The Future Looks Bright at East Bay Community Energy

original article appeared in the February 16, 2021 edition of the Tri-City Voice

photos/graphics courtesy of EBCE, https://www.leanenergyus.org/, and Technocracy News

At a November 18, 2020 meeting, East Bay Community Energy (EBCE) board members voted to phase out their Brilliant 100 plan effective January 1, 2022. Current Brilliant 100 customers will continue to receive service until then, at which point they can choose between EBCE’s two other choices: Bright Choice or Renewable 100.

Over the past year, EBCE has faced increasing financial pressures that have made it more difficult to keep the price of their Brilliant 100 plan on par with the rates charged by PG&E. The financial challenges have included an increase in current energy market prices, an increase in PG&E “exit fees” (to cover their revenue loss when customers switch to EBCE), and unpaid bills due to COVID-19.

Said EBCE CEO Nick Chasset, “Market prices for carbon free energy have risen to the point where we cannot sustain an offer of 100% carbon free at parity with PG&E. So the discussion was, do we continue to offer Brilliant 100 at a 2-3% higher rate than PG&E, or do we eliminate it and just offer consumers two choices: one that is less expensive and more renewable (Bright Choice), or one that is more expensive and 100% renewable (Renewable 100).”

Community Choice Aggregators (CCA) like EBCE have gained great popularity over the past 5 years. CCA programs reflect the values of their governing boards, the communities they serve, and the states in which they operate. Most emphasize reducing the cost of electricity. Some also focus on reducing greenhouse gas emissions, establishing new revenue streams to support local energy programs, or creating local jobs, and some are designed to accomplish several of these goals simultaneously.

Nine states – California, Illinois, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Rhode Island and Virginia – have enacted Community Choice Aggregation (CCA) legislation that empowers local governments to aggregate the electricity loads of residents, businesses, and/or municipal facilities. CCA’s rely on Investor-Owned Utilities (IOU) for distributing their power to customers, servicing needs, and billing. In California, the three biggest IOU’s are San Diego Gas & Electric, Southern California Edison and Pacific Gas & Electric.

There are over 20 CCA’s in California. Marin Clean Energy (MCE) was the first, formed in 2010. EBCE was formed in 2016 and became operational in 2018. EBCE was established as a Joint Powers Authority (JPA) made up of several East Bay cities: Albany, Berkeley, Dublin, Emeryville, Fremont, Hayward, Livermore, Oakland, Piedmont, San Leandro, and Union City. Alameda County is also represented. The EBCE Board of Directors consists of council members/supervisors representing each city, plus one for Alameda County and one non-voting member from a Community Advisory Committee. This year, three new cities will join EBCE: Tracy, Newark, and Pleasanton.

It is up to each city to decide what their default service plan will be, and this is voted upon at a city council meeting. For most East Bay cities (including Fremont), this plan is EBCE’s Bright Choice, the less expensive option. Residents are automatically enrolled in the program, but they also have the choice to pick another option or stay with PG&E.

CCA’s can provide competitively priced, clean energy choices to their communities while reinvesting revenues into local and statewide projects and programs, supporting sustainability, and enhancing their local economies. By aggregating demand, communities gain leverage to negotiate better rates with competitive suppliers and choose greener power sources.

Some CCA’s are teaming up in order to leverage their buying power against giants like PG&E. In fact, just last month it was announced that 8 northern and central coast CCA’s, including EBCE, will be forming a new JPA called California Community Power. These combined municipalities represent about 40% of PG&E’s annual electric load. As more and more CCA’s pop up across the state and start joining forces, IOU’s like PG&E may simply surrender and focus only on energy transmission, leaving the buying and selling of energy to these smaller local entities.

EBCE is constantly searching for new power sources. They have recently signed a contract with the Rosamond Central solar energy project which began operations in December, 2020. They have also teamed up with the Alameda Summit Wind Farm, which will begin delivery of renewable energy by this March. And they are planning on re-powering some existing wind turbines in the Altamont Pass area.

With record-breaking heat, rampant wildfires, and Public Safety Power Shutoffs (PSPS) threatening the stability of California’s power grid, energy storage is becoming an ever more important reliability resource. Aggregators are stepping up to ensure more storage is added to the grid with the signing of long-term battery energy storage contracts totaling 1,072 MW/3,847 megawatt-hours (MWh), quadruple the amount CCAs had at this time last year.

Chasset says they are considering a 3rd option to replace Brilliant 100 in the near future, which they will be evaluating over the course of the next few years. And while a Biden administration will be good for renewable energy in general, Chasset admits that it won’t affect EBCE too much. “We’re very local. It will take awhile before we see any changes made at the federal level.” Until then, EBCE will continue to evolve as more renewable energy sources become available. “I’m very pleased with what we’ve been able to accomplish in our short time here,” Chasset adds with a smile. In fact, he’s probably wearing sunglasses.

For more info: http://www.ebce.org

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