Commentary: Why Were Some, Including Dunning, Apparently Sleeping on Community Choice Energy?

We have been discussing the move to Community Choice Energy, now known as Valley Clean Energy, since 2014.  It has been largely non-controversial.  Despite numerous public forums and public meetings, there has been little in the way of pushback.  Vanguard articles on the subject have generally generated limited comments.

So I was pretty surprised to see Bob Dunning’s column on it.  He writes that “when it comes to our city’s switch to ‘Valley Clean Energy,’ we had no say in the deal. No, you are now signed up for VCE whether you like it or not.”

It is an odd argument for a lot of reasons, and the first is that he has an option to opt out – as he in fact later notes: “At the very end of the message, I’m told I can ‘OPT OUT’ by calling a phone number or going online. If I do nothing, it’ll be VCE and me for the foreseeable future.”

That is in fact far more choice than he has ever had before.  His choice prior to now was either PG&E or be completely off the grid.

In fact, we had less than no choice.  If you recall back in 2006, we voted to join SMUD (Sacramento Municipal Utility District) – all of Yolo County did.  But that was thwarted by Sacramento County which voted not to allow Yolo County to join SMUD after PG&E put up a $10 million-plus scare campaign.

So Bob Dunning and others actually have far more CHOICE than they ever had before.

But the line that really irritates me is this one: “[W]e had no say in the deal.”  My reaction, compound word, first letter starts with “B” and I don’t mean “Bob.”

In 2014, we started looking into the possibility of what was then called Community Choice Aggregation and is now known as Community Choice Energy.  This was an off-shoot of public power after Davis’ Municipal Utility District idea proved too unwieldy.

It is a state policy that allows local governments to “aggregate electricity demand within their jurisdictions in order to procure alternative energy supplies while maintaining the existing electricity provider for transmission and distribution services,” as Daniel Parrella explained in a 2014 article.  “The key difference between a CCA and DMUD is a CCA only controls the generation of electricity; we would still pay PG&E for transmission fees.”

Basically, public power without the risk.  But it is also why you can opt out of VCE, while you couldn’t opt out of PG&E.

A few years ago, John Mott-Smith in Mr. Dunning’s own newspaper explained, “The city of Davis and the county of Yolo are in the process of setting up a Community Choice Energy program.”

He explained, “In effect, the city and county form a Joint Powers Authority that determines what type of electricity is purchased and what rates are charged to residents for this electricity. PG&E continues to do everything else: transmission of the electricity from where it is produced and distribution of the electricity to each household, business and farm.

“As ratepayers, we continue to receive a monthly bill from PG&E and the utility continues to manage the grid and maintain power lines knocked down by storms, falling trees, etc.”

Dave Ryan, who was the reporter for the Enterprise two reporters ago, reported, “In a CCE or CCA, ratepayers would be able to opt in to choose levels of renewable energy provided by the utility. In Marin Clean Energy’s case, customers can choose from 51 percent renewable energy, which in some cases provides a slight discount on standard PG&E rates, to 100 percent renewable energy, which usually costs a few dollars more each month than standard PG&E rates.

“PG&E still handles the billing and turns the power on and off when you move as well as maintains the power lines, owns the utility infrastructure and handles outage issues.”

He also announced a Public Forum for 2015, “The CEOs of California’s two regional energy-choice programs will stop in Davis next Thursday at a free, open public forum in Community Chambers at 6:30 p.m. to talk about a system of allowing communities to choose more renewable sources of energy than Pacific Gas & Electric Company does now.”

Mr. Dunning says we did not have a choice?  What does he think these public forums were about?  Our elected officials made these decisions.  They made them in open public meetings that were reported on in our local paper.

The citizens had a chance to come to these meetings, educate themselves on the issue, and object if that that’s what they wanted.

This spring, the Valley Clean Energy, which is the Joint Powers Authority that runs the CCE, ran ads in the Vanguard and the Enterprise announcing  that it would launch on June 1.

They wrote in their press release: “VCE is the new locally governed not for profit electricity program that is committed to delivering cost-competitive, clean and reliable electricity. Valley Clean Energy is set to deliver on this commitment with a 2.5% lower generation rate than PG&E while providing higher levels of renewable energy. In total, based on current PG&E rates, VCE will save its customers approximately $1.8 million dollars in the first full year of operation.”

