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Public Agencies at Odds with MEA

Details behind the Rio Solar solar farm indicate MEA has a fast approaching "clean" energy shortage on its horizon.

The latest construction progress reports that Marin Energy Authority released about its 15 megawatt Rio Solar photovoltaic farm in Bakersfield conflict with what Kern County oversight agencies report.  MEA’s prior attempt in Placer County had the same pattern. 

It’s critical to examine Rio Solar because MEA’s own data shows it represents about 50 percent of MEA’s solar energy target over the next four years.  

Work Underway?   

MEA’s June 30 quarterly progress report for Rio Solar says "work onsite is proceeding underway [sic] by affiliates under existing and other previously issued permits, for which the work overlaps.  

According to MEA, Rio Solar is supposed to be located adjacent to the fossil plant Rio Jasmin, with which it will share an existing electric grid intertie.  Contrary to MEA’s progress report, Kern County Planning Department says it has not received any development plans, and Kern County Building Department says a “search on identified parcels shows no active permit activity” at the Jasmin site or at surrounding parcels (see attached Kern County parcel map).

MEA Progress Report

Kern County

 “…work is under way with substantial completion by December 2012”

  “…no permit activity, or receipt of plans for construction at the Rio Jasmin site or at surrounding parcels.”

A year ago MEA announced that Rocklin, in Placer County, was Rio Solar’s home.  However, Placer County officials said they never received any construction plans or requests for environmental review.  After months of no activity, MEA’s developer abruptly pulled up stakes on June 1 and declared Bakersfield would be the future home of the 120 acre solar farm. 

MEA Chair, Damon Connolly

Placer County

MEA’s Rio Solar Developer

“…no negative developments”... at the Placer County location.”

 "…never received any construction plans or requests for environmental review."

pulled up stakes June 1 [from Placer County] and declared Bakersfield would be the future home of the 120 acre solar farm.  

The June 1 surprise announcement came only a week after MEA’s Board Chair, Damon Connolly, proclaimed that there were no construction delays at the Placer County location.  Connolly further defended MEA’s lax project management, writing that the developer had not submitted any construction progress reports to MEA because the solar farm was still in the “pre-development stage.”  Of note, MEA’s contract specified that construction was to commence four months earlier, Feb. 1, 2012.     

Environmental Bypass?

MEA’s Sept. 30 progress report says its developer “has the right to [bypass CEQA and] install up to its current onsite power needs.”  Kern County allows solar farms to bypass California’s time-consuming Environmental Quality Act when the energy will be used on-site (i.e. when it’s not sold into the electric grid as it would be when Rio Solar goes into commercial operation and produces energy on behalf of MEA).  However, MEA’s contract Article 3.1 says all energy produced at the 15 megawatt solar facility shall be purchased by Marin Energy Authority. 

It’s curious that a green power company is reporting on a right to possibly use a loophole to bypass California environmental regulations. It’s especially curious considering MEA’s own contract says otherwise.  What would MEA report to the State PUC if this were PG&E?

MEA’s latest Integrated Resource Plan states the Rio Solar plant will still meet its original completion date of March 2013.  Even after all permits and approvals are in place, construction for a project of this scale takes six months to a year.  The San Rafael Airport solar project took 5 months, and it was 1/20th the scale and required none of the site preparation that Bakersfield requires.

It is hard to sort out whether MEA executives and consultants are just completely inexperienced and naïve about their business, or willfully misleading their public and ratepayers about progress bringing their promised premium green power on-line.  MEA started to collect penalty payments from the developer for failing to meet a revised “Guaranteed Construction Start Date”; however, MEA resists divulging its newly revised Guaranteed Construction Start Date, which was supposedly modified when Rio Solar relocated to Bakersfield.      

Given Rio Solar’s March 2013 completion date is just three months away, either MEA pulls a green rabbit out of its hat and completes it on time, or they explain candidly what happened and why.  Otherwise, MEA continues its troubling pattern of public reporting that’s at odds with the facts.  We’ll know in March.   

