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With New Momentum, Marin Clean Energy Goes Countywide

Corte Madera, Larkspur and Ross join Novato in signing up for 'green' power authority during sign-up amnesty period.

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.

Paul Eastwood November 07, 2011 at 03:53 PM
So, basically, the MEA just inserts itself as a kind of middleman wholesaler. They don't produce energy they just buy energy and have PG&E deliver it? Is that how this works? And we have to opt OUT not in? This sounds like another "Authority" created simply to create an authority and charge consumers for the privilege. How is the 68 thousand tons measured? Is it the same as taking 12 thousand cars off the road for one trip each or is it like permanently taking 12 thousand cars off the road? Marin is already a VERY clean place so will it have any impact on the pollution that is caused in the central valley every year from burning fields or Grape drying paper or old equipment? The truth of the matter is that you could charge every Marin resident thousands of dollars a year and deliver 100% of Marin's energy from Solar or Wind power and it wouldn't even register a blip on the amount of carbon emissions generated by Northern California. I'm all for doing something but just creating an "Agency" to act as a reseller of a little Solar power smacks of Tree Hugging consumer gouging.
Lloyd November 07, 2011 at 03:55 PM
I have a question. With the availability of two separate and distinct power companies are there going to be competitive advantages for the consumers or is this going to be like the other monopoly industries like gasoline and airlines who miraculously seem to be so efficiently run that they are never more then a penny apart no matter the circumstance. in the case of gas of their source or location of supply doesn't seem to translate to consumer savings. How does one get a simple energy comparison? I suspect many of us are looking to see if we have been given a real competitive opportunity or just another gas station.
Brant November 07, 2011 at 05:28 PM
Paul, MEA offers all of us the opportunity to express our PG&E hatred by buying power from someone else. And it provides an opportunity for government to extract homage - funds that can be spent in ways they believe are good. What a deal, eh?
Tina McMillan November 07, 2011 at 05:40 PM
MEA was designed as "Opt Out" because when Migdin wrote AB117 she figured too few people would make the change. Now Weiss is predicting that 38% of Marin residents will become members. This is the advantage created by the Opt Out only choice. Most people will be paying their monthly utility bill and not make the time to switch unless the price goes up. MEA is counting on consumer apathy to protect their numbers, otherwise they would have an Opt In structure. Exit fees and arduous Opt Out procedures don't make it easy to leave. MEA gets more than the money for the power it purchases; it also gets an additional a fee used for research and development. MEA is tying us to projects that it will later own and have to maintain. Two consultants from Navigant, each making hefty salaries, are making the decisions. The risks associated with MEA are the costs of the long term contracts. We don't know that Navigant consultants can better predict the energy market than PGE. Think about the Gov Gray Davis energy crisis.
Tina McMillan November 07, 2011 at 05:40 PM
continued MEA does nothing to create, generate or maintain power. When they expand their role then we will have spawned a semi private company, with the extra edge of opt out only, that will have hefty salaries, benefits and pensions. MEA is a convenient fiction that may make people feel good but that will actually take away money from research and development of less toxic energy resources. We depend on PGE for the generation, transmission and maintenance of our energy. Why are we giving MEA the advantage of Opt Out and the additional money from the research and development fee?
Brant November 07, 2011 at 05:41 PM
Lloyd, MEA originally promised to meet or beat PG&E prices; however, more recently they spent money on an advertising campaign to brand themselves away from that promise. Now they say they will be "competitive". Recently, that has meant more expensive. But, what the heck! It is green. And to make it appear even greener, they have spent customer money to purchase Renewable Energy Credits. That's local money going elsewhere to save the world. It's just another gas station, with slightly higher prices. Buy from them if you like the product.
Paul Eastwood November 07, 2011 at 05:47 PM
Brant, it only offers us the opportunity to express our hate of PG&E in a very superficial way. the MEA buys power from other sources. That power is sent to the PG&E grid and PG&E deliver that power to the end user. But once the electricity enters PG&E's power grid it becomes indistinguishable from any other electricity. There is no device that can then identify the Electricity and say, "these volts came from Solar power so we'll make sure that these volts are used when Mrs. Smith switches on her lights. So the perception of someone using "Green" energy is a false one. PG&E won't reduce the amount of power they generate in their power stations and any excess will just be sold to Nevada or Arizona for a profit. If we are going to do something we should do something real rather than just have false ideals like this rammed down our throats. The reality is that not one single ounce of carbon will be saved and not one single trip to 7/11's worth of emissions will be taken off the roads. And we'll have to pay for this charade. And you finish by trying to say that "Government" gets an opportunity to extract homage funds and giving the Government ANY funds has always worked out so well. What will the "Government" do with these funds? But Don Peratta a new set of 22 inch rims for his Taxpayer funded Dodge Charger? Yeh, lets give the Government more money. They always do such great things with it. It's a Ponzi scheme.
