Whether Berkeley considers Community Choice by itself or as one of a number of options under the Climate Action Plan, one thing is clear – Community Choice is by far the biggest thing the city can do to address climate change. There's one simple reason for this: Community Choice is the only project that has a huge, ready-made revenue stream. All other projects need to find money for implementation.
Community Choice channels half of the money from everyone's electricity bills into a non-profit public agency that buys power for local residents and businesses. This ongoing, substantial revenue stream is enough to pay for daily power purchases with enough left over to qualify for "revenue bonds" to build clean energy infrastructure.
(NOTE: Revenue Bonds are repaid by a revenue stream, unlike "General Obligation Bonds" which are repaid through taxes. PG&E loves to sow confusion about this, falsely claiming city funds are at risk.)
Why can Community Choice provide more renewables, and still keep rates at or below PG&E?
- Because PG&E pays exorbitant salaries to its executives and high profits to its stockholders
- Because PG&E uses commercial financing while Community Choice can use public financing at lower rates
- Because PG&E wants quicker payback on its investments while Community Choice can choose longer payback; this is like having a 5-yr mortgage vs. a 30 yr. mortgage
- Because PG&E demands (and gets) huge profits on energy efficiency (CA Public Utilities Commission just awarded PG&E $42 million for 2006-07 even though PG&E fell below CPUC's profit threshold of 85% of state-mandated targets)
- Because PG&E is committed to investing in liquefied natural gas and nuclear power, while Community Choice cities like Berkeley are committed to investing in renewables and energy efficiency
- For similar reasons, Community-controlled energy agencies have a 100-year track record (nation-wide) of charging 20% less than investor-owned utilities like PG&E.
MARIN HAS EMBRACED ENERGY DEMOCRACY
Marin County Supervisors and eight city councils recently voted to move forward with Community Choice. These historic votes are documented in WEM's 8-min. video, Energy Democracy Comes to Marin: http://www.womensenergymatters.org/video/pgvideo_marin-energy.htm
This spring, Marin is preparing to issue a Request for Proposals for power supplies, requiring a minimum of 25% renewables with no rate increase — twice as much as PG&E is providing. Marin expects to begin serving customers in 2010.
Sonoma County spent several years developing a Climate Action Plan and finally came to the same conclusion as Marin: Community Choice is the top priority, because nothing else comes anywhere close to its GHG-reductions.
Berkeley's draft Climate Action Plan is marred by its failure to reveal these crucial facts. Instead, it parroted some of the falsehoods PG&E repeats endlessly, which Marin has disproved and rejected. For example:
Myth: CCE also has risks, such as potentially higher electricity rates… (Berkeley Climate Action Plan, p. 79)
Fact: Community Choice rates are guaranteed to be at or below PG&E's rates. The greatest risk of higher rates is staying with PG&E, which increased our rates 10% in just the last six months!
Myth: and the potential that PG&E's electricity generation mix could emit fewer GHG emissions than what would be achieved by CCE in the short term. Note that PG&E's 2007 power mix includes 23% nuclear and 13% large hydroelectric sources.
a) Marin Co. staff points out that when we remove ourselves from PG&E's system, PG&E will reduce its purchases of natural gas power; it will not reduce nuclear or hydro production. The correct comparison is between PG&E's gas-fired resources vs. Marin's CCE system. Marin's 25% or more renewables will reduce overall GHG emissions by that amount. (This is because PG&E owns its nuclear and hydro facilities - and benefits from using its own resources - while it buys almost all of its gas power from the grid.
b) The nuclear lobby (of which PG&E is a founding member) has perpetrated the myth that nuclear power is carbon-free. This is untrue. In the real world, nuclear power plants do not magically arise, loaded with fuel, and vanish when they're too old to operate. The life-cycle emissions of nuclear power include large amounts of GHG, from mining, to refining, to enrichment, to constructing the power plants, to dismantling the plants, to thousands of years of transporting and trying to manage radioactive wastes. Very conservative estimates estimate these GHG emissions are at least 1/3 of a gas-fired plant, probably much higher.
See further WEM comments (ALL CAPS) in the following excerpts from the Berkeley Climate Action Plan, Draft Sept. 2008 (See pp. 77-79):
- Develop a local, clean, decentralized, renewable energy supply,
mostly in the form of residential and commercial solar PV and solar
- Add more renewable energy sources to the electricity grid. This option
can be accomplished by either working with PG&E and relevant
State agencies to achieve a higher Renewable Portfolio Standard or
through Community Choice Aggregation, also known as Community
Choice Energy (CCE)...