“Local control and accountability is one of the many benefits of Valley Clean Energy,” said Davis City Council Member Lucas Frerichs, Chair of the Valley Clean Energy Board. “Our board is in tune with our communities and can be responsive to their priorities and needs.”

The real question is where was Bob Dunning the last five years and, if he had a problem with it, why didn’t he say something sooner?

—David M. Greenwald reporting


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About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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49 thoughts on “Commentary: Why Were Some, Including Dunning, Apparently Sleeping on Community Choice Energy?”

  1. Ken A

    I’m wondering if David understands the difference between a real “choice” where VCE gives people the option to “choose” VCE as their utility provider vs. what they did (send out a few mailers that look like junk mail that few people read than switched everyone without asking them if they want to “choose” VCE).

    1. Todd Edelman

      “Choice”, indeed. Up until now it was either the arrogant and sometimes murderous monopoly and/or solar panels. Now PG&E is for certain functions an option; this change happened after years of public process. (By the way most people in Davis – like some people who visit In & Out – don’t realize that there’s a secret menu also for water supply, to “choose” between Sacramento River or well water. To activate you first stick your elbow into your ear, but only after riding a bicycle to ironically pick up reverse osmosis’d water.)
       
      Seriously, the other non-choice that’s so far our “choice” is that renters – who can opt out of PG&E partial financial piece of AC current if they pay for their own energy – cannot live in a photovoltaic’d home unless their landlord opts into that, and if the landlord is not paying for electron or methane juice there’s little incentive to do that, except for moral and ethical reasons.
       
      There’s a goal for 1/3 of Davis homes to have PV by not so many years by now, but for reasons described it’s disproportionately gonna be owners and owner-occupied homes that gottit. Add to that no requirement for e.g. Energy Star appliances, insulation, insulated windows, sun blocking curtains it’s easy to see a further disparity. The extra fun additional layer on top of that is that Davis wants to be carbon neutral, and many renters can’t even contribute in this way, which is dis-empowering and limits their agency.
       
      At the last intro event for VCE I asked about much of this was told only that they were still figuring things out but that also in principle with VCE online now it would be easier to level this playing field somehow. I can only hope.
       
      I’m not naive and realize that equipping homes with all that eco-jazz costs a lot of money, and if required it has to be required for every rental, and that this will raise rents. So an additional benefit of increased housing supply is more diversity to energy choice!
       
      Don’t forget that a solar panel-covered, anti-noise and pollution roof on I-80 inside our borders could be 100% owned by VCE and would provide around 10 to 15% of our city’s current electrical demand. What I would suggest is that all the new developments along I-80 such as Nishi 2.0 and anything else that’s approved should have a way to be hooked up directly to this so they can get power when their own internal solar doesn’t do enough. Going further, similar should be done in any re-development Downtown so that eventually the whole district could be powered by the anti-noise roof, with not just the collectors, collections but also the wires all owned by VCE. So the infrastructure which keeps Downtown quieter and cleaner also powers it! Poetry, pure poetry… right? This is such a very anti-clusterf*ckarian way to start my afternoon, and if you see me later at Farmers’ Market you can give me a hug or a kiss or a just a firm handshake — or we could simply and silently co-acknowledge with our eyes the love and creativity that Davis helps nurture.

        1. Alan Miller

          > Next time you travel, may I accompany?

          No.  My PG&E bill spiked from the energy intake (or was that from the space heater?), and I fried the thing coming back, plus I didn’t want to attract attention from the GOVERNMENT.  So I dismantled the thing and dumped it in the alley behind Froggy’s.

          I will be happy to answer questions, however.

        2. Howard P

          You mean you didn’t recycle, but just dumped it?   [“Froggy’s” was a good choice tho’ … (yes, get the referents)]

          For shame, Alan… may have to suggest you forfeit your “Davisite” card…

           

      1. Richard McCann

        Todd, first many of us are working on the issue you identified in proposed City regulations: “There’s a goal for 1/3 of Davis homes to have PV by not so many years by now, but for reasons described it’s disproportionately gonna be owners and owner-occupied homes that gottit. Add to that no requirement for e.g. Energy Star appliances, insulation, insulated windows, sun blocking curtains it’s easy to see a further disparity. The extra fun additional layer on top of that is that Davis wants to be carbon neutral, and many renters can’t even contribute in this way, which is dis-empowering and limits their agency.”

        But more importantly, this cant’ be done overnight–VCE is hardly up and running. Do you expect your children to be doing calculus when they are born? Give the organization some time. (And PG&E is supposed to have been doing all of this anyway, but look how well they’ve done.)

