EL CERRITO -- The city's environmental quality panel is investigating a program in Marin County and Richmond that offers electricity from renewable energy sources at roughly the same rates as traditional sources from PG&E.
The program, which originated in Marin in 2010, now serves 125,000 customers, providing them with 50 percent of their electricity from bioenergy, geothermal, biogas, solar and wind power. A much smaller cohort of customers receive 100 percent of their electricity from wind energy.
The agency, Marin Clean Energy, estimates it has provided a reduction of 67,500 tons in greenhouse gas emissions since its inception.
Under proposed rates scheduled to become effective later this spring, the average MCE customer will pay $82.28 per month for electricity, compared with $83 a month for a PG&E ratepayer using the same amount of energy, according to MCE statistics.
The average MCE electricity customer using wind power only pays $87.36 per month, which includes the same $36.26 cost for PG&E energy delivery (including building and maintaining transmission lines, service calls for outages and billing) that is also charged conventional ratepayers.
About 19 percent of PG&E electricity comes from renewable sources, with 11 percent from large hydroelectric projects, 27 percent from natural gas, 21 percent from nuclear energy and 21 percent from other nonrenewable sources, according to the company.
MCE is a joint powers authority that serves all the cities and unincorporated areas in Marin County as well as Richmond, according to Mark Miner, chairman of El Cerrito's Environmental Quality Committee.
"The joint powers group is responsible for purchasing the power and PG&E is providing distribution, customer service and billing," Miner said. "Besides the environment, the biggest benefit is competition."
The joint powers authority negotiates contracts with renewable energy providers who place the energy on the PG&E grid.
Once a city decides to join, customers are given the opportunity to stay with PG&E. They are also able to leave the program and return to the utility at any time, but must pay a $5 fee to do so, said Adam Lenz, the sustainability coordinator for Richmond, which joined Marin Clean Energy last summer.
About 83 percent of Richmond residential and commercial customers are taking part in the program and 17 percent took action to opt out after the city did a feasibility study and held an extensive series of public meetings and hearings, Lenz said.
Because the joint powers authority is a not-for-profit entity, it can invest money in local solar energy projects instead of paying dividends to stockholders, said Jamie Tuckey, Marin Clean Energy's director of communications.
For example, MCE is planning a 1-megawatt solar energy project at the Port of Richmond and will be installing a 1-megawatt solar project at a parking structure in Novato.
The Environmental Quality Committee in El Cerrito has heard a presentation from Marin Clean Energy and is working with other groups, such as the Berkeley Climate Action Coalition, that are interested in forming joint powers authorities in Alameda and Contra Costa counties.
"Marin Clean Energy has carried the weight for all of us" by being the first to set up a model to follow, Tom Kelly of the Berkeley Climate Action Coalition told the committee at a recent meeting. "No one city can do it by itself."
While PG&E is a competitor in the energy market, utility spokeswoman Nicole Liebelt said that "We cooperate with communities and local governments that want to explore community choice aggregations."