Power Plays

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

Monterey, Santa Cruz and San Benito counties pooled together their electricity buying power, founding Monterey Bay Community Power in 2017. Now, that agency is scaling up with expansion envisioned for all of San Luis Obispo County and possibly as far south as portions of Santa Barbara County.

The pitch to local officials in these areas is simple: Pacific Gas & Electric has been purchasing electricity on behalf of your communities for as long as anyone can remember. MBCP would like to offer an alternative. As a public entity, the agency has proven that it can lower rates for consumers while also prioritizing renewable sources of energy.

The cities of San Luis Obispo and Morro Bay recently opted in and their enrollment is scheduled to begin in January 2020.

Efforts to bring in additional partners have been going on for months and will continue, says MBCP’s Director of Communications & Energy Programs J.R. Killigrew. Jurisdictions reviewing the option of joining include San Luis Obispo County, as well as the cities of Grover Beach, Paso Robles, Pismo Beach, Arroyo Grande, Atascadero and Santa Maria.

The expansion drive could see MBCP’s customer base grow by as much as 50 percent, Killigrew says.

Amy Wolfrum, Monterey Bay Aquarium’s ocean conservation policy manager, who serves on MBCP’s Community Advisory Council, says the expansion is a good gauge of success.

“It’s a vote of confidence for Monterey Bay Community Power that these other coastal communities want to join,” she says.

As more of the Central Coast comes under the Monterey Bay Community Power umbrella, the idea of renaming the agency has come up. “We would want to make sure the new communities are part of our identity,” Killigrew says.

Community choice aggregation, or CCA, is the term for the pooling together of ratepayers’ buying power. It’s been gaining popularity across California over the past few years. From zero CCAs a decade ago, the state now counts 19, including MBCP. These agencies are now responsible for purchasing electricity on behalf of more than 10 million customers. The traditional electric utilities (like PG&E) still get paid to deliver the power to individual homes and businesses and they still handle the billing.

Meanwhile, the state has created a major challenge for energy providers by setting a requirement that half of California’s electricity be powered by renewable resources by 2026. The ultimate goal is to switch to 100-percent zero-emission electricity by 2045.

MBCP is chipping away at the goal. Over the past year, the agency has inked deals to invest in three renewable energy projects: a wind farm in New Mexico and solar projects in Kern and Kings counties. Earlier this year, the agency teamed up with Silicon Valley Clean Energy to issue a request for proposals for new carbon-free power supply projects.

MBCP issued another RFP inviting bids for microgrid projects, aiming to support local energy generation and boost economic development. By the May 17 deadline, nine applications were received including proposals from the agriculture industry and governmental and educational institutions.

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Asaf Shalev is a staff writer at the Monterey County Weekly. He covers higher education, the military, the environment, public lands and the geographic areas of Seaside, Monterey, Sand City, Big Sur and Carmel Valley.

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(1) comment

David Lesikar

In 2018, all commercial and residential PG&E customers in MBCP's service area were automatically enrolled in MBchoice, which is 100% carbon-free electricity at a lower cost than PG&E's carbon-dioxide producing electricity. At any time, any customer may choose to opt out of MBCP electricity and go back to PG&E's electricity. Customers may also select MBprime, MBCP’s 100%-renewable electricity offering, for an additional cost of $0.01 per kilowatt hour. (I'm an MBCP residential customer in Seaside.)

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