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Could El Cerrito Join Marin's Green Energy Program?

One of the most intriguing questions to emerge in Tuesday night's El Cerrito City Council meeting was whether the city could join Marin County's renewable energy plan, which could mean greener and potentially cheaper electricity for city resid

Could El Cerrito Join Marin's Green Energy Program?

Will El Cerrito join the budding movement by some Bay Area localities to break away from total reliance on PG&E for electricity service and increase use of renewable energy, while also possibly lowering residents' electric bills?

That possibility was floated Tuesday night when the El Cerrito City Council heard a presentation about Marin Clean Energy, which offers Marin residents an alternative to PG&E-procured energy.

Marin Clean Energy is a relatively new program that launched in 2010 and became an option available in all of the county's cities and towns only in July this year, said Dawn Weisz, executive officer of Marin Clean Energy. While PG&E-supplied energy includes 20 percent from renewable sources, Marin Clean Energy offers a choice of either 50 percent renewable or 100 percent renewable, she said. The latter costs a cent more per kilowatt or about $5 per month more for a typical household, she said.

Currently, she said, Marin Clean Energy customers pay less for their electicity than regular PG&E customer do, a differential that she said is likely to continue since Marin Clean Energy has lower overhead costs, including lower borrowing costs as a non-profit.

The program is known as "community choice aggregation," or CCA, and was the first in the state authorized by a 2002 state law, AB 117. Localities that adopt community choice aggregation take on the energy procurement, with renewable energy being purchased from such green sources as small hydro, solar, wind and biomass. PG&E continues to maintain transmission lines and provide customer service.

Community choice aggregation is being considered by a number of other jurisdictions as a way to help meet greenhouse reduction goals provided in the state's landmark anti-global warming law, AB 32, adopted in 2006.

The San Francisco Board of Supervisors approved a "CleanPowerSF" program last week, and the East Bay Municipal Utility District (EBMUD) is working with the City of Berkeley on a " prefeasibility analysis" of a CCA plan. Sonoma County too is exploring a CCA program, Weisz said.

Community choice aggregation is for communities served by PG&E or other investor-owned utilities, not those that receive their electricity from public utilities that own and operate their own power system like Palo Alto, say, or Los Angeles. About one in four customers in California get their power from a public utility, Weisz said.

More relevant for El Cerrito, the City of Richmond has agreed to join the Marin Clean Energy program, making it the first locality outside of Marin to join, Richmond Sustainability Coordinator Adam Lenz told the council.

By coincidence, Tuesday was the day that Marin Clean Energy was informed by the California Public Utilities Commission that its implementation plan for adding Richmond has been certified, Weisz told the council.

"Today is actually an auspicious day," she said. "...We're really excited about bringing on a new city into the jurisdiction of Marin Clean Energy."

The possibility that El Cerrito could join Marin Clean Energy was raised by Councilwoman Janet Abelson when she asked Weisz, "So, do you think you would have room for city like El Cerrito?"

Weisz offered an encouraging response, saying she thinks El Cerrito would be "a very strong candidate."

"We obviously haven't done an analysis," she said, "but it seems like the characteristics of the community would be a good fit, given the size – it's not too big – and it would be fairly easy to serve the community. I think the proximity to the City of Richmond would probably be helpful."

Another element in favor of partnership, she said, is a "shared vision for greenhouse gas reduction."

"Compared to some of the cities and towns that have inquired about this," she said, "El Cerrito's probably one of the better fits."

The presentation was only for information. The council did not take action.

A report on Marin Clean Energy that was in the council agenda packet is attached to this article.


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