Power Plays (copy)

Monterey Bay Community Power signed a deal in 2018 to buy power from the Recurrent Energy Mustang Project, a solar plant in Kings County.

The Central Coast is well on its way to meeting its mandated renewable energy goals thanks to two recent deals worth a whopping $593 million. 

The two contracts were approved on April 8 by Monterey Bay Community Power, a relatively new public agency charged with buying electricity on behalf of a vast majority of ratepayers—300,000 and growing—in Monterey, San Benito, Santa Cruz, San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara counties. The agency’s Operations Board of Directors approved the deals unanimously. 

In one contract, MBCP committed to paying up to $496 million over 15 years for electricity generated by the Coso Geothermal Project. Built in 1987 and located on a U.S. Navy base in Inyo County, Coso is one of the largest geothermal power plants in the country. The plant’s technology exploits the heat of existing deep below the Earth’s surface to create steam that drives turbines, producing electricity. 

The Coso project was supposed to be busy producing power for Southern California Edison until 2030, but the two sides ended their deal last year. The utility, which serves the Los Angeles area, no longer needed the power after seeing a million customers seek electricity elsewhere in recent years, according to SCE spokesperson Robert Laffoon-Villegas. SCE is not responsible for buying electricity for those customers but it still serves them by transmitting the power on its electric lines. The role of buying the power belongs to public agencies known as Community Choice Aggregators. On the Central Coast, MBCP plays that role, having replaced Pacific Gas & Electric. (PG&E remains the billing agency and is responsible for transmitting the power to customers.) 

The geothermal project will produce about 10 percent of the annual electric load required by ratepayers within the MBCP service area starting in 2022. Unlike other sources of renewable energy which depend on the sun shining or the wind blowing, geothermal offers a steady and reliable source of electricity, much like a traditional gas or coal-fired power plant. 

The other contract approved last week will help a developer secure the financing for a brand new power project, known as Rabbitbrush Solar, in Kern County. The power purchase agreement between the developer, First Solar, and MBCP is worth up to $97 million over 15 years. The electricity from the deal will supply 3 percent of what ratepayers need every year. Solar plants are vulnerable to unpredictable changes in the cloud cover and they can only generate power during the day. But this particular project will come equipped with a massive battery system to capture power when it’s available and release when the grid needs it most.

Asaf Shalev is a staff writer at the Monterey County Weekly. He covers the environment, agriculture and K-12 education, as well as Seaside, Marina, Sand City, Big Sur and Carmel Valley.

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