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Power to the People: Council Votes to Join Marin Energy

On a 3-2 council vote, Novato will join the Marin Energy Authority and residents will have to opt out next spring if they want to continue with PG&E service.

It’s a choice. A grade-A, prime cut choice for Novato residents. Do you want to buy your power from Pacific Gas and Electric Co. or the Marin Energy Authority, aka Marin Clean Energy?

With the Novato City Council’s narrow approval Tuesday, residents in the city limits will have that choice as of next spring.

The decision prompted hollers and applause at City Hall just a few minutes before midnight. Several dozen die-hards hung out late to await the verdict.

The decision came six months to the day after Marin Energy Authority’s chairman and spiritual leader, Marin County Supervisor Charles McGlashan, brought on by a rare disease.

“I believe in giving everyone a choice,” Councilwoman Carole–Dillon Knutson said. “I thought we should be part of it from the beginning so we could draft the bylaws and guide the proposals, but we were not. … I think Marin Energy is operating in the residents’ best interest, and I think PG&E is operating in its stockholders’ best interests. It’s time we go forward with some competition.”

Dillon-Knutson made the motion for the city to joint the joint powers authority that it opted not to join in 2008 based on a prevailing wait-and-see viewpoint of the council. In July of this year, the council and revisit the decision.

Just days after Ross decided to join the Marin Energy Authority, Novato Councilwoman Denise Athas seconded Dillon-Knutson’s motion and Mayor Madeline Kellner joined in, security a majority over Pat Eklund and Jeanne MacLeamy.

Novato voted to join during an amnesty period at no cost to the city.

Marin Energy Authority Executive Officer Dawn Weisz said residents should start receiving mailers about the impending choice in April 2012 and would be automatically switched over in July. Households will receive about several chances to opt out and stick with PG&E for free before that time; it’ll be a $5 charge if someone backs out after that.

Marin Energy Authority, which runs Marin Clean Energy, was set up to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and offer residents a choice to purchase power from renewable sources such as sunshine and wind. It started offering two grades of power in May 2010: “light green” (from 27 percent renewables) and “deep green” (100 percent). Bills are sent to ratepayers via PG&E.

Weisz said the Marin Energy Authority leads the state in renewable energy supply and has won awards from agencies such as the EPA, the state Legislature and the Marin Builders Association.

With Novato signing up, every municipality in Marin has now joined the authority except Corte Madera and Larkspur.

Weisz said 20 percent of residents in cities that joined the authority chose to stick with PG&E during the first phase of registration in spring 2010. About 5,000 more customers were brought online in August and the opt-out rate was just below 10 percent, she said.

There were 22 people who filled out cards to speak about the issue Tuesday, and 16 of them urged the council to vote in favor of joining the Marin Energy Authority. Among them were former council member Susan Stompe, Ross councilman Chris Martin and several members of Sustainable Novato.

Marla Fields said she recently had to purchase a furnace at her home and was upset that she couldn’t qualify for the $500 rebate from Marin Energy because Novato had not joined the authority.

“We would have the opportunity to purchase 100 percent renewable energy. PG&E does not offer that choice,” she said before the council. “I don’t want you to deny me of having that choice.”

Eklund and MacLeamy both said they support clean energy and providing choice before explaining why they voted no. Eklund said it was because of the confusing opt-out system rather than a preferred opt-in system. MacLeamy she disliked the way the state set up its community choice aggregation process where cities have to vote to give ratepayers a choice.

Kellner, who voted no on joining the authority in 2008, said she changed her mind because there are more assurances and paperwork supporting how the energy company is working. Athas said she was initially concerned about financial risks to joining a joint powers authority but heard so many good things and decided it was time to give residents the choice.

