Marin Clean Energy counsel: Communities need 'passionate' people regarding renewable energy as options expand

By Dee Thompson | Nov 23, 2016

SAN FRANCISCO – On Oct. 24, University of San Francisco law students hosted a panel of experts discussing Implications for California’s energy future. The audience of about 50 people learned about a new model of energy service in California, community choice aggregation (CCA) programs, which are a way that communities can choose their energy source and choose which energy option best fits the needs of their customers.

The event speakers were Sienna Rogers, director of energy policy at Pacific Gas and Electric, Mitchell Shapson of the California Public Utilities Commission and Shalini Swaroop, regulatory and legislative counsel for Marin Clean Energy. The discussion was held in order to present an overview of what CCAs are and what the benefits can be.

“We wanted to let people know about this on-coming trend in the energy industry to empower local control,” Swaroop told the Northern California Record.

Swaroop works on clean energy policy in California at both regulatory agencies and the legislature through Marin Clean Energy (MCE).

The traditional energy model in California works this way: typically a big utility company in California chooses the energy sources, like solar power or coal. The company puts it over its poles and wires and it gets to the customer. In a CCA model, a local government agency decides to choose the sources of energy, and it still transmits that energy over the same poles and wires owned by the electric utility. The customer ends up getting uninterrupted service.

More than 80 communities in California have chosen the community choice aggregation model, including the counties of Los Angeles, San Diego, Santa Barbara, Alameda, Placer, Yolo, Lake, Humboldt, Monterey, Santa Cruz, San Benito, San Luis Obispo and Ventura.

MCE was the first community choice program in California and it launched six years ago. Others are CleanPowerSF in San Francisco, Sonoma Clean Power, Peninsula Clean Energy (PGE) and Silicon Valley Clean Energy.

“Each program has different energy products that the people in their area can choose from," Swaroop said.

CCAs are an affordable option and a way for communities to control how they get their energy. Customers that band together are able to negotiate discounted rates for their power. Swaroop sees CCAs as “an oncoming trend in the energy industry to empower local control.”

She explains that her employer, MCE “was formed was to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The purpose of CCAs in California has been to put more renewable energy onto the grid.”

When MCE rolls out in a community, it means local government has voted to join MCE. MCE offers Light Green, a 50 percent renewable energy option, and Deep Green, a 100 percent renewable energy option, plus a Local Sol 100 percent local solar option. Five cities in Napa County and two cities in Contra Costa County voted to have their community join MCE in September.

“Customers can pay about $5 extra a month and get a 100 percent renewable energy through MCE's Deep Green energy product," Swaroop said. "The cost comparison of the energy products is what interests most people. The total cost for MCE’s Light Green 50 percent green energy option is less than PGE’s 30 percent renewable energy product.”

There are five options available within MCE’s 24-member community. Choosing local solar power is one of the options through MCE's Local Sol energy product, Swaroop explains.

“I call MCE's Local Sol product the organic version of energy. You can purchase energy that’s made locally, from a local solar project,” she said.

Swaroop hopes to do more outreach like the Oct. 24 panel discussion.

“Because the audience was law students who are interested in environmental law particularly, I personally was hoping that some of them would come away excited about the opportunity to work in cutting-edge renewable energy policy, something that hadn’t been fully aware of previously," she said. "As communities form CCAs, they need attorneys and they need regulatory staff. They need folks who are passionate about renewable energy and combating climate change. I think it’s a great environmental law job.”

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