East Bay Community Energy; Thriving at 5, It Could Do More for Equitable Community Benefits

(06/2023) East Bay Community Energy (EBCE), our Alameda County and City of Tracy not-for-profit electricity agency, has proposed a budget for the 2023-2024 fiscal year, which will be voted on by the Board of Directors on Wednesday June 21, 2023. This year’s proposed budget is notable for the estimated $177 million net increase in position (or surplus), about $1 million more than last fiscal year. The Local Development budget has grown from $5.1 million in 2019-20 the first operational year, to $25.9 million for 2023-24.

East Bay Clean Power Alliance (EBCPA) of which Local Clean Energy Alliance (LCEA) is a part of, celebrates some wins in the latest version of the proposed local projects budget, but continues to note that the amount that will benefit customers in low income communities of color falls very short of the $10 million that would meet the 40% for equity urged by President Biden known as “Justice 40.”

Our advocacy did get an extra $1.4 million included in the Community Innovation Grants program, to bring that total up to $5.6 million over the next 4 years. At least some of the grants will be “multi-year” for $100,000 a year for 3 years and likely smaller $50,000 grants (details are pending community input). However, past Community Innovation Grants were given for a wide range of projects related to energy. This round of grants will need to be within pre-selected categories. At a recent informational meeting about the grants, some of the EBCE examples of initial project ideas, such as promoting electric vehicles and induction range adoption, seemed less critical to the program’s requirement that projects target disadvantaged and environmental justice communities. However, there are other categories open to innovation in Community Resilience, Building Electrification, Transportation Electrification and Energy Efficiency.

East Bay Clean Power Alliance succeeded in getting staff to include $2 million added for “Community Resilience” for technical support in applying for federal grant money for Community Based Organizations to build resilience hubs. This is far from what EBCPA has been asking for, which is for EBCE to include community-trusted spaces in the already functioning municipal critical facilities resilience hubs program. Staff claimed that there was no internal capacity to include community-based microgrid projects. It is hard to justify that claim when the 2023-2024 budget proposes to put $100 million of the projected surplus into the reserves.

There are other programs that we support, like the building electrification jobs training.  But the “stipend” $1.5 million budget allocation is not enough to provide living wages for participating apprentices .Another good idea is the creation of an electrical contractors’ network, which would provide incentives for contractors to offer their services for electric panel upgrades at standard prices. But $2 million for this project may not achieve much of the necessary support for homeowners to electrify.

The EBCE budget also allocates $6.6 million to give CARE and FERA customers a one-time automatic $50 “electricity” credit on their utility bills. Though those customers will surely appreciate the one-time relief, we would argue that EBCE has the ability to permanently lower bills, while providing more resilient energy as well. There will also be an increase in the discount to all other customers in the Bright Choice and Renewable 100 service plan options.

As a 5 year-old public agency, East Bay Community Energy is successful enough that it should begin to invest a much larger share of its profits in addressing social and environmental justice issues, as stated in the program’s implementation plan. The agency now has the experience, budget surplus and a road map in the Local Development Business Plan to propose programs to address the inequities in energy access and resilience historically imposed on low income, people of color communities. The agency’s focus on purchasing remote power and local programs that increase electrical consumption and chiefly benefit those with disposable incomes, is not addressing the needs of those customers who could benefit most.

We urge our allies and supporters to come to the EBCE Board meeting on Wednesday, June 21, at 6pm to speak out in favor of more investment in communities long denied equal access to energy. You can find out more about the EBCE board of directors meeting (Agenda updated 72 hours before the meeting), Sign up to speak or provide written comments here and contact Jessica Tovar for more information.