June 17th, 2013


Executive Director, Local Energy Aggregation Network

Business Representative, International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 1245

Senior Regulatory Manager, Shell Energy North America

Former Director, CleanPower SF

Across the country, rising interest in clean power is challenging electric monopolies with competition. In California, Marin Clean Energy provides consumers with an alternative to PG&E; San Francisco and Sonoma, among others, are preparing their own programs to offer energy customers new options. Opponents claim that renewable energy brings higher rates. Who are the winners and losers? What do consumers want?
According to Shawn Marshall, Mill Valley Council Member and Executive Director of Local Energy Aggregation Network, “Community Choice Aggregation (CCA) presents an opportunity for local jurisdictions to take over their electricity on the generation side while continuing to partner with the incumbent utility.” Marshall sees a tremendous increase in the adoption of CCA across the country, moving toward a greener supply. “You see towns as small as 3-5K in Massachusetts aggregating and cities as large as the city of Chicago, which recently signed an aggregation contract in February of this year, and that’s a no-coal contract.” In response to criticisms about the higher cost of renewable energy to consumers, she said that in Marin the base cost is less expensive than PG&E’s power, adding, “If you want to pay a little more – I pay $5/month more at my home – to enroll in a deep-green 100% renewable product, so that’s where the differential comes in.”
Kim Malcolm, Director of CleanPowerSF, stated that the San Francisco Board of Supervisors voted to create the CCA in order to “provide residents and businesses with the option to have a 100% renewable power product and to have a product that would be free of greenhouse gasses.” The San Francisco product is more expensive than Marin’s – estimated up to about 30% more, she said, because it’s 100% renewable and because the plan layers in reserves for building local solar and wind as well as energy efficiency products.
Looking at the Marin example, Hunter Stern, Business Representative of the Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, is concerned that CCA contracts have not created opportunities for jobs locally or throughout the state. He also argued that the greenness of energy depends on the source. Biomass, he contends, is highly polluting, even more so than coal, depending on what you’re burning. “I think the difficulty that Marin has to date is that they haven’t done a review or study of exactly how green their energy is. So I don’t think anybody really knows.” In general, he’s also concerned that CCA decision-making is in the hands of local officials who have little experience in the energy industry. While his organization supports the San Francisco CCA and CleanPowerSF, it does not support the current contract structure. He stated, “There’s language in the contract that says that no new local facilities need be built, and that obviously is a job-threatening kind of language.” He went on to say that Shell, a major supplier in the contract, purchases from a variety of sources, in and out of state.
In response, Marcie Milner, Senior Regulatory Manager of Shell Energy North America, stated that Shell is a pro-choice energy service provider. Regarding Shell’s contract withCleanPowerSF, she stated that the contract creates a bridge to renewable energy independence for the CCAs down the roads. “It helps them get on their feet in the interim, then it’s up to the CCA to build those resources.” In Marin, she said, Shell is one of 12 providers, and it’s the competition that brings prices down for everyone.


Photos by: Jane Van Ham
Commonwealth Club of California
June 17, 2013