As Sonoma County considers paying more for electricity that is purportedly "green" through a community choice aggregation system, we hope residents and leaders will look beyond the grand claims and focus on the hard fact that this new program will, in all likelihood, emit more greenhouse gases than our current supply.
How could that be? How could a plan that politicians boldly call "green" actually increase greenhouse gases? Here's how.
In the existing Marin County Community Choice Aggregation system, and now the proposed San Francisco and Sonoma County CCAs, the so-called green energy is a mix of renewable energy credits known as "RECs," out-of-state energy that is backed up with brown grid power and, worst of all, biomass that emits more polluting green house gases than burning coal.
The facts clearly show the Marin's system increased greenhouse gases. Marin County's mix gets nearly twice the amount of energy from burning biomass (wood chips and agricultural waste) than from wind and solar combined. The RECs and out-of-state supplies Marin uses are almost as bad. RECs create no new green power, and the out-of-state supplies hardly ever reach California. They are just "green attributes" that must be backed up with dirty grid power.
PG&E has its faults. We represent more than 60 percent of PG&E workers, including many in Sonoma County, and we have had our battles with management over the years. But we also give credit where credit is due: PG&E has the cleanest energy mix of any major utility. More than 62 percent of its energy is greenhouse gas-free, and almost all the rest comes from high-tech natural gas plants, which has the lowest greenhouse gas footprint of any carbon fuel.
PG&E's energy mix isn't just clean, it is getting cleaner all the time and will be 33 percent certified renewable by 2020. And PG&E has agreed to terms offered by our union, the Sierra Club and other advocacy groups to offer a truly "green option," which would give customers the choice to purchase 100 percent California solar-generated energy and to invest in new construction of local solar generation. This is what the CCAs talk about but can't do. And this is how the green economy is supposed to work. Local build-out means local construction jobs and more truly clean energy.
So what do we get with the CCA plans? We know we get more expensive power. In San Francisco, the power will cost 93 percent more. And we are likely to get Shell Oil, which is the CCA provider in Marin and is a contender in Sonoma County. Selecting Shell to provide clean energy is an especially ironic twist. Greenpeace has called Shell one "of the dirtiest, most regressive corporations in the world," and Shell was recently tagged as an energy pirate by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission for manipulating prices during the California energy crisis.
What CCA doesn't give you is a real choice, since residents will be automatically enrolled. You will need to opt out to avoid paying more for dirtier energy. When big companies automatically enroll customers in pricier plans, it is called "slamming" — and it is illegal because many customers don't notice the difference until they have been financially harmed.
With community choice aggregation, politicians and proponents get to claim they are "green." But we get forced into a system that costs more and delivers less.