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Published on July 21st, 2011 | by John Farrell


Marin Clean Energy Offers 100% Clean and Increasingly Local Power

July 21st, 2011 by  

Marin Clean Energy logoAfter 10 years of battling incumbent utilities, Marin Clean Energy became California’s first operational community choice aggregation authority in 2010.  Already, local ratepayers can opt to get 100 percent of their electricity from renewable resources.

Community choice aggregation (CCA) offers an option for cities, counties, and collaborations to opt out of the traditional role of energy consumers.  Instead, they can become the local retail utility, buying electricity in bulk and selecting their power providers on behalf of their citizens in order to find lower prices or cleaner energy (or even reduce energy demand).  Marin Clean Energy started operations last year:

“When it launched last fall, Marin Energy Authority’s goal was to offer 20% renewable energy to its customers,” said Ms.Weisz. “We were able to offer 27.5% compared to the state-mandated 20%.”  The state recently increased the mandate to one third.  PG&E has about 17% under contract, according to Ms. Weisz.

Customers can also opt for the “deep green,” 100% renewable service for a 10 percent premium.

Marin Clean Energy not only contracts for a higher portion of renewable energy than PG&E, it’s trying to increase its share of local, distributed generation.

“We are filling a niche market for mid-sized renewable energy generation in the 20 to 60 MW range,” said Dawn Weisz, interim director…  “When we went out to solicit renewable power offers, Pacific Gas & Electric told us we would not get any bids. We were looking for 40 MW. We were offered over 600.  Almost all was solar.”

The energy authority even offers a small-scale feed-in tariff program, allowing any customer to become a small renewable energy generator with a long-term contract.  However, unlike the highly successful German feed-in tariff program, the prices for Marin’s program are based on time of generation, rather than the cost.

The local “utility” is also trying to maximize energy efficiency.  Currently, a public benefits fund pools ratepayer dollars for energy efficiency programs run by PG&E.  However, such programs tend to work against the bottom line of the utility, but not against Marin’s CCA.

Marin Clean Energy thinks it can do a better job and create more local jobs with the money.

It’s a promising start for California’s first community choice authority.

This post originally appeared on Energy Self-Reliant States, a resource of the Institute for Local Self-Reliance’s New Rules Project.

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About the Author

directs the Democratic Energy program at ILSR and he focuses on energy policy developments that best expand the benefits of local ownership and dispersed generation of renewable energy. His seminal paper, Democratizing the Electricity System, describes how to blast the roadblocks to distributed renewable energy generation, and how such small-scale renewable energy projects are the key to the biggest strides in renewable energy development.
Farrell also authored the landmark report Energy Self-Reliant States, which serves as the definitive energy atlas for the United States, detailing the state-by-state renewable electricity generation potential. Farrell regularly provides discussion and analysis of distributed renewable energy policy on his blog, Energy Self-Reliant States (energyselfreliantstates.org), and articles are regularly syndicated on Grist and Renewable Energy World.
John Farrell can also be found on Twitter @johnffarrell, or at jfarrell@ilsr.org.

  • Marin County, to its credit, did become “California’s first operational community choice aggregation,” but it’s important to understand that Marin Clean Energy (MCE), despite its highly successful “green marketing campaign,” has not generated one kilowatt of renewable power locally, nor has it “broken away” from PG&E, nor has it created any local green jobs. MCE’s recently announced partnership with EnXco, a wholly owned subsidiary of nuclear power giant EDF belies its green spin, as does its contract with Shell Energy North America, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Royal Dutch Shell, with an even worse reputation for poor “corporate citizenship” than PG&E, and one of the worst environmental polluters and human rights abusing corporations on the planet.

    It is not well understood either that Marin County residents are still dependent on PG&E for transmission, distribution, billing and line maintenance, or that Marin Energy Authority (MEA), the “purchasing arm” of MCE, procures every kilowatt of its “green energy” from non-local suppliers. Thus, MEA is is hardly a model example of “community choice” or even “clean energy policy.” The energy mix MEA is purchasing from Shell (and more recently, G2 Energy) may be RPS-eligible, and it may even qualify for Renewable Energy Credits (RECs), under state and federal law, but it offers very little (real) green energy. Other communities considering forming CCAs should watch very carefully to make certain that their officials do not subvert the concept of CCA, as our officials did here in Marin.

    Sadly, at least so far, Marin Clean Energy is proving to be far better at greenwashing than actually generating green energy.

    As the editor of an energy newspaper that views energy from both a progressive and human rights perspective, I can assure other journalists and the public that there is a very important story tucked between the lines of MCE’s greenwashing campaign. MCE should serve as a warning, not a model, for other communities hoping to create CCAs that offer (genuine) clean, locally generated energy. In Marin, the local press (Pacific Sun and Marin Independent Journal) never provided any critical analysis of MCE’s plan, instead serving as its mouthpiece, rather than doing real journalism. Had the local press been willing to dig a little deeper, they might have served the critical function of protecting the community from being “greenwashed.” My hope, at this point, is that someone in our business (with a bigger staff than SolarTimes) is concerned enough about serving the public interest (what we used to call “Public Service Journalism”) to dig in and do the kind of investigative work that our little paper simply hasn’t the resources to do. Fortunately, the movement for (real) “energy democracy” is growing, and SolarTimes is building alliances with communities that have had similar experiences to Marin’s. I have a regular column in the local West Marin newspaper (West Marin Citizen), so a handful of people here in West Marin may also be starting to catch on.

    I recently interviewed the Al Weinrub, author of the groundbreaking new publication, “Community Power — Decentralized Renewable Energy in California” on my program, “Political Analysis,” which airs weekly on the Progressive Radio Network (www.progressiveradionetwork.com). To learn more about this issue and the meaning of (real) “energy democracy, people can listen at http://www.progressiveradionetwork.com/political-analysis/.

    Sandy LeonVest
    SolarTimes (www.solartimes.org)

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