The Marin Energy Authority board approved last week the admission of Corte Madera, Larkspur and Ross to MEA's public-power consortium, leaving the agency just formalities away from offering its environmentally friendly Marin Clean Energy alternative to all county residents.
Along with recently added Novato, those towns were the last municipalities in the county not to have joined the MEA. But all four came into the fold before the Nov. 7 expiration of an amnesty period the agency had granted to allow the communities to join without paying a substantial fee. Corte Madera was the last holdout, finally approving MEA participation on Nov. 1.
“We’re really excited about this,” said MEA Executive Officer Dawn Weisz. “The expansion to additional communities allows us to move more quickly toward our mission of providing more renewable energy in the region and reducing greenhouse gas emissions.”
Weisz said the forthcoming MEA expansion will have several beneficial impacts for customers, starting with “the increase in renewable energy that’s being offered to customers in Marin, the ability for customers to choose between a variety of products other than the one that they’ve had — the only choice that they’ve had up until now — and then the ability to accelerate our goals to reach greenhouse gas reduction targets. Those are certainly impacts that will not go unnoticed.”
MEA board president Damon Connelly shared Weisz’s enthusiasm. “I see full participation by all the Marin jurisdictions as strengthening the agency,” he said. “We’re going to be that much more able to go out and get credit; we’re going to be a stronger market participant; it could affect the ability to get rates. I think the new communities coming on board will see a lot of benefit.”
The agency’s retail arm, Marin Clean Energy, began selling power to local consumers in 2010 and is preparing for a big jump in its customer base, spokesperson Jamie Tuckey said.
“We are currently serving about 13,000 customers,” said Tuckey, “and with the addition of Corte Madera, Larkspur, Novato and Ross to the program, now everyone in Marin County is eligible. Next summer we’ll be offering the program to all those in Marin who haven’t already signed up, and we expect our customer base to expand to approximately 95,000.”
Will that expansion lead to a decrease in MCE rates? Weisz cautioned not to look for any major reductions soon.
“There won’t be a big impact,” she said, “but certainly an expansion like this does give us the ability to spread costs over a bigger load, and that will allow us to have a slight downward pressure on our rates. That’s encouraging.”
As MCE phases in new customers, those customers will have some decisions to make. Tuckey explained that consumers can choose to go with MCE or stay with Pacific Gas & Electric Co. as their energy supplier. Under state law, however, customers wishing to remain with PG&E must formally opt out of MCE participation.
MCE customers also get another choice: They can select the company’s default “light green” power option, consisting of 27 percent renewable energy, or its slightly more expensive “deep green” option, consisting of 100 percent renewable energy.
Tuckey said direct rate comparisons between MCE and PG&E are difficult because rate structures are complex and vary with type and amount of usage.
“MCE’s residential rates are generally somewhat higher than PG&E’s, particularly for higher energy users, and MCE’s commercial rates are generally somewhat lower than PG&E’s,” she said.
But Tuckey doesn’t believe consumers see cost as the only factor in their decision. She emphasized that MEA’s whole mission is to purchase power from as many renewable sources as possible; currently the agency gets 27 percent of its electricity from renewable sources compared with 15.9 percent for PG&E. (Both of those figures exclude large-scale hydropower resources, which California doesn’t classify as “renewable.”)
That mission, Tuckey believes, will be a big draw to Marin’s environmentally conscious consumers as Marin Clean Energy continues to expand countywide.