The cities of San Mateo County would have the option of banding together to sell cleaner energy to their ratepayers under a community-choice aggregation plan advocated by county supervisors Dave Pine and Carole Groom.
Under the program, Peninsula cities would use their collective purchasing power to provide electricity from renewable sources such as wind and solar, at potentially lower rates than PG&E's.
Pine and Groom plan to ask the Board of Supervisors to approve funds for a technical feasibility study at its Feb. 24 meeting, and more than half of the cities on the Peninsula have already agreed to participate in the proposed study by giving the county access to their energy usage data, according to Pine.
Pine said the county must first determine whether a community-choice aggregation plan on the Peninsula could offer cleaner energy at lower rates before it could move forward, but the results obtained by similar programs in Marin and Sonoma counties have been promising. San Francisco is also proposing a new CleanPowerSF program after receiving support from its mayor.
Under a community-choice aggregation plan, the cities involved would form a joint power authority that would use PG&E's existing infrastructure to sell energy from renewable sources, Pine explained. While PG&E would be paid for the use of its equipment, costs for end users could still be lower than what they currently pay.
The plan would allow ratepayers to choose how much renewable energy they want to purchase, but those customers wouldn't necessarily maximize their savings by obtaining all their energy from currently available renewable sources, Pine said.
“In Marin County right now, if you buy 50 percent renewable, that's cheaper [than PG&E], but 100 percent renewable is not cheaper,” the supervisor explained.
PG&E, by comparison, currently gets about 20 percent of its electricity from renewable sources, Pine claimed.
If community-choice aggregation were implemented on the Peninsula, power bills would still be paid through PG&E, existing residential PG&E meters would be unaltered, and it would be an opt-out plan, so ratepayers would automatically be enrolled with no action required on their part. “It's the biggest change you'll never notice,” Pine said.
While the creation of a community-choice aggregation entity could initially have Peninsula cities purchasing energy from producers in Southern California or Nevada, Pine said the plan could foster more local production of renewable energy because it involves a strong element of local choice.
One of the major selling points of the plan, according to Pine, is the ability to reduce carbon emissions, which are widely believed to contribute to climate change. Some environmentalists are divided on the question of nuclear power. Some view nuclear energy as neither safe, nor sustainable, while others claim it could dramatically reduce carbon emissions. Pine said the element of local choice again comes into play because while there are no current proposals to include nuclear energy in the plan, Peninsula cities could vote on whether they wanted to do so.
The proposed joint power authority might offer energy at more affordable rates, but Pine said it would still make some profit. Those funds could be used to give property owners incentives for doing energy upgrades, or to purchase electricity from individual homeowners who have rooftop solar panels, the supervisor noted.