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As PG&E Goes Up In Flames, Renewable Energy Steps In

Community choice aggregation sure is getting ambitious. CCA is an arrangement that entitles groups of ratepayers to band together and demand more renewable energy from their local utility company. Now a group of seven CCAs in California is skipping over the demand part and going straight to the part where they become the utility.

Wow, community choice aggregation sure is getting ambitious. CCA is an arrangement that entitles groups of ratepayers to band together and demand more renewable energy from their local utility company. Now a group of seven CCAs in California is skipping over the demand part and going straight to the part where they become the utility.

Renewable Energy Opportunity Rises From PG&E Ashes

In a nutshell, the CCAs argue that they should take over the retail business of the massive California utility PG&E. The ideas is that will free whatever is left of PG&E to concentrate on safety and other infrastructure issues.

The unique opportunity is the logical extension of two major forces. One is the fire-fueled bankruptcy of PG&E. The other is the public’s thirst for renewable energy.

As reported by our friends over at PV World, the seven CCAs already account for 44% of PG&E’s retail electricity customers (PG&E currently lists a total of 12 CCAs on its website).

The group of seven first brought its case to the California Public Service Commission in 2015. Even before the latest round of fires in California, a primary issue for the CCAs was the utility company’s dismal safety record.

The safety argument also provided the CCAs with a platform for introducing renewable energy and climate action as matters of public safety.

As of January 2019, the group’s filing before the Public Service Commission states that “we put these proposals forward to assist the Commission in its efforts to increase safety within PG&E’s operations.”

From there, the jump to climate change is seamless. Here’s a snippet from the filing (breaks added for readability):

…One of the core motivators for local elected officials in forming each of the Joint CCAs was to drive deep carbon reductions at a generally faster pace than is mandated by the State, while also offering localized energy programs to foster affordability, reliability, social equity, decarbonization, and drive innovation in the electricity, transportation and building sectors.

Furthermore, the communities that CCAs serve are extremely vulnerable to climate change.

Recent devastating natural events, such as massive wildfires, statewide drought, and flooding have affected many of these communities, and CCAs have a strong interest in identifying solutions that could mitigate those catastrophic impacts.

In other words, more renewable energy.

For the record, the seven CCAs are East Bay Community Energy, Peninsula Clean Energy Authority, Pioneer Community Energy, the City of San José (on behalf of San José Clean Energy), Silicon Valley Clean Energy, Sonoma Clean Power, and Valley Clean Energy Alliance.

Fear And Trembling, Renewable Energy Edition

If you’re thinking that the group of seven CCAs packs a lot of political punch, run right out and buy yourself a cigar.

If they win their case, the impact could ripple out and embolden CCAs across the country to take their utilities to court on the basis of safety and climate action.

Right now CCAs are only active in a handful of states, but within that sphere they have become increasingly aggressive in their pursuit of renewable energy. The message to utilities: if you’re not helping, get out of the way.

One new factor is the ability of CCAs to finance large scale renewable energy contracts. That was supposed to be a privilege reserved for utility companies, but as PV World points out, the Peninsula Clean Energy CCA recently contracted for a 200-megawatt solar (ohfergawdsakes just follow that link and read the whole article, it’s packed with juicy tidbits).

Renewable Energy And Natural Gas

Speaking of Peninsula Clean Energy, there’s an interesting tie-in between the CCA movement and the gas-to-electric movement.

The Rocky Mountain Institute is leading the charge to wean buildings off of natural gas and on to electricity for heating, air conditioning, cooking and other appliances. That’s kind of a whack-a-mole thing as long as natural gas dominates the power generation sector. CCAs could help pry natural gas out of power generation by pursuing both renewable energy and gas-to-electric conversion (it already is, in some regions).

Peninsula is among those not letting the grass grow under its feet. Last year the CCA announced grants for six pilot projects aimed at providing more access to renewable energy and clean technology for low-income customers, and to promote electric mobility. Funding for gas-to-electric appliance conversion is in the mix.

Look Out, Here Come The CCAs

If you’re only wondering why CCAs are only active in a handful of states so far, that’s a good question.

CCAs were initially supposed to help communities get lower electricity rates through the power of group negotiation, but until recently the higher cost of renewable energy put a crimp in that aim.

Also, ratepayers participate in CCA renewable energy plans on an opt-in basis, which means that the force of inertia is in play.

The falling cost of renewable energy is bringing about a sea change in the conventional approach to CCA plans. San Francisco, for example, is shifting to an opt-out system later this spring.

Hold on to your hats! Meanwhile, CleanTechnica is reaching out to Peninsula for more details on the motivation behind those gas-to-electricity conversion grants, so stay tuned for more on that.

Follow me on Twitter.

Photo: Peninsula Clean Power.

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Tina specializes in military and corporate sustainability, advanced technology, emerging materials, biofuels, and water and wastewater issues. Views expressed are her own. Follow her on Twitter @TinaMCasey and Google+.


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