Santa Maria council weighing whether to join community choice energy program
- May 23, 2019
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May 23-- May 23--After more than an hour of discussion, the Santa Maria City Council on Tuesday asked city staff to solicit more feedback and gather more information before deciding whether or not to join the Monterey Bay Community Power Authority's community choice energy program.
Community choice energy programs are meant to serve as an alternative to investor-owned utility energy supply systems.
Under the system, local entities aggregate the buying power of individual customers to secure alternative energy supply contracts.
Pacific Gas and Electric Co. routes the MBCP-procured electricity through existing lines to customers and remains in charge of billing.
Should the city ultimately decide to join, MBCP would provide Santa Marians with energy produced from 100% carbon-free sources at the same rate as PG&E, Assistant City Manager Patrick Wiemiller said.
In addition, customers receive rebates in the form of credit on their bill.
"They rebate back to the customer to the tune of 3.7% each year," Wiemiller said. "Right now, they're building their reserves. Once they've hit their target, the rebates could be as high as 7 or 8%."
San Luis Obispo and Morro Bay have also signed on to join the MBCB.
PG&E currently delivers around 80% of its electricity through greenhouse-gas free sources.
On Tuesday, council members decided to hold off on making a decision to gather more information and wait to hear about the details of a possible Santa Barbara County community choice energy program, which is at the conceptual stage.
Wiemiller said if the council votes to join by August, Santa Maria would begin receiving service through the MBCP in early 2021.
If the council voted to sign up sometime after August, the city would join during a later enrollment period.
J.R. Killigrew, MBCP's director of communications and energy programs, said it was able to generate electricity at a cheaper rate than PG&E because of its timing in entering the energy market and because of its nonprofit status, as opposed to PG&E, which has a publicly traded stock with shareholders who are paid dividends.
Customers would be enrolled by default but could choose to opt out of the MBCP program and request service from PG&E.
During the meeting, four people spoke in favor of joining the MBCP or another community choice energy program and two spoke against.
Abraham Melendrez of CAUSE urged the council to join the MBCP, saying it would lower residents costs and give environmentally conscious residents the option to purchase energy produced from a greater mix of renewable sources.
"I think the choice is clear whether we want to represent our communities and look out for them, or for private shareholders," he said.
Roy Reed of the Santa Barbara County Taxpayers Association said the council should take no action until it has more information.
"I think the thing that's very obvious tonight -- even based on your questions and understanding -- we're in no position for you to take the action to advance this," he said.
Councilman Dr. Michael Moats said he wanted to bring back the issue during a future meeting.
"I just have a natural inclination to think that things that are too good to be true probably aren't," he said. "And then there's this other thing from the county of Santa Barbara, which wants to run its own.
"I think we can defer it for a couple of council meetings," he said.
Razi Syed covers Santa Maria City Government for Lee Central Coast Newspapers. Follow him on Twitter @razisyed
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