In the early 2000s the Central Valley was a pioneer in evaluating a then obscure California policy known as Community Choice Aggregation, more commonly known as Community Choice Energy. The San Joaquin Valley Power Authority weathered technical, legal, and marketing efforts from PG&E, and was ultimately overcome by the economic calamity of 2008. In its effort to establish what would have been California’s first CCA, the Valley helped lay the groundwork for the movement that would follow.
Community Choice Energy, made possible by state law enacted in 2002, is now an established reality in California with 19 operational agencies, 8 million customers, participation from nearly half of all counties, and more than 100 cities in the state involved. Additionally, there is also a statewide association, CalCCA, that advocates Community Choice interests in the legislative and regulatory arenas. It is a movement that has blossomed rapidly in the past few years due to the compelling benefits Community Choice can bring to communities.
Among the powerful aspects of Community Choice is the fact that it is not taxpayer based, but redirects an existing revenue stream in the tens of millions of dollars that leaves the city and county back into local control. Furthermore, there is no need to launch a multimillion-dollar marketing campaign to recruit customers. Due to the fact that CCAs are not-for-profit agencies guided by accountable local elected leaders, they are empowered as the default service provider in their area.
So, what are the benefits of Community Choice? Some are well known principles, and others are potential benefits. Each community is able to design programs tailored to their own needs and values, which is one of the greatest attractions of CCA. Principles include the introduction of consumer choice. While CCAs do not take over all the responsibilities for electricity service, they do take over one important part, the decision-making related to sources of energy for electricity generation. The existing utility, PG&E in Fresno’s case, would continue to operate the distribution system, more specifically the poles & wires. Customers also continue to receive only one bill from PG&E; Fresno’s CCA program would appear as one line on the bill, which replaces the PG&E generation.
The potential benefits are where things get interesting. There are many opportunities via Community Choice to foster local economic strength, job creation, private sector opportunity, air quality improvements, and an extensive number of locally tailored programs that help address community needs. Many examples exist, such as programs that provide incentives in areas of California that were devastated by wildfires. These incentives designed by Community Choice help residents rebuild efficient, comfortable, cleaner and more resilient homes. Other programs help residents afford electric vehicles, implement energy efficiency measures, install solar or pay into a community solar project.
Community Choice is helping to lead the evolution of the 100-year-old, big-utility-system model to the new local, clean, community-based energy systems. In effect, CCAs are guiding the way to achieving the state’s renewable energy goals, procuring over 2,000 megawatts of clean power in the past couple of years, including another 1,000 megawatts expected in 2019. That is more than three nuclear power plant’s worth of energy! Many of these projects are solar arrays located in the Central Valley. The Central Valley, and Fresno in particular, are in vital need of establishing locally controlled retail electricity service provider in order to realize the extensive spectrum of benefits provided by Community Choice Energy. The time is now to revisit Community Choice Energy for the Central Valley.
Al Galvéz of Madera worked as PG&E’s public affairs manager in the San Joaquin Valley before retiring.