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