CLOSE TO HOME: Is Marin Clean Energy a good model? Yes

  • This artwork by Paul Tong relates to efforts to improve green and solar energy.

As city council members in Sonoma County stand on the edge of a clean energy future, I'd like to offer an optimistic perspective from Marin County and hundreds of other communities across the United States that have successfully implemented community choice aggregation in their hometowns.

First, it's important to understand that community choice aggregation is a local energy model that has been around since the 1990s. It is employed in six states with more states considering legislation allowing community choice aggregation. Towns as small as Ashby, Mass, (population 3,100) and cities as large as Chicago (population 2.7 million) have switched to community choice aggregation in large part for cost savings.

Today, nearly 80 percent of households and businesses in Illinois receive electricity through aggregated energy contracts. The Cape Light Compact in Massachusetts and the Northeast Ohio Public Energy Council — both community choice organizations — have operated successfully for over 10years serving millions of customers combined.

Increasingly, communities such as Marin County, San Francisco and, hopefully, Sonoma County are leveraging the power of community choice aggregation to accelerate our nation's transition to a clean energy economy while providing local jobs and energy programs designed to suit their residents' needs. Such systems are able to achieve this without federal legislation, use of taxpayer funds or expensive government subsidies. Why? Because it redirects existing electricity revenues — to the tune of roughly $180 million annually for the county of Sonoma.

Twenty miles south, Marin Clean Energy, launched in May 2010, is in its third successful year of operations, providing customers with cleaner power at rates competitive with PG&E. With the whole county and the city of Richmond participating, Marin Clean Energy now serves approximately 100,000 customers, and that number is expected to grow.

Many of Marin Clean Energy's customers voluntarily "opt up" to receive 100 percent clean power at a small premium — about $4 per month at my home in Mill Valley. Start-up loans provided by the county of Marin were refinanced and paid off in less than a year and reserves are growing. Recently, $4.5 million in energy efficiency funds were awarded to Marin Clean Energy for local building upgrades, and a 1megawatt solar array just went live at the San Rafael Airport. Marin Clean Energy contracts are enabling 15 new power projects in California, and four more are in the pipeline including a parking shade structure at the Buck Institute in Novato.

These achievements contrast starkly with the dire warnings of failure we heard back in 2009. Today, Marin Clean Energy is exceeding expectations and setting the national standard for clean energy aggregation.

In the case of Sonoma Clean Power, think movie, not snapshot. The snapshot of Sonoma Clean Power at launch (33 percent renewable energy,) is bound to improve each year as launch costs are paid off, more customers are phased in and the program integrates increasing levels of clean energy and energy efficiency. The significant annual revenues of Sonoma Clean Power can be used to advance Sonoma County's energy goals while keeping electricity rates competitive.

The bottom line is that community choice aggregation customers across the country are saving hundreds of dollars on their electricity bills, others are pursuing greater levels of clean and efficient power and many are achieving both.

Community Choice aggregations for Sonoma County? Sure, c'mon in. The water's just fine.

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