        Or are you saying we shouldn’t bother doing any of this because we’re going to increase housing costs? What’s your alternative solution to reducing GHG emissions for free?

    2. Richard McCann

      Ken A, how would you have structured the choice then? First, understand that state law requires that the CCA (VCEA) becomes the initial provider and then customers can choose to opt out. Second, the opt-out structure mitigates incumbency bias of moving from PG&E. (PG&E does NOT own us as customers–the City owns us as customers and issues a franchise agreement to PG&E to serve us, so be clear on your legal arguments.) In this day and age, I’m not sure how we get to the high saliency of the choice that you want for some reason.

  2. Alan Miller

    I have to admit I was in the same place as the Dunnmeister.  I mentioned ‘what is this thing’ to Lucas and he was quite shocked I didn’t know about it since he chairs the committee.  I remember the SMUD thing and PG&E’s campaign-O-Satan to kill that, and I remember past talks about Davis taking over the utilities.  But when I got the card I was surprised and unsure what was going on (still am, less so).

    I have had several friends/acquaintances express similar – ‘what is this?’ comments recently.  I don’t doubt there were articles in the Vanguard — I must have skipped them, and as you say, few comments.  Not sure how something so important has been consciously missed by so many despite being out there.  Should be a case study on how to get away with something.  Creation hiding in plain sight.

    Those of you who were aware, feel free to gloat your superiority.

    1. Ken A

      The end goal of VCE is to create jobs to make money for politically connected locals (under the cover of “slightly cleaner” energy) so the plan was to get (almost) everyone switched over without them even noticing.  The plan worked and I’m guessing that less than 10% of the people in town have any idea what VCE is and that they have a new energy provider.

        1. Alan Miller

          > New public sector jobs doing work that was previously handled by the private sector.

          I argue that a utility isn’t exactly the “private” sector – not that it’s exactly the public sector either.  PG&E suffers many of the ills of a monstrous bureaucracy.

          Note: Why is my post ABOVE the post I’m posting on? That’s weird. I didn’t opt into that either.

        2. Mark West

           “PG&E suffers many of the ills of a monstrous bureaucracy.”

          Agreed, but how does creating another layer of bureaucracy on top of PG&E solve that?

        3. Howard P

          Mark, am thinking Alan was nuancing words you used, not disputing the concern about additional costs with a JPA.  Just like I don’t think you are “championing” PG&E, per se…  I may well be wrong in one or both of those…

          I have not decided to opt out or stay in… don’t know if the new entity will have a “smart day” or other programs or not… I may well be better off sticking with PG&E…

          To date, I have no substantive info to weigh… as to rate structure, programs, etc.  Also haven’t got my postcard/notification yet, unless it got into the useless shrek, that goes straight from mailbox to recycling…

          And everyone should understand… if two water companies each have a well connected to the same transmission and delivery network (which is proposed here), all you can do is tell one/both of them how much water you want pumped from their well… any given gallon coming out of your tap may originate from either, or both.  But then again, there are college educated folk in Davis who understand where their water comes from, but wonder where their hot water comes from… true story… have handled some of those calls… hard not to cry out “dumb-ass”, “idiot”, or make up a lie just to end the conversation!

          By the same token, if you elect 100% renewable, the actual electrons flowing to and fro within your abode, may come from nuclear, coal, NG or other fossil fuels… enjoy!

        1. Mark West

          “What jobs are created Ken?”

          Everyone who works for the JPA. New public sector jobs doing work that was previously handled by the private sector. Interesting to know what their pension and medical plans look like.
           

        2. Howard P

          Mark is exactly correct…

          Transparency should include # of positions created, and total comp., including med/dental, salaries, pension payments, and any post retirement obligations.

        3. Howard P

          So, if not PERS, PARS or SS, other?  Question is still valid… no transparency, yet…

          Cite for the JPA being non-PERS?  [yeah, trust, but verify]

          Employer share of SS is still an expense…

          SS is ‘funny’… fixed contribution, yet (so far) inflation protected (not fully true of PERS or PARS)… if SS actuarials change, employer doesn’t pay more… if one has a SS benefit coming, then is employed by a public agency long enough to earn a pension, their retirement benefit under SS is reduced, dollar for dollar, by that pension… so if the JPA is staffed by someone who has been in PERS, now under SS, the employer and employee contributions to SS are a non-deductible charitable gift to SS… ‘funny’…

           

      1. Richard McCann

        Ken A,

        First, I’m not sure how we were supposed to keep you specifically informed. I don’t even know your real name so I can’t come by to give you a weekly briefing on every issue in the City that you might be missing.