Brant November 07, 2011 at 05:48 PM
Nice analysis, Tina. It is interesting that Weiss is now predicting only 38% opt-in. Earlier predictions were much higher. That is both good and bad news from their point of view. MEA economics are dependent on pricing structure. Customers who use Tier 4 and 5 power are VERY profitable. Those who use only Tier 1 and 2 power are served at a loss. The original Business Plan recognized that and noted that Tier 1 and 2 customers would be encouraged to stay with PG&E if they were charged higher rates.
Lloyd November 07, 2011 at 05:57 PM
I was afraid the answer was just another feel good scheme that costs us more money in the long run. Is it really that hard to find out the facts before we are forced into what Tina describes as an opt in default. NO one should be forced to opt out of of something they haven chosen. Tina is absolutely 110% correct it is designed like all those wonderful products we are deluged with with a money back guarantee if not satisfied. Of course that shipping and handling fee excluded portion is all that is needed to generate enormous profits. Opt out is the same as S&H. Once again our elected officials (not the 2 that voted against) should have insisted on that protection for us. I know it is hard to sometimes separate the wheat from the chaff. This was not one of those examples and the Council was given plenty of opportunity to watch our backs.
Brant November 07, 2011 at 06:28 PM
Lloyd, re the opt-out requirement, our State legislators imposed that on us. Our City Council had no say in that matter. They could only decide to join MEA or stay out. The solution, for those of us that object, is to more carefully select whom we send to Sacramento (and Washington) to represent us.
Lloyd November 07, 2011 at 06:31 PM
thanks for that info. So should we have joined?
Brant November 07, 2011 at 06:41 PM
The Council decided to provide the option of belonging to MEA to the very active pro-MEA community, seeing it as an option and therefore as a decision with little down-side. They probably failed to adequately weigh the 'cost' to the rest of us of having to opt out. I'll put up with the bother, so the Council's decision is not a big deal to me. However, the Council has an additional decision to make: Should Novato buy its electrical power from MEA or stay with PG&E? I believe Novato should stay with PG&E. I'm not willing to pay more for green dreams, either personally or as a taxpayer.
Brent Ainsworth (Editor) November 07, 2011 at 07:00 PM
Just to clarify, Novato residents can stay with PG&E if they want. According to MEA, this just provides a choice if people want power from 'green' sources. Also, the opt out vs. opt in has to do with state law.
Lloyd November 07, 2011 at 07:42 PM
I agree with offering the choice. I don't agree for a change with anything the state mandates because as usual they have it backwards.I believe as stated by Tina and others that the concept of having to opt out provides an unfair competitive advantage to MEA. After all if you really want to be green or revolt against PG&G (by all means) shouldn't we expected to take a positive action rather then an apathetic one? I think a lot of people will opt out on principle because they just don't want to be spoken for.
DC November 07, 2011 at 08:20 PM
Amnesty, opt in, opt out. Father, what do these words mean? I feel like I must do something. Son, the time has come when you may not be able to control ... so you must react ... Therefore, our next lesson shall be at the river. I shall teach you how to swim ... quickly!
Tina McMillan November 07, 2011 at 10:21 PM
You are automatically opted in. If it is like the Fairfax model it requires some effort to opt out. I have a friend who keeps being told that he has not yet been opted in and therefore he must wait for them to contact him by mail before he can opt out. At best this is confusing, at worst a means of wearing people down. Here is the opt out site: http://marincleanenergy.info/index.php?option=com_jforms&view=form&id=3&Itemid=114 Here is a link to get more information: http://marincleanenergy.info/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=141%3Ahow-it-works&catid=81&Itemid=105 Once you pass the opt out period there is a charge if you leave, return, leave, return. They again want to discourage people from leaving. The reason the city joined was to avoid the sign up charge. Since they didn't elect to join in the first round they were told that they have one more chance before a fee would be levied on them. Richmond is being charged just to ask to be accepted. The two Navigant consultants have to decide if they want Richmond on board. Interesting that they would potentially turn someone away.
Alex Bischoff November 07, 2011 at 10:25 PM
open4energy has written a detailed overview of the pro's and cons - unbiased - Google "Marin Clean Energy" - will take you to the overview, with links to CCA legislation where you can learn about CCA's - history of MEA etc etc
Edward Mainland November 07, 2011 at 10:43 PM
MEA brings ratepayers electricity that's twice as "green" as PG&E's sources while providing a 100-percent renewable option for a few dollars more a month. MEA has surpassed all other California electricity providers and utilities in percentage of renewable and carbon-free power. MEA pays residents for their excess local (Marin) solar rooftop power at a considerably better "net metering" rate than PG&E's. MEA's successful performance during its first year has confounded its critics. Meanwhile, PG&E continues to blow up pipelines, withhold information, dispute regulators, pass the buck and only grudgingly perform tests required long since. Why anyone would reward PG&E's malfeasance with their opt-out defies the imagination.
Bob Ratto November 07, 2011 at 11:34 PM
Edward Do you know of (or have) a breakdown of the current energy being provided by MEA, by type...I was trying to see how much hydroelectric they were doing, but I couldn't find it before. If you could point me in the right direction, it would be appreciated.