The City of Berkeley is committed to implementing the first option. It is not mutually exclusive with the second. The City must decide in the short term how best to implement the second option given existing and future policy priorities and risks.
- ! Launch the Berkeley Solar Initiative (BSI). As is described above under Goal #2, the purpose of the program is to make it as easy and inexpensive as possible to make one's home or business energy efficient and to utilize a solar photovoltaic (PV) and/or solar thermal system. See additional detail under Goal #2.
COMMENT: GOOD IDEA. COMMUNITY CHOICE COULD MAKE IT EVEN BETTER. FOR EXAMPLE, CCE COULD PAY YOU TO "OVERSIZE" YOUR SYSTEM AND PROVIDE YOUR EXCESS POWER TO YOUR SHADED NEIGHBORS AND THE RENTERS DOWN THE STREET. PG&E PAYS YOU ZERO FOR EXCESS POWER.
NOTE: PARTICIPATION IN THIS PLAN REQUIRES INDIVIDUAL INITIATIVE. WHILE SURELY ADMIRABLE, INDIVIDUAL INITIATIVE HAS NEVER YET RESULTED IN LARGE-SCALE DEVELOPMENT OF RENEWABLES. THE CURRENT FINANCIAL CLIMATE IS LIKELY TO SHRINK PARTICIPATION.
WITH COMMUNITY CHOICE, INDIVIDUAL INITIATIVE IS NO LONGER A LIMITING FACTOR; A COMMUNITY CHOICE ENTITY COULD RENT YOUR ROOFTOP FOR SOLAR INSTALLATIONS.
- Launch the Berkeley FIRST (Financing Initiative for Renewable and Solar Technology) program for financing decentralized renewable energy systems and energy efficiency improvements. As is described above under Goal #2, the program enables the City to provide financing for the upfront cost of major energy improvements in privately owned buildings and recoup that cost through a 20-year assessment on the building owner's property tax bill. The program is initially being launched as a pilot in the fall 2008 and will only cover solar PV installations. See additional detail under Goal #2.
COMMENT: GOOD IDEA! EXCELLENT SIDE DISH FOR A COMMUNITY CHOICE PLAN.
NOTE THAT THIS TOO REQUIRES INDIVIDUAL INITIATIVE AND EXCLUDES RENTERS.
- Launch an on-line Solar Map. The application estimates the solar energy potential for commercial and residential structures and allows building owners to estimate the potential environmental benefits and monetary savings that would result from installing solar energy panels on their property. The user enters an address and sees a map view of that location.
COMMENT: IT'S GOOD TO KNOW WHERE RENEWABLES SHOULD BE BUILT; EVEN BETTER TO BUILD THEM! THE REVENUE STREAM FROM COMMUNITY CHOICE CAN PROVIDE FINANCING FOR LARGE-SCALE SOLAR IN THE BEST LOCATIONS.
- Identify funding sources to subsidize and eliminate solar permit fees (including solar thermal) for residential dwellings and lower fees for solar permits for commercial buildings.
- B. Policy: Partner with the State government and utilities to green the energy mix that supplies the region's grid electricity Should the City of Berkeley continue to rely on PG&E for its electricity supply, then that electricity supply will have to become significantly "greener." Achieving a green electricity supply relies heavily on the Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS), a standard set at the state-level that is designed to gradually increase the portion of electricity produced or purchased by PG&E and other utilities from renewable energy sources such as solar, wind, geothermal and biomass. The current RPS is 20% renewable energy by 2010. Governor Schwarzenegger set a goal of achieving 33% renewable sources by 2020. In 2007, PG&E received about 11.4% of its power supply from renewable sources.
COMMENT: CALIFORNIA ENERGY COMMISSIONERS HAVE CRITICIZED THE RENEWABLE PORTFOLIO STANDARD AS A "FAILURE," BECAUSE UTILITIES HAVE FLOUTED THE MANDATE FOR YEARS. PG&E HAD 14% RENEWABLES IN 2003 WHEN RPS BECAME LAW, NOW IT HAS LESS THAN 12%. IT'S GOING BACKWARDS! PG&E ADMITTED TO CPUC THAT IT WILL MISS THE STATE'S TARGET OF 20% BY 2010, AND IT OPPOSES RAISING THE RPS TO 33%. NOTE THAT RAISING THE STANDARD DOES NOT ENSURE COMPLIANCE.
Barbara George (Berkeley Energy Commissioner in the late 1990s)
Women's Energy Matters
(c) 510-915-6215 (O) 415-457-1737