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

Craig Knowlton December 04, 2012 at 06:53 PM
Honestly, not surprised at all. Maybe this is an unintended consequence, but we have rental property and it's an absolute nightmare now to have to go through an inane opt out process every time we have to put the electricity in our name during vacancies. It takes several days and several phone calls to switch.
Harold H. December 04, 2012 at 06:58 PM
Marin Energy's poor record of transparency with the public is consistent with these uncovered problems. Ever call and try to get answers to questions (from MEA's San Diego call center)? I am concerned about MEA's ability to provide what it promises. It is, after all, a government agency run by a group of mostly young (inexperienced) kids. https://marincleanenergy.info/our-team Its leader, Dawn Weisz, has two years experience. has anyone else experienced the continuing problems I have with trying to figure out how much extra you pay
Elizabeth D. December 04, 2012 at 11:15 PM
Jim, this information should be sent to The DA's Office or The Attorney General's office. It smells worse than manure.
Mary Gerbacher December 04, 2012 at 11:46 PM
Marin Energy Authority switched me into the program after I Opted Out. Then I found out it was because a SmartMeter was installed on my house, and that signaled MEA that I was a new customer. I called and called and went around in circles with MEA and they said they'd fixed the problem (new customers are switched to MEA) and put me back into PG&E... but what about my refund? I never asked for their energy.
Steve December 05, 2012 at 12:40 AM
A refund for the electricity that you actually used? Or the difference between the cost of their energy vs. PG&E. Is it worth chasing it down just for a couple bucks?
Jim Phelps December 05, 2012 at 02:40 AM
MEA thrives in areas of consumer ignorance and minor annoyance. They don’t want you to be informed that they’re helping themselves to your checkbook. And if you notice, they want you to let it go and move on. Government at your service.
Elizabeth D. December 05, 2012 at 04:10 AM
Why isn't PG& E exposing this? Is MEA that clandestine ? I am mortified that MEA is trying to sell the consmer dirty energy and an environmentally polluted product.
Rico December 05, 2012 at 04:21 AM
You can now opt out of having a SmartMeter for a one time fee of $75, and a $10 per month meter reading fee. I suggest that you do it immediately. And, there are challenges against the $75 fee being challenged. There are meetings with the CPUC coming up in January, go to Stop Smart Meters. org to find out the dates of these meetings.
Rico December 05, 2012 at 04:28 AM
If one really wants to know the truth of the MEA/MCE/Shell oil brokerage agency go to www.solartimes.org
Jim Phelps December 05, 2012 at 05:21 AM
MEA just extended its 5-year Shell contract after promising it would expire in May 2015. All MEA supporters held their noses and waded into the oil based upon that committment.
J D Harris December 05, 2012 at 06:31 AM
Not surprised. Attend or watch the MEA Board meetings on your public access TV channel sometime. Very interesting. It's kinda obvious that some of the MEA staff don't appear to know what the heck they are doing. They all look so scared & nervous at the meetings. You can see that certain MEA Board members are clearly skeptical of the overpaid kids running MEA.
Randy Ortman December 05, 2012 at 07:13 AM
Glad I opted out of MEA and didn't let MEA's persistent telephone people sell me into their program. MEA Board (and Weisz) has no clue about running an electric company... or tracking management of power construction, like Mr. Phelps' expose' on Rio Solar. I heard MEA is also way behind schedule on their landfill gas projects. Ever look at the previous month's MEA agenda items in the Board packets? With rare exception (I write "rare" as a qualifier -- pretty sure there is NO exception) each item passes unanimously. Even in the best run companies you NEVER get 100% consensus all of the time. It's fashionable for Board to tell everyone "Hey, I'm on the Board of an energy company!" ...even though the Board members don't have clue what they're talking about. Let's try 'Grid Load Profile' -- (what's that, a side view at the dress maker?) How about 'Reactive meter losses' -- (isn't that what happens when you open your electric bill)... and on and on. MEA's Board = pathetic group of amateurs.
Brant December 05, 2012 at 05:18 PM
