By Bruce Naegel, May 2017
We’re a few months into the new administration in Washington, and many of us have anxiety about the path ahead. Regardless, you really can make your voice count. Before providing some suggestions on how to do this, let’s examine a success story: MCE Clean Energy.
The MCE Success Story
MCE Clean Energy is a community choice energy (CCE) organization serving Marin County and surrounding communities. They supply energy with less carbon than PG&E, at prices comparable to PG&E. PG&E was opposed to MCE and spent $46 million on Proposition 16, which would have required a two-thirds vote to initiate a CCE. The opposition spent less than $100K and defeated Proposition 16. What could have been a defeat became a success story.
MCE Clean Energy Success Led To Other CCE Successes
MCE went into business in 2010 and has been operating for seven years. Since that time, CCEs have gone into operation in Sonoma County (SCP), San Francisco (CleanPowerSF), Lancaster (LCE), and San Mateo County (PCE). Silicon Valley Clean Energy (SVCE) started delivering power to much of Santa Clara County in April 2017. These successes were made possible by the success of MCE Clean Energy.
There are many other communities looking at CCEs, including San Jose, parts of LA, Monterey and Santa Cruz Counties, Alameda County, and San Diego County. There are estimates that 60% of the power delivery in California could be through CCEs. Note that some cities have their own utilities, like Palo Alto and Santa Clara.
Lessons Learned from Launching CCEs
One can succeed against big money in fights against larger organizations. It takes persistence and guts to do so, but it can be done. The key is to focus on an issue that has real appeal, which in this case is renewable energy. PG&E spokesperson Aaron Johnson indicated that MCE came about because people wanted more renewable energy. PG&E finally understood this and now offers Solar Choice. This offering provides PG&E customers with the option of power mixes that are 50% or 100% solar energy.
The MCE success story (seven years of operation) and SCP’s success (over two years of operation) made it possible for other organizations to follow in their footsteps. Communities recognized that CCEs offered the option of lowering greenhouse gases to provide part of the answer on how to address the requirements of California’s SB 350. With these factors, many communities have started and others are coming online.
One needs to keep working on success stories to keep them successful. CCEs still face challenges. We all need to stay focused on issues as they arise to keep CCEs healthy.
Opportunities for Community Involvement
Town hall meetings (virtual or otherwise) are a great channel to express your concerns with members of Congress. There has been a flurry of activity in this area during the last few weeks. Take advantage of these opportunities for community involvement whenever possible.
City Council meetings (regular, special, or study sessions) are ways to learn what issues are paramount in your community. These meetings are normally scheduled ahead of time, and the city may offer an information package covering the meeting agenda. CCEs also have public meetings. Groups working to form CCAs and CCEs often announce in advance their public meetings.
Signing Petitions and Sending Letters
Signing petitions is quick and easy and does accumulate numbers. Discussions with elected officials reveal that the individually written letter, email, or phone call is more effective. Sign the petition, but if you really feel motivated about a subject, write an email to the elected official who represents you. Some of the email portals make this explicit by asking you to put in your zip code. If the official doesn’t represent your zip code, they will tell you the email will not be responded to.
You have a voice. With the opportunities for community involvement, you have a chance to use it. The MCE success story shows people can succeed against long odds.
(1) Community Choice Aggregation: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Community_Choice_Aggregation
(2) CCE (Community Choice Energy) or CCA (Community Choice Aggregation) organizations define the power mix for a community or group of communities. They are nonprofit organizations and can provide power of a certain quality at prices below the ones provided by large utilities.
One can divide electrical power services into two pieces: generation and delivery. In California, utilities own few generation facilities. The utility contracts for power delivery from various generation facilities. They then bill you for the price they pay for the generation facilities and the use of their delivery network. The CCA or CCE uses the delivery services (transmission and distribution) of the large utility with its own power mix. The power mix from PG&E has a bit over 30% of California-defined renewable energy. The CCEs today have defined power mixes for standard distribution that are 50% or greater renewable energy.