In 2002 the California legislature passed a law enabling cities and counties to establish Community Choice programs such as Sonoma Clean Power and Marin Clean Energy. PG&E spent millions of dollars trying to defeat Community Choice and the voters said no resoundingly.
Customers of these new programs are starting to reap benefits that go beyond the vision legislators had in 2002. At least 12 more California communities are in varying stages of starting up community choice aggregation energy programs.
But Community Choice will be crushed if Assembly Bill 2145 passes. This proposed law sponsored by PG&E and other privately-owned utilities is now speeding through the state Legislature.
A lot is at stake. If AB 2145 becomes law, Californians will lose the opportunity for choice of electricity provider, competition, lower electricity rates, greener power, local economic development, local decision-making, and leadership in a clean energy future.
As an example of a benefit that is at risk, a recent rate analysis conducted for the Sonoma Wine Company shows that rates for greener electricity through Sonoma Clean Power will be 10 to 11 percent lower than PG&E’s. All Sonoma Clean Power customers are currently receiving at least a 4 percent savings on their electric bill. If AB 2145 were already law, Sonoma Clean Power’s cleaner power and cheaper rates would not be possible because the program would not exist.
So why would any legislator vote for AB 2145? Because California’s big investor-owned utilities want to fend off the serious competition posed by Community Choice, and have tapped powerful allies to push AB 2145 through.
In 2010 PG&E spent about $50 million on Proposition 16 to stop Community Choice, but voters defeated it. In 2012 they tried to pass AB 976 which would have made Community Choice much harder, but the Governor vetoed it. The utilities are smarter this time, and have enlisted a few union organizations to spearhead AB 2145. It is an odd alliance given that Community Choice represents an expansion of economic activity and job creation in the energy sector.
This strategy has had some success. On May 28 the Assembly approved the bill with a 51 to 15 vote. Even Assembly Speaker Toni Atkins in explaining her aye vote seemed to be in lockstep with Steven Bradford, the bill’s author and a former executive at Southern California Edison.
AB 2145’s attack on Community Choice would change default service from the local option to PG&E. Customers would have to notify Sonoma Clean Power that they want cleaner and cheaper power one at a time, instead of opting out of the program once it starts. This may seem reasonable, but in reality this bill would further ensure customers are beholden to an existing utility monopoly that has no incentive to act in their best interest. Banks and wholesale electricity generators would not finance or contract with a Community Choice program under these conditions, effectively stopping Community Choice forever. Make no mistake: AB 2145 is a "monopoly protection bill" designed to eliminate competition.
Mounting opposition to AB 2145 now includes scores of governments, businesses, and environmental organizations fighting to defeat this bad bill, among them the California League of Cities and the California State Association of Counties. But this growing force may be insufficient to stop the utilities unless people act.