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Board splits along gender lines

Monterey County’s effort to gain additional authority over a regional electrical power consortium seems to be coming up short, with most of the other 20 government partners unenthusiastic about awarding the county an extra vote on the governing body.

Monterey County staffers are scheduled Tuesday to brief a divided Board of Supervisors on their effort to persuade the other counties and cities involved to bestow additional voting rights on Monterey County. That item is on the board’s 1:30 p.m. agenda.

The proposed Monterey Bay Community Power agency is intended to be an alternative to Pacific Gas & Electric Co., an energy brokerage of sorts dedicated to increasing the Central Coast’s use of renewable energy and potentially driving down the cost of electricity. It would be the seventh such “Community Choice Energy” agency in California.

It would be operated by a joint-powers agency made up of the governments of Monterey, Santa Cruz and San Benito counties and the cities in those counties.

Five years into the process of creating the agency, most of the government agencies involved have formally approved the structure and the operating principles but three members of the Monterey County Board of Supervisors have thrown a wrench into the works by insisting that Monterey County receive an extra vote because it has the largest population of the three counties. As it stands, Monterey County and the cities in the county would have five of the 11 votes on the board, more than any other county, but supervisors Luis Alejo, Simon Salinas and John Phillips say Monterey County deserves a second vote of its own, giving the county and the cities in the county a total of six votes. As an alternative, they say they could support weighted voting,.

The issue has divided the board, with Chairwoman Mary Adams and Jane Parker supporting the original plan. Parker, in fact, is urging her constituents to attend today’s board meeting and be prepared to argue in favor of moving the venture along.

According to Parker’s office, the agency would:

  • More than double our use of renewable energy resources (from 27% renewables to 59% renewables)
  • Provide 70% greenhouse gas (GHG) emission free electricity
  • Provide annual surplus revenues of approximately $9 million dollars in funds that can will support our local regional goals
  • Help build local renewable energy projects, stimulate local economic reinvestment and support local green job creation.

Government staffers in Monterey and elsewhere say it is difficult to tell whether the Alejo-Salinas-Phillips triumvirate is simply seeking a stronger voice on the agency board or is attempting to scuttle the venture.

Alejo didn’t return a call or email requesting comment, but he reportedly has argued privately that he fears the agency could end up raising power bills for low-income residents. The person who has worked most closely with the venture says that simply isn’t true, as demonstrated by the agency’s voluminous technical studies.

That person is Virginia Johnson, an aide to Santa Cruz County Supervisor Bruce McPherson, the former secretary of state and legislator who has led the formation process.

Johnson said Monday that some other community power agencies have succeeded in lowering overall electrical rates and that even if that did not prove to be the case on the Central Coast, current PG&E customers would be entitled to continue their PG&E service along with any low-income discounts.

“There is no way poor people are going to pay more,” Johnson said.

San Benito County officials originally expressed similar concerns but were won over by activists working closely with the Catholic Church, which has embraced the plan.

A popular feature of the new entity is that it would allow for relatively affluent households to pay a premium for power in order to be supplied entirely by relatively clean sources such as solar or wind.

The overall plan had been scheduled for final approval by the end of 2016 but was delayed until March because of Monterey County’s reservations, which, according to Johnson and others, have received scant support elsewhere.  Johnson said the other entities would much prefer that Monterey County stay with the plan, largely because additional population creates additional buying power when purchasing electricity, but she said the others are fully prepared to move ahead with or without Monterey County.

As it stands, Monterey County and jurisdictions in the county would have five votes on an 11-member board of directors. Those votes would be assigned to the county, Salinas, the Peninsula cities as a group, Seaside/Marina/Sand City/Del Rey Oaks as a group, and the South County cities.

Santa Cruz County and its jurisdictions would control four votes and San Benito County, with the smallest population of the three counties, would control two votes.

Under the alternative weighted voting proposal, Monterey County, Santa Cruz County and Salinas, the largest city in the region, would be apportioned extra voting power on some issues.

Monterey Bay Community Power would be a government-run non-profit operating under a 2002 state law that enables communities to choose to buy power from clean sources while contracting with PG&E to maintain power lines and provide customer service.

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Maureen February 13, 2017, 3:54 pm

    Please notice what Johnson stated. Johnson said Monday “that some other community power agencies have succeeded in lowering overall electrical rates” and that even if that did not prove to be the case on the Central Coast, current PG&E customers would be entitled to continue their PG&E service along with any low-income discounts.

    Unfortunately , many times the rates don’t go down, they go up. Why, you might ask? People do not completely understand how sophisticated it is to buy power futures. More often than not, the buyers lose.

    • John Dalessio February 13, 2017, 4:46 pm

      Maureen; Please provide statistics and examples to support your claim. I’m not questioning your integrity. I just want to look at the matter more closely. Thanks, John

      • Royal Calkins February 13, 2017, 7:25 pm

        John: I asked Ms. Wruck to provide some citations. Here’s her response: “Omg that is a dissertation. I’m will to discuss but I’m not willing to write about energy markets. They are sophisticated, complicated, loaded with subtleties and fickle. Right now CA has a glut of energy?

        Maureen Wruck Development Consultants.”

