East Bay MUD's Retreat on Green Energy Is a Call for Cities to Lead

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On December 11 East Bay MUD's board of directors decided to shelve the agency's plan for becoming an energy provider through community choice aggregation (CCA). While East Bay MUD's decision doesn't take the utility completely out of efforts to establish a CCA for the region, it is yet another costly delay that impedes a much-needed transformation of the Bay Area's economy.

Under the current status quo, PG&E owns and operates the energy grid, and has a monopoly on purchasing energy supplies for delivery to customers in the region. PG&E's portfolio of electricity is heavily carbon-based and reliant on the company's Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant. PG&E makes all the relevant decisions with respect to how ratepayer dollars are reinvested. To maintain its monopoly position and profits, PG&E seeks to invest primarily in massive gas-fired power plants in the Central Valley. Even PG&E's renewable resources — solar and hydroelectric — tend to be sourced from distant, massive plants with major negative environmental impacts that provide few to zero local jobs.

Diablo Canyon Nuclear Power Plant.
  • Diablo Canyon Nuclear Power Plant.
Proponents of CCA have said all along that their model will hand financial power over to local communities which can choose to invest in local energy projects, including efficiency upgrades as well as renewable resources. CCA can create thousands of local jobs, make a big dent in California's carbon emissions, and even reduce ratepayer bills. Money will no longer be extracted to fill the bank accounts of PG&E's major stockholders, and instead can be directed toward greening, localizing, and decentralizing the energy grid.

Other municipalities are giving it a go. San Francisco is pursuing the most ambitious CCA anywhere with a local buildout of $1.4 billion in publicly owned wind and solar resources.

In fact, the City of Richmond was so impatient and worried that East Bay MUD's CCA study would come to nothing that it instead opted to join the Marin Energy Authority (MEA), California's first community choice aggregation program. MEA is already providing the highest rate of renewable energy of any utility in California to customers in San Rafael, Novato, and other North Bay towns at prices comparable to PG&E.

East Bay MUD director Andy Katz said the agency isn't totally abandoning the idea of CCA. Rather, the board has directed staff to discontinue plans to lead formation of a CCA, and instead to support an effort led by the cities. "The Mayors of Oakland, Berkeley, Albany, and Emeryville have all expressed support for CCA, as well as additional staff and Council interest at other cities," said Katz in a recent letter. "EBMUD has offered to remain engaged in CCA partnership efforts, as cities determine how to proceed with implementation."

But while East Bay MUD remains committed to the concept of CCA, its exit from a leadership position leaves the region, well, utterly leaderless. It remains to be seen which officials from which cities will lead the disorganized pack toward an East Bay CCA, a goal many praise, but few seem willing to commit time and energy to achieving. Berkeley's City Council has most recently made noises about wanting to join a CCA, but the city deferred to East Bay MUD for technical and organizational guidance. Oakland's champion of CCA, Nancy Nadel, just sat through her final council meeting last night and is now retired.
Few other elected officials in the region have shown interest, or even seem to understand what CCA is with respect to economic development and environmental sustainability.

Perhaps the new crop of city council members across the East Bay can inject some fresh energy into the mix? That seems to be what East Bay MUD's board is hoping for. But Richmond's decision to leave its neighbor cities behind is making more and more sense with every passing opportunity.

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