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If you are a typical ratepayer in Monterey County or throughout the Central Coast, a major chunk of your electric bill has been going to the massive hydroelectric dams located in the Pacific Northwest and a smaller part of it goes toward geothermal, wind, or solar energy sources. 

The public agency that decides what kind of power to buy for you and cuts deal with power plants had been known as Monterey Bay Community Power. On Sept. 4, it officially changed its name to Central Coast Community Energy to reflect the growing service area, which now includes not only Monterey, Santa Cruz, and San Benito counties, but also parts of San Luis and Santa Barbara counties. The switch will be reflected in the generation charges sections of customer bills starting next month. 

But the agency, CCCE for short, is sporting not only a new name but a new strategy that it is intended to save money and will reduce greenhouse gas emissions by shifting where it spends customer dollars. On Sept. 2, CCCE’s board essentially decided to divest from the hydroelectric dams over the next 10 years and begin investing in new renewable energy facilities instead.

The dams sell paper credits known as energy attributes that allow buyers, such as CCCE, to claim that the power it acquires is carbon-free. (Pacific Gas & Electric remains the entity that delivers the electricity to customers and handles billing.)

But with more communities across seeking carbon-free energy to meet state climate action mandates, those energy attributes became more expensive. They now cost four times as much as they did three years ago. 

CCCE will be winding down its purchases of the credits and increasing long-term contracts with new renewable power sources located in California. Currently, about 70 of the power load is satisfied through hydroelectric credits and the rest through short-and long term contracts. The goal would be to eliminate the use of credits and rely solely on renewable energy contracts by 2030. If the goal is met, the Central Coast will be 15 years ahead of state climate targets. 

With the cost-saving anticipated, it was easy to achieve a consensus on the strategic shift among CCCE board members. The debate has now turned toward a different question: Can future energy projects be built locally to stimulate the economy or will they be located in other counties where land and development are cheaper?

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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(1) comment

Sinbad Sailor

Being entirely dependent on Renewable Energy is a happy theory but a terrible real life model. In 08/2020 when the state had rolling blackouts, it was because there was inadequate power available during the daytime net peak, the hours when the solar has left the system. And wind energy, the least effective renewable energy source generally speaking is especially unproductive during the day. The state’s self-imposed dependency on green energy sources is in part the cause of rolling blackouts, according to top state assemblyman, Jim Patterson, Vice-Chair of the Utilities and Energies Committee. "The situation has left the Golden State struggling to meet demand amid an ongoing heat wave that continues to strain power grids increasingly dependent on solar and wind. " California Independent Systems Operator—the manager of the state's electrical grid - suggested the same thing as what Jim Patterson noted. CAISO President Stephen Berberich was quoted in an article dated 08/19 as saying the rolling blackouts CAISO was forced to order was due to "inadequate power available during the net peak, the hours when the solar has left the system." The situation "could have been avoided," he declared... "once the sun sets, electrical operators have to “ramp up other resources quickly to meet that net peak event.”

Hydroelectric and natural gas energy sources are relatively clean energy sources that are necessary for supporting modern day life. To deny that common sense fact is naive or irresponsible.

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