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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.

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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