I volunteered at The Business of Clean Energy Symposium last Friday, the second annual conference focusing on Community Choice Energy (also called Community Choice Aggregation). CCE could be seen as a hybrid of private and publicly owned power: the private utility continues to own transmission, distribution and billing, but the community decides and buys the (usually much-cleaner) energy that the private utility will transmit. The three existing CCE programs in California include your typically liberal Bay Area, Marin and Sonoma Counties, and also the solidly Republican city of Lancaster in Southern California.
I've wondered how some issues like criminal justice reform become less politicized over time. Criminal justice was far more politicized and partisan in the 1990s then climate change was, and now the reverse is true. I'm guessing one element isn't so much an admission of wrongdoing by one party as it is a reinvention and taking independent leadership by conservative Republicans (combined, maybe, with willfully ignoring the many years of leadership on the progressive side). I'm still not sure why Lancaster acted differently from other Republican areas. And maybe I'm oversimplifying - a number of red states have strong renewable energy programs. We need much more of this, though, and hopefully we'll get it.
All California CCE programs emphasize low-carbon power, locally-produced energy, and they usually match or slightly beat the cost for private utilities. I'm on the board of Carbon Free Mountain View, working to establish a CCE in Silicon Valley later this year. I've helped with a similar effort in San Mateo County that's also near completion, and a third effort in San Jose is getting off the ground. A lot is happening, and that's just my local area.
Some other notes from the symposium, after the jump:
- By 2020, about 20% of eligible California residents will get power from CCEs. This is no longer just an experiment.
- Emergency preparedness is my hobbyhorse - CCEs can promote power storage and microgrids which can help tremendously during short or long-term emergencies. Most CCE people, even the professionals, haven't thought much about this, but I did encounter a few who have.
- Locally-generated power is a main medium-term focus of CCE, along with promoting electric vehicles.
- Electrifying all transportation in California would double electricity demand.
- Sonoma Clean Power is working on a program to vary the rate at which people can charge their EVs according to available power - while this isn't vehicle-to-grid, it's a tiny step in that direction.
- My note - a major advantage of CCEs is the amount of experimentation they can do, free of the bureaucracy of the giant private utilities.
- Financing is tricky and a major cost - the CCEs try to avoid exposing local communities to credit risk, so getting loans for brand new, unrated government agencies isn't easy. In the long run though, CCEs could get cheaper financing than private utilities because of tax-advantaged municipal bonds. Exciting tax analysis, right? Could be the most important issue discussed in the symposium, though.
- Power storage has two elements - dealing with daily variability and seasonal variability. The former is obviously the easier one, and the latter is going to be a big challenge.
- Overbuilding to handle variability in renewable energy has obvious costs - one scenario showed that 20% of the daily energy produced by renewable power would have to be curtailed (unless stored somehow) to make sure that capacity is available at other times.
- My note - as usual, California is an island. We know very little about what anyone is doing outside of our state.
- Speakers saw no problem getting to 90% zero-carbon sources in 20-30 years. Getting that last 10% would be tricky, though.