Dawn's ample remuneration was set, in part, by comparison to that of the CEO of PG&E. It is shocking to now hear that she and the others are "a group of mostly young (inexperienced) kids".
Harold H. December 05, 2012 at 06:04 PM
MEA has no responsibility. If you don't pay your bill it transfers your account to PG&E, and PG&E handles it. MEA owns nothing. Others have previously posted this on the Patch many times... that its thinking (McGlashan’s thinking) is flawed, and that it thinks it's comparable to a large power company that has wires, gas lines, pump stations, power stations... then it pays its leader in comparison to an integrated utility's responsibilities. Dawn's ample remuneration -- pretty slick for a billing agency.
Tina McMillan December 05, 2012 at 06:31 PM
Any attempt on PGE's part to point our irregularities in MEA are met with outrage from MEA and its supporters. Monitoring MEA has become the job of the public because the board is run by city council members we must do the policing ourselves.
Tina McMillan December 05, 2012 at 07:45 PM
Please send a link to Jim's article to your city council members. Let them know what you think about issues pertaining to MEA.
Jim Phelps December 05, 2012 at 11:00 PM
MEA liabilities may be attached to city, piercing the veil of protection of the MEA JPA (Joint Powers Authority) financial firewall. This detail is buried in Mill Valley's voluminous Risk Analysis, written by Davis Wright Tremaine LLP (5/17/2010): “California law provides no comparable means for JPAs to limit the liability of their members for torts or for liability under the “alter ego” doctrine however. As a result, the MEA JPA does not completely eliminate all potential risks of liability arising from the City’s participation in the MEA JPA.” MEA sold (coerced?) Marin towns and cities into its program, saying State regulators were “promulgating regulations to implement AB32 which will require local governments to reduce GHGs.” However, state Air Resources Board leaders confirm no such regulations exist, nor are they working on any such regulations.
John Ferguson December 06, 2012 at 01:14 AM
I've been a customer of MEA's for years and have been perfectly happy with their service. I haven't gotten involved in the details of their energy contracts but unless I'm being blatantly lied to (I.E., the power I'm paying for isn't actually 100% renewable) the costs are moderate and the transition seamless. If PG&E would offer comparable service I'd consider it but they see no reason to offer fully renewable power packages. It's not that they couldn't, they just care little for any sort of actual customer service.
Jim Phelps December 06, 2012 at 05:53 PM
MEA’s “clean” power is not the clean power consumers are led to believe. If you’re a Light Green customer about half of your energy is RECs, (Renewable Energy Certificates). Deep Green uses more RECs. RECs are financial instruments, NOT power. MEA uses them to hide the gas-fired power that’s resold to you as green energy. The emissions coming from that arrangement (gas-fired + REC) spews as many greenhouse gases as ever. The atmosphere is no better off. The University of California calls RECs a “feel-good scam” that “dupes” consumers. UC says even State and Federal regulators are in on the scam. http://energybrokernetwork.com/press_ltr.pdf You can also check the Patch here: http://millvalley.patch.com/blog_posts/marin-energy-authority-same-power-just-greener
Kevin Moore February 09, 2013 at 05:00 AM
Jim, RECs were a big question of mine. A separate article just on RECs is in order. In my view, RECs are like smoking cigarettes, but paying somome to not smoke cigarettes, then putting down "non smoker" on a health form, since you paid for the rights.
Kevin Moore February 09, 2013 at 05:04 AM
From the other article MCE Representative 5:34 pm on Friday, February 8, 2013 Bob, When comparing to the electric grid, we consider power purchased in the spot market, not power produced under contract. Due to PG&E's large portion of nuclear and hydroelectric sources under contract, their overall power content is indeed much cleaner than grid-purchased power.
Kevin Moore February 09, 2013 at 05:11 AM
A friend in SoCal told me areas in the desert that were said to be too fragile for offroad vehicles to use, are now being bulldozed to build solar and wind farms. Unreal. I hope we don't rush into buying solar equipment that isn't effective or durable. The Feds didn't do their homework when funding Solyndra. Half a billion flushed.

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