Marin County CEO is persuasive advocate for cleaner Bay Area energy
Keeping the lights on is not as simple as flipping a switch. At least not for Dawn Weisz.
Weisz is CEO of Marin Clean Energy, a not-for-profit that provides electricity from renewable sources to more than 540,000 customers in Marin, Napa, Solano and Contra Costa counties.
These days, she and her organization face a number of challenges such as a changing climate, like the blistering hot days in September which pushed the entire state grid to the brink of blackouts. In addition, the state ban on gas-powered cars. That means more demand for power as more people plug in vehicles to recharge.
And then there's how to change customer habits to better match demand for when there’s the most draw on the power grid.
While all of this keeps Weisz busy. And when the daughter of Peace Corps parents needs a recharge, she gets into nature in the North Bay and travels abroad.
The woman in charge
Weisz was working for Marin County managing energy and sustainability initiatives when she started exploring the idea of creating a business that could provide power to customers that was not generated using fossil fuels.
The answer was creating the first community choice aggregation agency in the state, an idea that has spawned about two dozen programs like it in California. Customers pay the agency for electric generation, and PG&E for delivery and maintenance of its power poles and wires.
She confesses that when the legislation was first being written in 2002 to create the CCA, her children had to endure numerous City Council meetings that she took them to. Today, one is a recent college graduate and the other a sophomore in college.
Prior to moving to Marin County she worked as a labor and environmental justice organizer in Los Angeles.
“I love backpacking and being out in nature. That is really what brought me to California,” Weisz said. “I grew up in North Carolina and there is not a lot of backpacking there. I wanted to move to a place that had more opportunities to explore nature and Northern California was that place.”
Her roots, though, run deeper than the United States. She was born in Kenya, where her parents were serving in the Peace Corps.
“Traveling to other parts of the world has helped me gain appreciation about how to use resources responsibly,” Weisz said. “To create change I need to do my best to make sure my community and world are in balance and healthy as possible.”
To meet the demand for power, MCE generates its electricity from solar, wind, geothermal, and hydroelectric. It also has battery storage capability.
MCE reports it has spent $62 million on local renewable energy projects since its inception. Of the 900 megawatts of renewable power in California that was constructed just for MCE, 49 megawatts are generated in its four-county service area with the other coming from alternative energy sources in the Pacific Northwest and California.
Because batteries require mining for components and there are ensuing environmental issues with disposal of batteries, “we are looking to add even more battery storage, which creates more flexibility on the grid. Some projects are in the development phase, but supply chain issues are causing delays in getting them off the ground.”
Weisz is also hopeful dollars coming from recently passed federal Inflation Reduction Act will help fund renewable energy projects and bring new technologies to the market.
“We are trying to diversify storage. Green hydrogen (hydrogen generated by renewable energy or from low-carbon power) we think will be a more affordable option. Compressed air and gravity storage are other forms of storage that are worth exploring,” she told the Business Journal.
Another project Weisz is anxious to see realized is the virtual power plant in Richmond. The a multi-year development in Richmond to will take the more than 100 houses built pre-World War II for shipyard workers and turn them into “refurbished state-of-the-art homes for first time home buyers, with smart devices integrated into the home.”
Smart devices allow people to operate thermostats, lights and other appliances remotely, therefore being able to turn things on and off, or up and down even when not at home.