David L September 28, 2011 at 09:57 PM
Bob, obviously, since I am speaking about a future condition, it is not a fact nor an opinion, but rather a prediction based on two facts: Novato's weather is the best suited for solar generation in Marin, and Novato has the greatest land area. If you count the large number of parking lots that could be covered in solar panels it would be even more clear we are going to lead Marin in solar generation.
Lloyd September 29, 2011 at 12:41 AM
Gail green house gases need to be reduced. That said the state mandated high density housing inititive has, in my opinion, very little to do with green house gases. That is just a front for a completely different socialist engineering agenda. Housing should be controlled locally and affordable housing should be the responsibility of everyone, everywhere. The Ross Example is how the affluent deal with the affordable issue. Anyway I'm glad for a choice that actually can allow us to reduce harmful GHG by all.
Bob Ratto September 29, 2011 at 12:59 AM
Lloyd It is all inter-connected, and SB375 connects to UN agenda 21...look it up. Agenda 21 is basically the idea behind "stack em and pack em". Local choice should rule, but it doesn't in this area. As an aside I rode my motorcycle down SFD on Sunday afternoon past the Art and Garden Center in Ross, and just chuckled a lot...Sausalito will be under water before Ross does AH.
Brent Ainsworth (Editor) September 29, 2011 at 01:50 AM
Nice of you to say that, Annan!
Rick Fraites September 29, 2011 at 03:12 AM
Great decision. Being able to choose your energy provider always trumps being subject to a monopoly.
Annan Paterson September 29, 2011 at 05:02 AM
I appreciate the history you gave and salient quotes from the meeting. You have to put in long hours and have a lot of patience to sit through meetings-- and then boil it all down on deadline!
Pat September 29, 2011 at 04:04 PM
Thank you to Mayor Kellner and Councilmembers Athas and Dillon-Knutson for their yes votes. I am so excited to finally have a choice. And for those who oppose Marin Clean Energy - just think - you will be able to exercise your own choice to opt-out or opt-in. Democracy in action!!
Tea bags for Liberty September 29, 2011 at 06:06 PM
How much more will this cost the city of Novato? We are now on the hook to pay higher rates through MEA for all of the city services. City fathers and mothers, you should have stayed away from this. Shame on you! You claim you don't have money for police officers and fire men and then you increase you utility bills...Shame on you!
Tea bags for Liberty September 29, 2011 at 06:14 PM
Opt out - this is where you have to go in April 2012 to Opt out http://www.marincleanenergy.info/index.php?option=com_jforms&view=form&id=3&Itemid=114 Marin Clean Energy | 781 Lincoln Avenue, St. 320 | San Rafael, CA 94901 | (888) 632-3674
Marla September 29, 2011 at 06:29 PM
It doesn't cost the City of Novato anything because they voted to join during the amnesty period where the $20,000 - $40,000 fee is waived. The City of Novato can decide at a later date if they wish to choose PG&E or MCE commercial rates for their own energy needs (i.e. lighting the City Hall etc.) while still givng us Novato residents and businesses the choice now that we are a member city.
Marla September 29, 2011 at 06:39 PM
Actually folks will get a minimum of four opt out notices once they are eligible ot be customers of MCE. here is no fee to opt out, and even if they decide much later to opt out, it only will cost $5 to do so at that point. However, by April, you may wish to review rates as PG&E's 7% rate increase currently pending at the CPUC for approval likely will have kicked in.
Pat September 29, 2011 at 10:59 PM
Tea bags - why are you so threatened by MEA. No one is forcing you to be a customer. And no one will force the City of Novato to be a customer. That is what REAL choice is all about. I do not, for the life of me, see the harm in this.
Mark Schoenbaum September 30, 2011 at 02:09 AM
Patrice, Please research the topic before posting. Regardless of whether one opts out or not there is still an impact on evenryone in Novato. Quoting Joe Nation: "And there are much larger risks for both city and county taxpayers in the future. Marin County’s $1.5 million commitment pales in comparison to the financial risk to MEA member cities and to the county if MEA’s ever-changing business plans don’t actually work. In the long-term, MEA’s plans to borrow up to $375 million could expose its member cities, the county and all its customers to large financial obligations that have not properly and seriously been addressed to date." So clearly there are other ramifications regardless whether or not one chooses to opt out, and no attempt was made to present all of the facts to citizens of Novato and poll their opinion before making the decision on their behalf. The rote of speakers present at the meeting is a list of advocates, and I question whether enough notice was given to the general public that this was going to be voted upon.
Susan Clark September 30, 2011 at 02:34 AM
@Lloyd, my friend lives in Mill Valley and decided to opt our of MEA and she said it tookover 3 months before they finally got it right. She said it was a BIG hassle to stay with PG&E. Hopefully that will not be the case for those of us in Novato wishing to opt out.
Pat September 30, 2011 at 03:20 AM
I'm sorry, but it is well known that Joe Nation is paid by PG&E. He doesn't even try to hide it. (If you don't believe me, go and watch the video from County of Marin Board of Supervisors' meetings when MCE was first being considered). If you're listening to him, you are definitely getting only one side of the story and are certainly not getting all the facts. But as I said, I have no interest in arguing about this. It will be up to each individual.
