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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.

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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