Brant November 07, 2011 at 11:47 PM
Unbiased?? Were you not a paid consultant to MEA?
Brant November 07, 2011 at 11:58 PM
Bob - You will find some information here: http://marincleanenergy.info/images/stories/PDF/RPS_Reporting_Review_8.27.10.pdf This does a better job of providing what you are looking for: http://marincleanenergy.info/images/stories/PDF/MCE_12.16.10_Color.pdf
Susan Clark November 08, 2011 at 12:51 AM
Like Tina, I too have a friends who said it took a lot of effort to opt out. My friends followed the instructions which was verified that they opted out . Unfortunately their next energy invoice was not from PG&E. It took months and a lot of phone calls before they got it right. I'm not looking forward to it.
Paul Eastwood November 08, 2011 at 01:39 AM
Edward, No, they don't. They buy electricity generated from Solar power and feed it into PG&E's electricity grid. There is no way known to science to separate what you call "Green" energy from the rest of the energy flowing through PG&E's wires. When someone switches on a light the electricity that powers that light has come from the same power stations as the rest of the electricity. The minute amount of additional electricity is simply lost on the general voltage and any surplus PG&E ends up with is simply sold to Nevada or Arizona. Anyone that is duped into paying "a few dollars more" for their electricity will accomplish absolutely nothing apart from funding MEA and will use exactly the same electricity as the rest of PG&E's customers. This is just another knee jerk initiative like the "Energy saving light bulbs" that turn out to be about half as efficient and filled with toxic waste that will pollute landfills and the ground water far more than what they are supposed to replace. I'm all for real alternatives but this is not a realistic alternative and will accomplish precisely nothing.
Tina McMillan November 08, 2011 at 04:49 AM
PGE http://www.pge.com/mybusiness/environment/pge/cleanenergy/ 2010 POWER MIX DELIVERED TOTAL ELIGIBLE RENEWABLE 15.9% BIOMASS/WASTE 26.6% GEOTHERMAL 30.5% WIND 24% SMALL HYDROELECTRIC 18.3% SOLAR .5% NATURAL GAS 19.6% NUCLEAR 23.8% LARGE HYDROELECTRIC 15.6% COAL 1% OTHER FOSSIL 1.2% UNSPECIFIED SOURCES 22.9% Remember, MEA won't count large Hydroelectric as renewable. If you add large Hydro to the mix PGE is just as competitive as the contracts purchased by MEA.
Edwin Drake November 08, 2011 at 05:05 AM
I've never understood why Marin County didn't just start a "municipal" utility. Can someone explain that? (Yes, I know Marin is a county, but the essential question is why start another agency instead of just having it set up like Los Angeles Dept Water and Power or East Bay Municiapl Utilties District (EBMUD)?)
Tina McMillan November 08, 2011 at 05:08 AM
http://www.marinij.com/business/ci_19267886 Marin Energy Authority gearing up for major expansion By Richard Halstead "To help manage this growth, the authority's board Thursday approved hiring five employees: an account manager, data analyst, energy-efficiency program coordinator, regulatory analyst and resource analyst. The authority currently has six full-time employees….The five employees could add as much as $351,000 in annual cost....And the board gave its OK to the purchase of 18,000 megawatt-hours of "renewable energy certificates" from 3Degrees Group. Such certificates are tradable commodities that represent proof that electricity was generated from an eligible renewable energy source..." http://meatruth.org/PDF/WeiszDirectorLTEsRev5.pdf http://www.co.marin.ca.us/depts/GJ/main/cvgrjr/2009gj/clean_energy.pdf Public Reaction to Dawn Weisz’s Big Salary http://marincleanenergy.info/images/stories/PDF/Dawn_March2011.pdf Marin Energy Authority defends fast-tracking Dawn Weisz http://www.marincleanenergy.com/images/stories/PDF/9.21.11_MEA_Ex_Comm_Packet.pdf MARIN ENERGY AUTHORITY EXECUTIVE COMMITTEE WEDNESDAY, SEPTEMBER 21, 2011 Marin Clean Energy Pull The Plug December 2009 Marin County Civil Grand Jury http://www.co.marin.ca.us/depts/GJ/main/cvgrjr/2009gj/clean_energy.pdf http://marintaxpayers.org/april2011mutanewsletter.pdf MUTA Tax News Fueled by money http://meatruth.org/PDF/NavigantPay102010.pdf
Tina McMillan November 08, 2011 at 05:08 AM
Lots of interesting reading for anyone that's interested.
Barbara Madrid November 08, 2011 at 04:18 PM
Edwin, I'm a little rusty on the detail, but basically, starting a "muni" is even more complicated than what was done here. A muni would have to buy the existing lines within the territory to be served, or construct another set (and wouldn't THAT be unsightly and redundant?) And then put together an entire organization, employees, management, all things having to do with power procurement, billing, etc etc etc. I just hope that people take the time to see this for what it is and get ready to opt out when it's time-and that the city accounts do not join- that costs ALL of us MORE money, when city should be taking care of other essentials, like police and other critical needs.

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