers want to decarbonize other sectors besides the electric grid. If the CCA reaches an 80% renewable level for the building, transportation, and electric sectors, “then we’ll have done a good job.”
Bardacke said CPA is shoring up renewable integration by purchasing 250 MW of battery storage, well over the 100 MW the CPUC assigned it under the first reliability procurement order.
CPA recently closed an $80 million line of credit with JPMorgan Chase, a transaction it believes will improve perceptions of CPA’s financial strength and lower energy costs. “As we take on more grid responsibility, we all as CCAs need to make sure we are operating as durably as the physical assets we are investing in,” Bardacke said.
No agreement on optimal clean energy strategy
The CCAs do not all see eye to eye on renewable levels.
3CEnergy’s Habashi questioned the value of focusing on 24-7 renewable energy targets.
“Twenty-four-seven may not be as important as to making sure you take advantage of the full arsenal of resources that exist throughout the Western grid.” He said 90, 95% would work with leaning on other states. “Let’s not forget regionalization and that we are part of the Western grid.”
Panel moderator Geof Syphers, CEO of Sonoma Clean Power, said the issue should be revisited in another year. “If we got so good that we were doing minute-by-minute or second-by-second load matching, then we don’t need a balancing authority. There is a question about where the investment is most valuable.”
There is no good forum for proposing non-wires alternatives to transmission projects and using the avoided cost to invest locally,” Syphers added. Such a forum could inform Integrated Resource Plans. “It’s not just about buying generation or energy efficiency, but how we source the funding for those things and how we avoid costs that may not be necessary.”
Integrated Resource Plans ensure supply and reliability needs are met “but they don’t get to the affordability issue,” Hale replied. More should be done to better understand that nexus, she argued.
The panelists also spoke of procurement efforts tied to local features of their service territories.
Habashi said because 17% of 3CEenergy’s territory is agricultural, it’s grown an electrification program on which it now spends $1.5 million a year to switch to electric pumps and facilitate the replacement of tractors and even migrant transportation buses to electric power. Next January, it will launch a program to help member cities do the same for their street sweepers, sanitation trucks and street buses.
Peninsula’s Pepper said PCE focuses on GHG reduction in its urban territories, such as San Mateo which has a push on to install 3,500 EV charging stations at workplaces, apartments and condos which represent half the city’s building stock.
CPA launched its Power Ready program to install clean energy backup power systems at its members’ critical facilities, such as city halls, emergency operation centers and libraries. These enhance community resilience while deploying a clean energy system–an aggregated approach that is cheaper than if each member were to do such work on their own. CPA will issue a request for offers next quarter to build about 30 such systems in communities that it knows face increased, climate-related risks.
Bardacke said half the population in LA County is vulnerable to some form of climate change impact, disproportionally so in low-income areas and among people of color.
Syphers said Sonoma Clean Energy and Pacific Gas & Electric have been cooperating on “remote grids,” in which they look for spots where a handful of customers are served at the end of a mile-and-half long line in a high fire threat area and were they can build a “super reliable” off grid system that enables decommissioning of the overhead lines. The remote grids are “either mostly or entirely” renewable, Syphers said.
“With 24 different CCAs, that means 24 laboratories of experiment,” Bardacke pointed out.