Power agency could grow by one-third after Tuesday vote
Marin Clean Energy is poised to significantly expand its potential customer base in the coming months, with the city of Richmond set to pass a final measure on Tuesday to join the renewable energy-focused power agency.
The development is the most recent effort for the agency, which is continuing to roll out its offerings to Marin following an initial campaign in 2010. In July, Marin Clean Energy will offer its minimum 50 percent renewable energy product to 95,000 customers across Marin County. The agency currently serves 14,000.
With the addition of Richmond in Contra Costa County, the agency stands to improve its credit rating, purchasing power and clout among small agencies and Pacific Gas & Electric Co., officials said.
“When you’re out negotiating with potential sellers, it does help to add some heft to negotiations,” said Damon Connolly, chair of the agency’s governing body, the Marin Energy Authority.
When the agency begins offering power to Richmond in the spring of 2013, customer load is expected to rise by one-third, Mr. Connolly said.
Richmond, a city of more than 100,000, has pursued a number of “green” initiatives in recent years, including membership in the “East Bay Green Corridor” effort to create regional jobs in the sector. The city also has the highest per-capital rate of solar power generation in the Bay Area, said city Mayor Gayle McLaughlin.
Those initiatives also included study of forming a “community choice aggregation” power agency, made possible by California’s 2002 legislation, Assembly Bill 117. In the arrangement, the agency serves customers by feeding power into the current grid largely maintained by Pacific Gas and Electric Co.
Yet with Marin Clean Energy successfully launching in a limited number of municipalities in May 2010, Mayor McLaughlin said that staff began to reach out to the agency, forming the foundation of a partnership.
“We’re just across the bridge — this is really a good partnership of communities,” she said.
Currently, Marin Clean Energy delivers power at $2.50 greater per month than PG&E for an average residential customer. The agency says those rates are lower for commercial customers in the summer, by approximately $10, and $8 higher over the course of the year.
Rates are expected to remain approximately the same with the initial inclusion of Richmond, decreasing over time as long-term power contracts are secured.
The agency also offers a premium “deep green” power product, which offers 100 percent renewable power. PG&E customers currently receive an average of 20 percent renewable power, according to the agency.
Mayor McLaughlin said she was hopeful that the favorable “feed-in tariffs” for those delivering photovoltaic or other self-generated power into the grid would help to create jobs and incentivize renewable energy efforts in the commercial sector.
Marin Clean Energy recently entered into its first tariff arrangement with a 972 kilowatt solar project at the San Rafael Airport. The agency will buy power from the facility for 20 years, enough to serve 300 customers.
Yet the agency can purchase power from well beyond Marin County, including a 31 megawatt agreement with a central valley solar facility run by San Diego-based enXco. That agreement includes the construction of 1 megawatt of solar facilities in Marin.
“In Marin, you’re not going to see a large wind farm or solar farm,” said Mr. Connolly, also a member of the San Rafael City Council.
If the final vote is approved, Richmond will receive a seat on the Marin Energy Authority, which features one seat for each member of the joint powers authority.
After joining the authority, Mayor McLaughlin said that Richmond’s representative, expected to be councilman Tom Butt, will lobby that the increased revenue from new customers be used to subsidize low-income customers in Richmond currently served by PG&E’s CARE program.
Like in Marin County, potential customers in Richmond will be given several chances to “opt out” of the agency before launch, maintaining their existing provider.
Sonoma County is also embarking on an effort to establish a community choice aggregation agency, currently known as “Sonoma Clean Power.” The Sonoma County Water Agency has invested approximately $200,000 to date on studying the proposal, which stands to serve a significantly larger customer base than Marin Clean Energy.
Marin Clean Energy could add more municipalities in the future, with a committee within the Marin Energy Authority devoted to considering options.
“We’re certainly proceeding cautiously in terms of any expansion,” Mr. Connolly said. “It allows us to expand our operations in a way that makes business sense.”
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