County Authorizes Local Power Purchasing

A multi-jurisdictional public energy agency that includes the county is advancing a power purchasing program whose implementation in unincorporated areas has been approved by the Board of Supervisors.

At their May 24 meeting, supervisors approved the introduction of an ordinance authorizing the county’s participation in the new program, which is slated to begin providing power in the spring of 2017.

Known as Community Choice Aggregation (CCA), the program is in accord with state law that allows communities to purchase power — including locally-produced power — for use by their residents.

The power distribution infrastructure of companies like the Pacific Gas and Electric Company (PG&E) can be used for power purchased by a CCA.

In Humboldt County’s case, PG&E will also carry out metering and billing services related to a CCA program. The lead agency for the county’s CCA is the Redwood Coast Energy Authority (RCEA), a joint powers authority that includes county and city governments.

In March, the RCEA board selected a non-profit group — The Energy Authority — to provide power purchasing and CCA management services under a five-year contract.

The cities of Fortuna and Arcata have already approved CCA ordinances.

Matthew Marshall, the RCEA’s executive director, told supervisors that the goal is to “pursue a program that provides competitive rates at or below PG&E’s while also maximizing the use of local renewables, including existing facilities, to the greatest extent that we can technically and economically do that.”

He said the RCEA is working with The Energy Authority group on a technical study that will define the range of power options and their costs.

Public workshops on the process will begin in July to get input on the technical study, he continued. In September, an implementation plan will be drafted that defines power procurement and other details, accompanied by more public workshops.

Early 2017 is the target date for launching a CCA, Marshall said, which will be preceded by public noticing. Once noticed, residents will have the choice of “opting out” of the CCA if they prefer to stick with PG&E as their power provider.

Power delivery to customers is estimated to begin in the spring of 2017, said Marshall.

Supervisor Estelle Fennell said that “it’s pretty common knowledge that I’m supportive of these efforts.”

Asked about when the county’s input on power purchasing will be considered, Marshall said the technical study will be the “first phase of that,” analyzing the local power opportunities that are available now, the potential for developing new ones and the possibilities of buying power from out-of-the-area sources.

The study will also analyze various power mix and pricing scenarios, he continued.

According to a written staff report, CCA power sales over the first five years of the program could “generate between $3.5 and $12.5 million in net CCA revenue that would build a local CCA credit reserve, offset RCEA's operational expenses for the CCA and ultimately be used to fund local energy projects and programs such as the development of local renewable power sources and energy efficiency programs.”

Supervisor Ryan Sundberg noted that the county will have the most say on how the RCEA operates the program. “There is a weighted voting for the county, since we have the majority of the electricity [use] and will be affected the most,” he said.

Fennell said there is “a great interest from the public in us moving forward on this.”

A public comment session on the ordinance was brief but Adam Steinbuck of the Humboldt Redwood Company told supervisors that the company’s cogeneration power plant in Scotia is an ideal CCA power source.

“We look forward to cogeneration and especially the power plant in Scotia being part of a portfolio of renewable energy that has some local control and consideration from community members here that are consuming that energy,” he said.

Steinbuck added that “having an outlet for sawmill residuals and forest residuals is very important to us and to the hundreds of people that are directly employed by our business and others.”

Supervisors unanimously voted to introduce the ordinance, which is set for final approval on May 31.