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Don Rivenes: Grass Valley investigating new way to acquire electricity

Don Rivenes | Other Voices

The city of Grass Valley is considering joining a community choice aggregation offered by Pioneer Community Energy of Placer County.

What is that?

Such aggregations enable city and county governments to pool the energy demand of their communities together for the purpose of supplying electricity. A community choice aggregation buys electricity on behalf of residential, commercial and municipal electricity users in its jurisdiction. The electricity continues to be distributed and delivered over the existing electricity lines by the incumbent utility (PG&E in western Nevada County).

Why are local governments looking at this?

These compacts provide communities with more local control over their energy supply. As a result, communities can choose to increase the amount of electricity procured from renewable sources, such as solar, wind, and geothermal.

Community choice aggregations can also develop innovative energy programs tailored specifically for each community and support the development of local renewable energy projects. The aggregations introduce competition into the energy market. Customers in a jurisdiction can choose to stay with the community choice aggregation or go back to PG&E. It offers customers a choice where none currently exists.

These are public, non-profit agencies. It is important to note that all community choice aggregations, once they are operational, are completely ratepayer funded and are not subsidized by taxpayer dollars.

These ratepayer dollars previously went to the PG&E but would now be directed to the aggregation. Any surplus funds generated by the community choice aggregation can be reinvested into the community in the form of either new energy projects and programs or lower rates. Surplus funding does not go into the general funds of the member cities/counties.

Local alternatives:

Pioneer Community Energy is a local community choice aggregation that is a partnership among the cities of Placer County, Placer County and El Dorado County. Nearby ones such as Valley Clean Energy in Yolo County and Butte Choice Energy in Butte County could be also considered. Nevada Irrigation District was considering forming a community choice aggregation but is no longer pursuing it.

How does this relate to Nevada County energy action plans?

Nevada County, Nevada City and Grass Valley all have energy action plans. These plans are meant to assist citizens in reducing their electricity use through rooftop solar and energy efficiency. But many citizens cannot afford home retrofitting or cannot use solar panels because of their physical location or because they are renters. Community choice aggregations are an alternative where all in the community can participate.

What are the economic advantages?

Community choice aggregations can accelerate the development of local renewable energy projects, which can result in significant local job creation. An example would be a solar farm at the Old Nevada City Airport. In general, renewable energy facilities provide many more jobs per unit of investment than traditional natural gas and coal plants.

What are the environmental advantages?

Community choice aggregations can choose to purchase from and develop electricity sources that are more heavily weighted toward renewable energy. The production and burning of traditional energy sources, such as coal and natural gas, releases significant amounts of greenhouse gas emissions into the atmosphere. Renewable energy can provide electricity with little or no greenhouse gas emissions.

If the power goes out, will PG&E still fix a community choice aggregation customer’s outage problem?

Yes, PG&E will still provide the same delivery and customer services regardless of whether that home or business is an aggregation customer.

If I joined a one, would my electricity rates go up?

A technical study will examine the impacts of a community choice aggregation on rates, but so far they have been around 5% lower than PG&E prices. This is dependent on the customer class and the community choice aggregation option each customer chooses. Current aggregations offer a “default” option that is cheaper than PG&E, as well as a 100% renewable energy option that is slightly more expensive than PG&E.

How is a program set up?

Local governments must pass an ordinance to join a program and draft an implementation plan that is approved by the California Public Utility Commission. This is typically done after an initial technical study to determine the amount of electricity that will be required and examine if the potential community choice aggregations can price its electricity to be competitive with PG&E. The implementation plan outlines how the aggregation will function, how it will set rates, how it will procure electricity, and how it will conduct functions required under the Public Utility Commission’s regulations.

Please follow city of Grass Valley meetings and let them know your position on community choice aggregations.

Don Rivenes is the chair of Nevada County Climate Action Now. He lives in Grass Valley.


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