A California battle over power to the people

The Marin Clean Energy program, the first of its kind in California, began delivering clean electricity to 6,000 homes, businesses and government facilities in Marin County earlier this month. And Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E), the state’s largest for-profit private electric power provider, is fighting it tooth and nail.

Days before the Marin Energy Authority launched the program, California Public Utilities Commission Executive Director Paul Clanon demanded that PG&E “must comply with the entirety” of the state law that in 2002 established the system under which the local public agency is operating, The San Francisco Chronicle reported.

Clanon warned that PG&E must stop its aggressive phone call and newspaper ad campaign urging Marin residents to opt out of the program.

Clanon said the state law requires the private utility to cooperate fully with the public energy agency and charged that the company’s behavior “doesn’t look like full cooperation to me.” He ordered the private utility to work with the new public authority in identifying customers who improperly opted out of the public authority’s service and informing them of the proper ways of doing it if they still wish to do so.

Under the state’s Community Choice Aggregation (CCA) program, the local authority purchases the energy supply from independent sources while PG&E is obligated to continue to deliver the energy, maintain and repair transmission lines, and provide customer service and billing.

The public utility has nearly doubled the energy supplied to its customers from renewable energy sources at the same rates currently being paid by customers with the private utility. Customers in the public plan have the choice of receiving renewable energy at 100 percent, at a slightly higher cost.

In promotional materials leading up to its May 7 startup date, the public authority said, “The more we learn about Marin Clean Energy – its capacity to curb greenhouse gas emissions, develop Marin’s green economy and jobs, reinvest locally instead of sending our money out of county – the more we like it,”

No wonder that PG&E is now also locked in battle with San Francisco, which is moving to provide electricity through the state’s CCA program as well.

No doubt with a keen eye to the “dangerous” precedent these local initiatives represent, PG&E has already poured $35 million into a June ballot initiative of its own making, Proposition 16, that would make it far more difficult for a city or county to enter the public power business.

The ballot measure would require a two-thirds vote of local residents before a local government could proceed to publicly market electricity under the CCA system or fully create a public power utility. (See related article on California ballot propositions.)

Los Angeles and Sacramento are among cities that currently have public electricity utility districts that not only have the authority to purchase electricity directly from independent sources (as with Marin’s CCA program) but also own the facilities that deliver electric power to its customers.

Photo: http://www.flickr.com/photos/rainchurch/ / CC BY-SA 2.0