CEO responds to letter about Sonoma Clean Power electricity sources, delivery
On Dec. 27, 2022, the North Bay Business Journal ran a letter from Andrew Smith (“Clarifying some issues about Sonoma Clean Power electricity delivery”), asking a number of questions about how Sonoma Clean Power (SCP) operates.
This letter has given me a chance to revisit a number of important details that haven’t been discussed since SCP started service back in 2014. With nearly all of the electricity used in Sonoma and Mendocino Counties being supplied by SCP, it’s important for people to understand these issues.
First, I want to be clear about how SCP can deliver cleaner power when it shares the distribution wires with PG&E. Doesn’t all the electricity mix on those wires, so isn’t everyone essentially getting the same power?
No. It turns out that since every house and business in the country is connected to the grid, electricity is tracked by contracts to ensure that the people who pay for cleaner renewable power plants to operate get the credit for the output of those cleaner plants.
This system works because electricity isn’t the problem. Power plants are the problem.
In fact, once electricity gets into the wires, it is all the same. However, how that electricity is made can be wildly different, from old polluting natural gas power plants in residential neighborhoods to the very best state-of-the-art geothermal power.
Public power providers like SCP must submit proof to the California Energy Commission that our customers have paid clean power plants to operate, and additional proof that those power plants actually delivered clean energy into California’s grid. Once we’ve done that, we earn the right to publish our power mix.
Another point of clarification has to do with hydropower sources.
Mr. Smith’s letter notes that California does not designate hydropower as a renewable resource. This, too, has a simple explanation.
Back when California adopted its renewable power laws, the legislature was nervous about promoting technologies that are clearly renewable but have significant environmental harm, so they wisely designated large hydroelectric facilities as “carbon free” but not “renewable” to ensure that existing hydroelectric facilities could contribute to the State’s climate goals, but essentially removing any incentive for building new large-scale hydroelectric dams. It was a smart decision.
SCP still buys a fair amount of existing hydropower output, but we are also gradually reducing our dependency on hydropower as the Western United States continues to experience longer droughts.
Finally, Mr. Smith raises the question about risks to customers of buying too much power or too little.
On this point, he is correct. All electric providers in California share this identical drisk. It is therefore a key focus for our team to plan and adjust our purchases to best match our customers’ actual needs. To date, we’ve done a phenomenal job at predicting how much we’ll need, and that’s partly why our customers have enjoyed a small average cost savings relative to PG&E customers, while also getting cleaner power.
It has been a few years since these fundamental issues have been widely discussed in the media and I’m grateful for this chance to revisit them. Here’s to a future with more clean energy!