Contra Costa County took another step toward taking control of its electricity service away from PG&E this month. All sixteen eligible cities voted to provide information on the amount of electricity they use and participate in a feasibility study for a Contra Costa County “community choice” energy system, in which a county agency would become the electricity provider for county residents. In addition, eight of the cities voted to contribute to the cost of the feasibility study.
Similar community choice energy systems (CCAs) already operate in Marin and Sonoma counties. San Francisco is set to launch one soon, and other Bay Area counties, including Alameda, are on the way toward creating their own. The desire to switch to clean sources of electricity initially motivated the push toward CCAs, but advocates say they can also save ratepayers money and contribute to local economic development.
On February 29, the Internal Operations Committee of the Contra Costa County Board of Supervisors will hear the results of the survey of cities, which also included their level of interest and willingness to share the cost of a technical feasibility study. After that, the board of supervisors will decide whether to authorize a full feasibility study, which will calculate how much energy the county needs and what possible rates to charge residents.
Several of the cities are simultaneously applying to join Marin Clean Energy, a community-choice agency based in Marin. Richmond, El Cerrito, and San Pablo are already part of Marin Clean Energy, which is planning to build a local solar farm on contaminated Chevron land in Richmond. Many advocates for community choice energy systems in both Alameda and Contra Costa counties want the local electricity systems to focus on generating clean energy within the county. The deadline for cities to decide whether they want to commit to joining Marin Clean Energy is March 31.
Carol Weed, of Contra Costa Clean Energy Alliance, said by fostering local energy generation, a CCA “could mean an economic boon for the county, as developers rush to build more solar and wind farms here, creating an environmentally sustainable income stream to county and city governments as well local businesses.” For that reason, she said, it would be better for Contra Costa cities to create their own CCA. She added, “The EPA has calculated that if all the county's idle brownfields [contaminated former industrial sites] were converted to energy developments, they could supply three times the energy needed by Contra Costa.”