Coming Soon to Humboldt: Local Renewable Energy Option

April, 2016

Almost ten years ago, the city of Arcata began discussing an alternative energy option for its residents: Community Choice Aggregation (CCA). Due to the efforts of local governments and community support, Humboldt County could implement a long-awaited CCA as soon as next year.

Matthew Marshall, executive director of Redwood Coast Energy Authority (RCEA), said the fundamental nature of CCA is local control of the generation component of electricity service—which generally comprises about half of a consumer’s energy bill. Under CCA, a local government or group takes on the responsibility for the power  generation, while PG&E continues to deliver the electricity through its transmission and distribution system and provide meter reading, billing, maintenance, and outage response services.

According to Marshall, RCEA’s goal is to launch a locally-based CCA in early 2017. A key element leading up to CCA was the RePower Humboldt initiative, a Strategic Plan begun in 2009 that guided the integration of renewable energy into Humboldt County.
“That project laid the groundwork for saying, ‘This is something that is technically and economically feasible,’ ” Marshall said.

The conversation picked up speed after Marin County launched their CCA in 2010. This March, RCEA proposed to award The Energy Authority (TEA—a non-profit consulting group based in Seattle), as the CCA technical advisory group, which forecasts and projects the feasibility on rates. Now, Marshall said, it is up to local counties and cities to move their ordinances forward, allowing RCEA to launch the program and determine appropriate rates.
“There haven’t been any major obstacles or issues that have come up,” Marshall said. “It’s looking that it’s going to be quite viable.”

“[With CCA] you have local control of where
your local electricity is coming from.”

—Matthew Marshall

Humboldt County spends almost $150 million per year on electricity. CCA would provide overall rates that are lower or competitive with those offered by PG&E for similar power supply products. According to RCEA’s website, the established California CCAs have managed to achieve rates 2-7 percent below PG&E while providing significantly higher percentages of renewable energy.

Marin County was the first of four counties in California to implement CCA. Sonoma was second, in 2014,  and San Francisco is anticipated to launch their CCA program in the next few months. 

Once enacted, residents have the choice to opt-out of the CCA and stick with their current
energy provider.

Because customers’ utility costs are lowered by participating in the CCA, Marshall said less than 10 percent of folks opted out in Sonoma.

“It’s just giving people the option for a locally controlled power choice or sticking with PG&E and business as usual,” Marshall said. “It really is leaving final the decision to customers.  There isn’t really a significant downside from the customer standpoint.”

Humboldt’s current energy provider, Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E), covers over 42 percent of California. Unlike an investor-owned utility, the decision making process of a local authority can be more transparent and accessible to the public. Marshall said the RCEA Board of Directors unanimously agreed on using local biomass plants as potential contracted energy sources.

There are three biomass plants in the county, located in Eel River, Fairhaven and Blue Lake. In 2013, biomass and a small hydroelectric plant at Ruth Lake produced 40 percent of Humboldt County’s power. The plants provide additional benefits to the community such as utilizing waste from the local timber industry and burning fuels from products that were removed from the Forest Service in order to reduce wildlife hazards in surrounding areas. 

“We’re not just looking at trying to reduce rates,” Marshall said. “But really focusing on how can we start out and then move towards using as much local renewable energy as we can.”

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