        As for creating jobs for themselves, none of us citizens who worked to start this in 2014 has a job from the VCEA. Several are volunteering their free time on the VCEA citizen advisory board. Do you care to continue to slander them?

    2. David Greenwald Post author

      That’s kind of interesting to me because these discussions happened over the course of several years. When I hear it from people like you, who are the council meetings all the time, it gives me more pause.

      1. Howard P

        I opine that part of the reason is that it has been discussed for so long, with many ‘dead ends’, folk didn’t pick up on the fact it was becoming “for reals”. Not good, not bad, just IS…

        At this point, it’s real.  Now it is appropriate to drill down to the actual costs of the JPA, including other agency costs associated with the JPA, as those cost will be reflected in the rates…

        1. Alan Miller

          > I opine that part of the reason is that it has been discussed for so long, with many ‘dead ends’, folk didn’t pick up on the fact it was becoming “for reals”. 

          That is probably exactly what happened with me — I heard it was dead several times and then suddenly see this gleaming-eyed zombie I’ve been opted into.

        2. Howard P

          Over each iteration, over each dead end?

          It is apparent you will do nothing to investigate/disclose the cost info for the JPA… guess we should all know everything about it…

          Fine.

        3. Ken A

          In addition to the number of new jobs and other new overhead, what I really want to know is if we can get the ownership information on who VCE is “buying the green power from” (and if there is a way for the people who voluntarily pay more for “green” power so see if it is really “green” vs. just more profit for VCE.

      2. Ken A

        There have been meetings and people talking about a bike lane to Woodland replacing the railroad tracks for over 30 years (and I don’t ever expect to ride to Woodland on the former rail right of way).  When I heard about politically connected locals talking about a way to force everyone in town to give them money every month and get tons of cash to hire their friends and make friends who set up “alternative” energy business even richer I thought that the odds of  it actually happening (especially after Davis voters said they wanted to keep PG&E)  was about as likely as a solar dome covering I80 between Mace and Pole Line…

        1. Alan Miller

          I heard about politically connected locals talking about a way to force everyone in town to give them money every month and get tons of cash to hire their friends and make friends who set up “alternative” energy business even richer

          Chance in hell you can ‘connect the dots’ on this?  I mean, I don’t doubt it considering all I’ve seen of politics since working in Sac Town, but the real story on this would be amazing!

          There have been meetings and people talking about a bike lane to Woodland replacing the railroad tracks for over 30 years

          Actually, the ‘replacing’ part is fairly new (part of the ‘Yolo Rail Relocation Mega-Scam’).  The plan I’ve seen from the previous few decades was a well-layed-out and even preliminarily-engineered plan to parallel the tracks with a bike/EV path.

          Part of the reason I am twisted-off about the Yolo Rail Relocation Mega-Scam is that political boneheads either believe or are connected to the Mega-Scam and it’s replaced any former attempts to actually acquire funding for the very thoughtful Davis-Woodland, Rail-with-Trail path.

  3. Howard P

    Sidebar, probably grossly off-topic…

    DJUSD folk (according to Emptyprize) will decide to either have a special election or a provisional appointment for Sunder’s unexpired term (vote is in November, less than 100 days away)…

    Will opine first that the DJUSD Board should do NOTHINGNo money spent for special election, and no advantaging someone in the election…

    We knew this issue was coming for quite awhile… if they need someone before December, they could appoint the apparent elected right after the election…

    It’s not like they have had a bunch of 3-2 votes where it would matter just having 4 until the vote…

  4. Ross Peabody

    ummm.  there isn’t a question asked or accusation leveled in any of these replies that isn’t quickly answered or explained by a 10 minute check of the VCE website.  It’s not even something you need to google and research.  it’s all on the website.  Why is it opt out and not opt in? FAQ page – legally it has to be opt out.  what’s the organizational budget?  check their meeting records which are all publicly posted.  etc. etc.

    seems like a whole lot of complaining here about problems that are readily solved and questions readily answered by taking 10 minutes and finding out. I’m guessing it took longer for some of these posts to be written