Marla September 30, 2011 at 03:23 AM
Mark, Joe nation was a highly paid lobbyist for PG&E, and these talking points of doom and gloom did not materialize. In fact, MEA paid off its obligaitons to County early and is in such good financial health that the consolidated bank loan didn't even require any cosignatures.
Edwin Drake September 30, 2011 at 03:45 AM
Skip a vacation and do more for the environment than anything else! Some perspective, in case you missed it: Flying from New York to San Francisco = 2.5 Tons of Greenhouse Gas Emissions, per http://planetgreen.discovery.com/travel-outdoors/cross-country-flight-carbon.html. So, 840,000 tons minus m 560,000 tons, (Current minus future Marin GHG output savings due MEA, from another Patch article) equals 280,000 tons. Divide that by 2.5 tons per trip and you get 112,000 one-way trips, or 56,000 round trips from San Francisco to the Big Apple. population of the three towns, Novato, Larkspur, and Corte madera is around 74,000, give or take. (In the US there are probably at least 5,000 airplane trips per day, of various lengths, per http://answers.yahoo.com/question/index?qid=20061127045006AA0NreR). For fun go to http://www.whatsmycarbonfootprint.com/calculate.htm
Marla September 30, 2011 at 03:58 AM
Susan, Your friend in Mill Valley went through that hassle because of PG&E. When MCE first started, PG&E hired a telemarketing company out of Utah or Iowa (I cannot recall) to contact customers & ask them to opt out. They made it sound as if they didn't their electricity would go out on May 7th, 2010 when MCE would be providing their energy, then they asked people to opt out on the phone & since they had the customer info already, it was easy to capture. Unfortunately, that wasn't exactly legal, & didn't count. MCE tried to get PG&E to give them the list so they could contact these people & find out if they really wanted to opt out, but they dragged it out for months until the CPUC finally slapped their hand & made them cooperate. So your friend probably thought she opted out when the telemarketer called, but didn't ever get that info to MCE until several months later. Needless to say, those early issues have been resolved & MCE's opt out process is very easy, no thanks to PG&E! For those of us that were in the trenches back then, it was nothing short of disguisting the tricks PG&E pulled trying to squash MCE before it got going. The fact that they tried so hard ought to tell you what a great idea it really is & how likely it is to succeed. Things are much improved since then. Now PG&E has to worry about the multimillion dollar lawsuits they have for all the people who lost their lives & homes in San Bruno, failing infrastructure & other priorities.
Susan Clark September 30, 2011 at 04:12 AM
Marla, No, that wasn't the case with my friend in Mill Valley. She contacted MCE to opt out and was told ok it's complete, you are opted out. Unfortunately that wasn't the case. she went thru this for over three months before MCE got it right. BTW, my friend just told me this today.
Mark Schoenbaum September 30, 2011 at 04:15 PM
Patrice and Marla - I know that you are some of the biggest supporters of MCE but the fact is that regardless of whether or not Joe Nation was lobbying for PG&E the fact remains that the member cities (and therefore their residents) are on the hook to cover any loans taken out by MCE. Other points to consider is that MCE is not regulated by the CPUC and can set their rates to whatever they want. They even clearly state that their current rates are 'initial' rates and subject to change. If rates rise significantly then more county residents could opt out and then MCE could run into trouble paying off their loans. MCE also signing long term contracts up front and locking in a rate and if energy prices drop in the future they are still obligated to pay the higher rate. While issues like these may or may not come to pass I think it is pollyannish to run around feeling so 'green' and being obvlivious to the risks. The public should have been presented with the pros and the cons and asked to vote on joining instead of leaving the decision to three council members who have other interests at heart then the prudent fiduciary oversight of taxpayer funds which come from and belong to the city residents.
Lloyd September 30, 2011 at 04:49 PM
Marla I do have a couple of basic questions. First let me say that choice is always better then no choice. I have been following this thread and I am concerned about what if any obligation the City of Novato can incur by joining MEA. Specifically is there some contract the City signs that obligates the town to debt incurred by MEA however unlikely, should it come to be? If not why is Mark suggesting there is? If so what is the actual worst case scenario? I am a little uncomfortable going into something that has strings. With PG&E at least the devil we know so to speak. There are no mega-million dollar obligations that could literally bankrupt the town if something bad and unforeseen occurred. Our portion of a $375 Million debt for Marin could be catastrophic. The second question is this opt out policy. You explained that in the past people were unknowingly talking to the wrong parties. Regardless of blame wouldn't it make much more sense to have people take a proactive step and join MEA if that is their desire then this convoluted passive switch over that phone companies used to do and were found to be illegal, confusing and misleading. After all I have been a PG&E customer forever. If I want to join MEA and that is an option shouldn't it be up to me to voice the choice. Anytime, as I said earlier, you have to opt out it feels very wrong to me. I'll look forward to hearing from you.
