Guest JUICE: Marin Goes for the Green

By Published On: August 30, 2013

By Jamie Tuckey The Marin Energy Authority launched California’s first, and currently, only, operating Community Choice Aggregation program for Marin residents and businesses on May 7, 2010. This year the Authority’s Marin Clean Energy service was expanded to residents and businesses in Richmond, a neighboring community across the San Francisco Bay. One of MCE’s primary goals is to increase local renewable build-out, which in turn boosts our local economy. In 2011, after just a year in operation, the largest solar project in Marin was built at the San Rafael airport to provide power for MCE customers through its Feed-In Tariff program. Three other local projects are currently being planned for MCE customers.   It now supplies 50-100 percent renewable power to 125,000 customers—nearly 80 percent of all customers in Marin and Richmond. The renewable power sources include solar, wind, geothermal, bioenergy, and small hydroelectric power. MCE replaces Pacific Gas & Electric’s charge for electric generation and more than doubles the renewable content at competitive, and often lower, rates. Based on current MCE and PG&E rates, Marin will cost an average residential customer about $0.90 more per month. It will save an average commercial customer about $8 per summer month and $2 per winter month. In California, Community Choice Aggregation was enabled by the passage of Assembly Bill 117 in 2002. Five other states—Illinois, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Ohio, and Rhode Island—also have CCA legislation. Community choice laws allow local governments to buy electricity on behalf of their residents and businesses and sell it competitively within their jurisdiction. This creates new choices for electric customers, leading to a more competitive marketplace. Community choice programs are unique in that they partner with the incumbent utility, which continues to provide electric delivery, power line maintenance and repair services, read meters, and send monthly bills. The community choice program replaces the electric generation service, determining the source of power for its customers, and all other electric services remain the same with the incumbent utility. Customers in Marin & Richmond have three options for their electricity supply: MCE’s Light Green (50 percent renewable energy); MCE’s Deep Green (100 percent renewable energy); and PG&E’s basic service (19 percent renewable energy). Because AB117 requires that community choice programs like MCE operate as ‘opt out’ programs, customers in its service area are automatically enrolled into the Light Green option unless they choose to opt out for PG&E’s power supply. MCE informed customers of their enrollment and the opt out process through direct mailers and extensive community outreach campaigns. It is a self-funded program and does not use any tax dollars. Instead, it operates from the revenue generated by its customers. As a not-for-profit agency, MCE reinvests in local programs and projects. Examples include providing additional solar and energy efficiency rebates to its customers and providing funding for the installation of electric vehicle charging stations throughout its service area. Construction of the 1MW San Rafael Airport solar project generated 20 local jobs. The Bank of Marin financed half of the project, with the remaining financing stemming from San Rafael businessman Joe Shekou. San Rafael-based REP Energy designed the solar project, which was later built and installed on the airport hangars by Muir Beach-based Synapse Electric, with the help of laborers supplied partially from the Marin City Community Development Corporation. The airport solar project is the first of many local projects to come. A 1MW solar-shaded parking structure is planned for development at the Novato Buck Institute as part of a contract that Marin Authority signed in 2012 for 30 MW of solar power. And just a few months ago the agency’s board of directors approved a policy to direct 50 percent of the revenue generated from MCE’s 100 percent renewable energy program to a local renewable development fund. This is the authority’s first move at owning local renewables and the agency is already exploring the possibility of building solar projects at the Port of Richmond and Golden Gate Transit lots. MCE also became a supporting partner for the SEED Fund in 2013. Strategic Energy Innovations, in collaboration with Optony, Inc., launched the SEED Fund to help public agencies evaluate and participate in a regional group purchase of municipal solar photovoltaic projects. Ten public agencies have already signed on to participate in the program with a net potential photovoltaic capacity of almost 5 MW. If fully implemented, this will result in a 40 percent increase in public solar photovoltaics across Marin, Napa, and Sonoma counties. MCE is now administering and developing a $4.1 million energy efficiency program designed to save energy and reduce the cost of utility bills. The program includes incentives for small commercial and multi-family properties, financing through an On Bill Repayment pilot program and an online software tool to help homeowners develop a personalized list of measures to save energy and money. To help support the energy efficiency program offerings, MCE executed a $50,000 contract with Rising Sun Energy Center and a $45,000 contract with RichmondBUILD to directly support local job training and development. After more than three years of successful operations in clean power procurement, communities across the state including Arcata, Berkeley, Monterey, Mountain View, Santa Cruz, San Diego, San Francisco, San Luis Obispo, Sunnyvale, and Sonoma, among others, are considering following MCE’s footsteps by creating their own local public power program. —Jamie Tuckey, Marin Energy Authority spokesperson. See www.mceCleanEnergy.com (888) 632-3674, or email info@mceCleanEnergy.com.

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