  • Kristina Baer February 13, 2017, 4:41 pm

    I haven’t read all the information about this proposal, however, I’m wondering about the following:

    If approved, would rates be based on usage alone, i.e., business and residential entities would be billed at the same flat rate? Or would rates be tiered? If tiered, would business usage be discounted?

    Kristina

  • Roberta Myers February 13, 2017, 4:43 pm

    Maureen’s comment is intriguing. It states as fact without backup that “more often than not the buyers lose. ”
    Where is proof of this statement?
    The implication is that we simple folk cannot judge the complexities of the program.
    It looked straightforward to me, even though current suppliers will no doubt try everything to make the dire prediction true.

    • Maureen wruck February 13, 2017, 7:32 pm

      John, I was not claiming anything. That is a claim is attributed to Virginia Johnson, who by default is saying some communities don’t lower their rates. I don’t think it has been thoroughly vetted for all to understand. Energy futures are loaded with complicated laws, environmental happenstances, trading complexities and sublties few completly understand. I’m not suggesting the demise will occur, but is we don’t understand all of the complexities, were in for big problems.

  • James Toy February 13, 2017, 6:05 pm

    I’ve read a handful of news articles on this subject and I still don’t fully understand how it would work. However, this article explained it better than “Harold” has. I gather that the JPA would buy, or maybe even produce, electricity for the three counties, with a mandate to focus on clean, sustainable sources, and PG&E would be under contract to distribute it. Is that right?

    I’m not really clear on why a new agency is necessary to increase the supply of green energy. The industry is slowly but surely moving in that direction anyway. If the intent is to hasten that process, which I’m all for, could that be achieved by other means, such as renegotiating local franchise agreements with PG&E so that the utility would be obligated to buy more green power for us?

    But if the JPA is the most effective way to go, it sounds like MoCo is being rather petty to demand more power on the JPA.

  • Eric Petersen February 13, 2017, 9:22 pm

    Many have already heard this, but in the interests of full disclosure, I own stock in P G & E. In that capacity, I have attended the annual Stockholder Meeting (in San Francisco) and receive veritable tons of reading material via mail and e-mail.

    Some years ago, P G & E made a big deal out of the new corporate president, and how he was going to make wonderful changes in the company. A few years after that, P G & E blew up part of San Bruno. A criminal court (with a legendary judge) ruled that there was negligence, and convicted P G & E of criminal violations. The penalties include fines and community service work by P G & E employees, including executives.

    It seems that the pipe system used by P G & E was in very poor condition — and P G & E knew it.

    There have also been billions of dollars of civil penalties.

    Now, P G & E isn’t going to take that money out of what they send to people like me, but from sources with less control over the company. Expect P G & E rates to go up, probably substantially.

    So the real issue here isn’t whether Public Power rates will go up or down or anywhere, but whether Public Power rates are likely to go up less than P G & E rates will.

    Expect Public Power to be the better deal.

  • Stephen Schweitzer February 13, 2017, 9:48 pm

    This seems like history being repeated.
    Governor Gray Davis took us down this road and Enron picked our pockets. Want to get into the energy business? Then do what Los Angeles did, buy a power plant.

    • Eric Petersen February 13, 2017, 10:05 pm

      Los Angeles, Palo Alto, Santa Clara, and many other cities own their utilities. Makes it easier to talk to those in charge.

      One of the things I said at a P G & E stockholders’ meeting was that if P G & E continued as they were going, they would be replaced by municipal utilities. Surprisingly, they ignored me. That was after the San Bruno explosion but before the Carmel explosion. It was also before Community Power.

    • Royal Calkins February 13, 2017, 10:50 pm

      I believe the problem then, Stephen, was mostly a function of the partial deregulation carried out by Davis, not by the encouragement of competition, innovation and enterprise.

      • Stephen Schweitzer February 14, 2017, 1:39 pm

        Davis’ mistake was dealing with “paper hangers” and spinning the wheel of fortune.
        Scam and sham does none of the above. Electrical power is not color coded. There is no way to know where it was sourced from. Electrical power transmission efficiency will only improve when the source is closer to the customer. Buying electical power through second and third tier non- producers is like moving sand with your hands.

  • Jean February 14, 2017, 7:45 am

    Hasn’t anyone learned anything from watching the CPUC? Does anyone think PGE won’t get a rate increase for its “lost income”?
    The solution isn’t another layer of bureaucracy, but a CPUC that works to ensure that utilities are operated effectively and efficiently.

  • Julie Engell February 14, 2017, 8:11 am

    Thanks for this story. I think I’m beginning to grasp the concept. The Herald was no help at all. So the JPA wouldn’t produce any energy or own any power production facilities or distribution facilities. Instead, it would purchase energy from independent producers and re-sell it to users, distributing it through PG&E’s distribution network. Assuming PG&E is also interested in purchasing the independently produced energy, the JPA would compete with PG&E to buy it. Hopefully, more demand for renewable energy would stimulate more investment in it, increasing the percent of energy coming from renewable sources.