      1. Ross Peabody

        the link in my post takes you to their entire 2018-2019 proposed operating budget.  They’re a federally recognized non-profit.  If you ask for any more detail, they need to give it.  seriously, this feels like fiddly nonsense because folks want to complain about something.  what’s the actual issue here?  Is this part of a bad policy?  Is it a questionable move for the city or county? I’m really asking.  insofar as this happening, it doesn’t seem to rise to a level that seems important enough to justify any level of concern even, let alone the kind of ad hoc accusations that this seems to be bringing up.  Maybe I’m missing something, and if I am, I’d welcome someone to clarify why this is a bad thing. From what I can tell, nobody’s spending tax dollars on this, and it’s been public for years, and very public since the JPA formed into this nonprofit last year.  You can opt out in minutes. I’ve only lived here 3 years and I don’t go to council meetings, and it’s been on my radar for months.  I don’t understand all the complaining is all.  between the rhetoric and bad jokes,  actual commentary and discourse seems to be getting lost.  I would love to understand everyone’s issue with this.   As much as commenting on the actual article, David’s right.  How is this a surprise to anybody that pays any attention to this kind of thing (which most people here claim to) and, honestly, Bob Dunning wasn’t surprised.  Seriously, he heard enough people complain about being surprised that he wrote an article to be locally relevant to the people reading his column.

        1. Howard P

          You misunderstand my concern… yet, thank you for the link… gives us salaries and benefits, in aggregate… you rightly point out that if I ask for details, they need to provide that…

          I have no problem with the concept… whether to choose to stay opted in, or choose to opt out, is still in play … I voted for SMUD…

          Still, there is a “sniff” (not rising to an odor) of hiding the football…

        2. Ross Peabody

          thanks for the thoughtful response, Howard.  I think the issue that a lot of folks have that creates that sniff is the opt-out as compared to an opt in, but it’s important to note (as clearly answered on the FAQ page on the VCE website) is that the opt out path is legally required by the 2002 legislation.  Given that, if you don’t me asking, what is throwing potential red flags for you?

        3. Alan Miller

          > between the rhetoric and bad jokes,  actual commentary and discourse seems to be getting lost.

          Welcome to another day in the Vanguard comment section.

          . . . and you’ll love our City Council meetings too!

        4. Alan Miller

          >  Those of you who were aware, feel free to gloat your superiority.

          You can opt out in minutes. I’ve only lived here 3 years and I don’t go to council meetings, and it’s been on my radar for months.

          Thank you.

           

        5. Ross Peabody

          > between the rhetoric and bad jokes,  actual commentary and discourse seems to be getting lost.
          Welcome to another day in the Vanguard comment section.
          . . . and you’ll love our City Council meetings too!
          But is that really how you want it to be?

          Ignore Commenter

          Report comment

          Alan Miller August 1, 2018 at 11:48 pm
          >  Those of you who were aware, feel free to gloat your superiority.
          You can opt out in minutes. I’ve only lived here 3 years and I don’t go to council meetings, and it’s been on my radar for months.
          Thank you.
          I kind of expected this response, but it’s a diversion.  seriously.  do you have a problem with this or do you just want to be a joker?

        6. Ken A

          I would actually like to see of list of salaries and a list of the people that VCE is buying power from (other than PG&E) and how much they are paying for the non PG&E power (per kWh).

          If the concept works out for the politically connected locals maybe next year they can force everyone (that does not “opt out”) to pay them school parcel taxes that they skim to hire friends (that won’t have to do much since it is basically a second redundant layer of bureaucracy) then get some Davis locals to pay extra money for special “green” (even more eco-friendly that the typical current DJUSD teacher) teachers that they can pay big money…

          If this works out they move on to “Valley Green Trash” (where like with PG&E Recology does all the work and they skim a nice chunk of cash by putting themself in the middle)…

        7. Alan Miller

          seriously.  do you have a problem with this or do you just want to be a joker?

          Real . . . discussion . . . in . . . Vanguard . . . comments . . . . . . . . must . . . contemplate . . .

        8. Richard McCann

          Ken A you write “I would actually like to see of list of salaries and a list of the people that VCE is buying power from (other than PG&E) and how much they are paying for the non PG&E power (per kWh).”

          Time for you to do your own work. You’ve been given the weblinks and other data to find this out. You also can call Mitch Sears at the VCE office at 2nd & D (and you’ll NEVER get the same opportunity with PG&E!) Rather than kvetch, you have been given all of the information you need to conduct your research. (Note that VCE does not buy power from “people”–all of the transactions are with corporations and agencies.)

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