Pat September 30, 2011 at 05:32 PM
Mark and Lloyd - First of all, neither the City of Novato, or any other jurisdiction in the JPA has any financial obligations to the MEA. Early this year MEA paid back start-up loans from the Town of Fairfax and the County of Marin used as guarantees for their initial bank loan. (here is an excerpt from a local newspaper at the time - "Marin Energy Authority Interim Executive Director Dawn Weisz presented the town of Fairfax with a check for $7,300 Wednesday at the Fairfax Town Council meeting. The check was a payment for the $100,000 loan guarantee the town gave the fledgling authority last year as it brought Marin Clean Energy to the grid. Earlier this month, MEA also paid back $540,000 that was approved by the Marin County Board of Supervisors in 2008. In addition, a newly-consolidated loan relieves the county of a $950,000 loan guarantee along with the $100,000 guarantee by the town of Fairfax."
Pat September 30, 2011 at 05:33 PM
Mark and Lloyd - secondly, governance is through a Joint Powers Authority (JPA), which places a firewall between the MEA and its parties. There was a lengthy discussion of this indemnification at the City Council meeting on Tuesday evening. Here is an excerpt from MEA's Bylaws: "As provided by Section 2.3 of the Agreement, the debts, liabilities and obligations of the Authority shall not be debts, liabilities or obligations of the individual Parties unless the governing board of a Party agrees in writing to assume any of the debts, liabilities or obligations of the Authority. A Party who has not agreed to assume an Authority debt, liability or obligation shall not be responsible in any way for such debt, liability or obligation even if a majority of the Parties agree to assume the debt, liability or obligation of the Authority." All these documents are available on MEA's website. Hope this answers your questions
Bob Ratto September 30, 2011 at 05:49 PM
Patrice Thanks for that. I went to the website and I think I got a bit confused-one part talked about hydroelectric, and then when i went to the detail it is not listed. Something about RPS Certificates shows that power is coming from Oregon and Washington, and was biomass, and wind, with biomass being the biggest. I don't see any hydro, and I am confused about this..is hydro included or not? Thanks for your review!
Lloyd September 30, 2011 at 05:50 PM
Patrice so as long as there is no agreement to assume debt by Novato, which you are saying is the case we are clear of any burden. Excellent. Thank you for the info.
Pat September 30, 2011 at 06:35 PM
Mark - I promised myself I was not going to argue with folks on this forum, but I just couldn't resist responding to what you said - "The public should have been presented with the pros and the cons and asked to vote on joining instead of leaving the decision to three council members who have other interests at heart then the prudent fiduciary oversight of taxpayer funds which come from and belong to the city residents." There are NO taxpayer funds used to pay for this!!! And Isn't it MORE democratic to allow EACH resident of Novato decide whether they want to get their power from PG&E or MCE - rather than three Councilmembers deciding for all of us that our only option is PG&E? How would that be more fair?
Pat September 30, 2011 at 06:38 PM
Bob Here is what MEA's website says about their energy generation: "Marin Clean Energy procures its renewable energy from a variety of sources that include wind, hydro-electric, biogas, solar and geothermal. The exact proportion of each varies with time, based on demand and availability. For example, MCE may use a higher proportion of hydroelectric energy during the spring and summer months when winter run-off generates more power at affordable prices. Marin Clean Energy has signed a contract to purchase 30 megawatts of new solar energy that will be built in Calfiornia and is working on plans to build a 1 megawatt solar carport shade structure right here in Marin County."
Mark Schoenbaum September 30, 2011 at 07:04 PM
Patrice, I am only trying to ensure transparency. According to your statement "unless the governing board of a Party agrees in writing to assume any of the debts, liabilities or obligations of the Authority". Has Novato agreed to assume any liability? Is there anything preventing the city for assuming liability in the future? While I strongly dislike the opt out instead of opt in policy of the MEA if we can be ensured that the city will not be placing itself in any jeopardy by entering into the agreement then I have no arguement other than the fact that the council represents the residents and should do more to seek public opinion before making decisions. Obviously two council members disagreed with the vote.
JB September 30, 2011 at 09:21 PM
Couple points on Novato's energy situation. First, Novato residents should be the ones voting directly for or against joining the MAE. Yes, we have elected officials assisting in the management of our town but some issues as significant as this should be put to the residents direct vote. Secondly, if there's an "opt in" or an "opt out" choice, it should be that we residents have to "opt in" not "opt out" of something. All for clean energy that is dependable and reasonably priced. Will see how this plays out and will keep it in mind come voting time.
Tina McMillan October 01, 2011 at 04:33 PM
Why MEA doesn't add up http://www.marinij.com/opinion/ci_18998876

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