    If I’ve got it so far, here are some questions. 1) If, for some reason, the supply of renewable source energy doesn’t increase, wouldn’t the cost for it go up? Wouldn’t greater competition for the same piece of pie drive costs higher? 2) How much of the JPA’s cost/price efficiency would be driven by the fact that it would be a public agency as opposed to a for-profit, poorly regulated mega-corporation? 3) How do you negotiate, to your advantage, the use of PG&E’s distribution network? How did other successful JPAs do it? 4) I understand water better than power. Fresh water is produced by rain (or desal or recycling, or…); it’s stored in aquifers and reservoirs and lakes; it’s distributed through pipes and pumping stations and it’s used whenever someone turns on the tap. I’m not sure how the power grid works. We’ve experienced its manipulation – fake shortages and spiraling prices – but I can’t explain exactly how that was done. How much control can PG&E and the near-criminally useless PUC exert over the success of the JPA?

    I understand too little too late to be of any use in a public hearing. That said, I trust Jane Parker more than any other local elected to do her homework and to put the public interest ahead of anything else.

    On the flip side, the good ol’ boys (or at least 2 good ol’ boys) throwing a wrench into the works doesn’t surprise me. I don’t buy the notion that they’re worried about exposing the public to unnecessary risk. They’re more than happy to place public trust resources at huge risk (think roads, water, parkland) when it benefits profiteering corporate interests. But somehow, they become totally risk averse when the benefit may (or may not) accrue to the public.

  • Jean February 14, 2017, 8:52 am

    Thank you, Julie for articulating the essential questions. While one Supervisor may be more trustworthy than another, I question whether any Supervisor has sufficient expertise and information to determine what’s in the public interest. Or to decipher the intentional confusion generated by regulated utilities. It becomes a leap of faith, based on political ideology rather than informed choice.

  • bill leone February 14, 2017, 2:41 pm

    Nonsense. The reason why one politician is more Trustworthy than another is due to the fact (especially in this case) that one Supervisor actually does her homework with the Public Interest in mind. That is why David Potter was sent packing: after 20 years of wheeling & dealing, he knew enough about local politics to choke a horse, but he did not act, vote, speak, or write with the Public’s Interest in mind. It had Nothing to do with ideology. I trust Jane & the other Progressive elected officials who have studied this matter, & I have talked with people I trust in the energy industry (some with graduate degrees in Physics), & they All conclude, PG&E is a criminal organization (aided & abetted by the CPUC); rates will eventually go up exponentially, & one way to save the planet from utter destruction is to decentralize the source & distribution of energy (solar panels, wind generation, & energy consortia). One other benefit of having a Monterey Bay Community Power agency is, those who have solar panels will not get ripped off by PG&E by having their excess energy zeroed out at the end of the year, but can sell their energy credits back to the grid; this would make alternative energy generation at the individual household level more appealing, in addition to the tax credits, as well as having protection against PG&E gouging us with exponential price increases (while the CPUC does what they usually do, which is Nothing).
    We have seen this game before: Public Relations shills who will speak on behalf of the Oil Industry, just as there were Physicians speaking on behalf of the Cigarette Industry in the 1950’s. That resulted in a long list of fatal & debilitating diseases, including Lung Cancer.

    • Dan Turner February 15, 2017, 9:36 pm

      I am in complete agreement w/Bill. His facts are evidence-based, as opposed to BS-based, or just plain idiotic-based – which is the basis of all of the anti-Community Power arguments.
      As for the 3 anti-Supes, they are just a gaggle of malicious, mendacious miscreants in the employ of PG&E & they must be removed and replaced ASAP or we will never be able to get anything done to improve our situations.

  • Jean February 14, 2017, 2:49 pm

    Bill,

    Until the CPUC changes, how will the regulated utilities become accountable?

  • bill leone February 14, 2017, 10:35 pm

    In my opinion, the utilities are Not regulated by the CPUC, which is why, as a community, we should be pushing for decentralizing energy generation (solar & wind) & doing whatever we can to undermine the monopoly of PG&E. We will only be able to change the CPUC through a long, arduous education & political process; that is, to replace the officials who appoint such knuckleheads to that commission, which does the Opposite of what it is designed to do (protect the public from a private monopoly). Note: yet another reason for campaign finance reform!
    We have solar panels on our house, but PG&E Still charges us a monthly electric bill. Moreover, we generate More electricity than we use, but at the end of the year PG&E just pockets the difference. An energy consortium would provide PG&E good ol’e capitalist competition, which would prevent them from arbitrarily hiking their rates, being careless about blowing up towns & cities, & playing games with electric bills (as described above).
    If you want more information on this subject, I suggest you talk to Jeff Sweet, a former Physics teacher, who knows more about this topic than most people, & who walks the walk; that is, he has solar panels on his house & will soon (like me) be driving an electric car, which will be powered by the sun that shines on his roof. This way, we take care of two buzzards with one stone….so to speak.

  • robin February 15, 2017, 9:14 am

    Anyone wanting to know how this works … look at https://www.mcecleanenergy.org
    where this scheme for energy has been in place since 2010.

  • bill leone February 20, 2017, 3:37 pm

    Thanks Dan & Robin, I appreciate your support in dispelling the Trolls that are beginning to overpopulate the Partisan.