Editorial: Valley communities take note, Davis charts its own energy path

The PV USA solar farm near Davis is a ready source of renewable power.
The PV USA solar farm near Davis is a ready source of renewable power. The Sacramento Bee File

The city of Davis and Yolo County, north of the San Joaquin Valley, are taking a step toward energy independence, and other municipalities ought to take notice.

At its meeting March 15, the Davis City Council unanimously approved a plan to create a hybrid in the world of electricity, a concept called community choice energy.

The hybrid isn’t a municipal utility district, like the Sacramento Municipal Utility District, which has served Sacramento well with excellent service and reasonable prices. Nor would electricity customers in Davis and Yolo County remain subject to Pacific Gas and Electric, the private utility that provides electricity to its residents.

Instead, starting about 18 months from now, Davis will offer residents the option of getting greener electricity at a lower price. The Yolo County Board of Supervisors also voted unanimously to enter into the pact with the city of Davis.

Davis and Yolo County still would rely on PG&E for distribution and billing, while creating a nonprofit that would locate and buy greener energy, and provide it at a lower cost to businesses and residents.

PG&E customers each month pay a public goods charge. Although the individual payments are small, the charge generates an estimated $4 million a year in Davis and Yolo County. The nonprofit that would oversee the system could spend that money locally, investing in new generation, energy efficiency, or battery systems to store electricity.

The Davis Enterprise reported that the program is expected to reduce energy rates by 8.7 percent over a 10-year period while also accruing a 4-percent reserve. Reserves, the newspaper said, would go toward bulking up the city’s renewable energy infrastructure.

Davis has a ready source of renewable power in the 86-acre solar farm on the northern edge of the city, PV USA. That facility supplies electricity for municipal uses, and could be amped up to provide more electricity for residents.

Marin and Sonoma counties and the city of Lancaster already have blazed this particular trail, and it’s working.

The goal is lofty: to provide more renewable energy, decrease greenhouse gas emissions, and give residents a break on their electricity bills.

No doubt, there are pitfalls. But community choice energy is worth whatever risk there might be.

Given the number of solar farms in our Valley – and the many more coming – our public officials should examine community choice programs throughout California and determine if they would benefit residents here.