Edison lightbulbs at the future Agrodolce. Photo: Kate Williams
Berkeley residents have been switched over to a new Community Choice Energy provider. Photo (Agrodolce): Kate Williams

Some Berkeley residents were puzzled when they opened their electric bills this month, noticing a new “East Bay Community Energy” charge.

Unless they opted out, Berkeley ratepayers were automatically switched over to a new electricity provider in November. EBCE is run by Alameda County, which purchases and provides the energy instead of PG&E, which still handles billing and manages power lines.

EBCE is “providing cleaner, greener power to our communities,” said Mayor Jesse Arreguín, Berkeley’s EBCE board member, at a recent City Council meeting. He encouraged customers to upgrade to new options including more renewable sources.

Want to know more? Read on — the Berkeleyside story below was initially published on April 25, just before commercial and municipal accounts were set to be switched over to EBCE.

Berkeley to get a little greener with new alternative to PG&E

PG&E will continue to maintain power lines, like these on Acton Street, and customers will see that reflected on their bills. Photo: Google Maps

Almost all Berkeley residents and businesses will be enrolled by the end of the year with a new electricity provider that promises to be greener and a little bit cheaper.

East Bay Community Energy plans to take over commercial and municipal accounts in June, and residential accounts in November. Customers in Berkeley and the 10 other participating cities can still opt to stick with PG&E, which will continue to manage power lines and handle billing in either case. All customers with solar panels will be enrolled with the new provider in 2019.

Alameda County is one of the last regions in the Bay Area — though also the largest in the state — to establish Community Choice Energy (CCE), a model authorized under a 2002 California law. The approach lets cities and counties buy power for their residents, to provide a public, non-profit alternative to a utility with a monopoly on energy provision.

“Berkeley and other cities participating are really taking their energy needs and decisions into their own hands, reducing greenhouse gas consumption and emissions and saving communities a little bit of money,” said Annie Henderson, EBCE spokeswoman.”We are a unique community, so there were a lot of voices that were heard in the process and developing the authority. We’re coming into a landscape that is a bit more mature. We get to innovate off that.”

All Alameda County cities except Pleasanton and Newark are participating in EBCE, and the city of Alameda is not eligible because it has its own utility.

For most people and businesses in Berkeley, the change won’t be noticeable. If it goes as planned, the switchover will happen seamlessly. But when residents turn on the lights or pop a meal in the microwave, they will know their electricity is coming from greener sources.

The default EBCE service, “Brighter Choice,” will be 38% renewable and an additional 47% carbon-free, and will cost 1.5% less than PG&E. Customers can also upgrade to the “Brilliant 100” plan, which will be at least 40% renewable and an additional 60% carbon-free, for the same fee they currently pay PG&E.

The standard PG&E plan is 33% renewable, though it’s nearly 80% greenhouse-gas-free, PG&E spokeswoman Ari Vanrenen said. State law also requires all electricity in California to be 50% renewable by 2030.

A sample bill under the new provider. Photo: EBCE

EBCE’s board of directors, consisting of an elected official from each participating city, also just voted to offer a third, 100% renewable, option to customers during the November launch, Henderson said. Berkeley’s board member is Mayor Jesse Arreguín, with Councilwoman Sophie Hahn serving as the alternate.

Establishing a CCE is “the single most powerful thing we can do as a community to reduce our carbon footprint,” Hahn said. “Essentially with one flip of a switch, the entire community will be accessing cleaner energy than they obtain through PG&E, at a lower price.”

The Berkeley City Council voted April 24 to enroll the city’s accounts in the Brilliant 100 plan.

EBCE has not yet determined exactly where the clean energy will be sourced from, but the agency is currently soliciting and reviewing proposals, Henderson said. EBCE is also joining in PG&E’s effort to replace an old jet-fuel power plant in Jack London Square with a clean energy alternative.

As for the rates, “we’ve done a lot of analysis of what’s out on the market,” Henderson said. “There are good indicators of what we expect pricing to be. Of course, the market can shift at any time. We do commit to a certain discount from what PG&E is offering.”

Vanrenen of PG&E said the utility “respects” the new choices its customers have in deciding where their energy comes from, and “will continue to cooperate with local governments.”

Anyway, she said, the switchover hardly makes PG&E obsolete.

“When an area goes [CCE], those customers are still PG&E customers. We continue to deliver energy, meter readings, billing, and emergency response,” Vanrenen said.

Currently, an “exit fee,” or the amount remaining on years-long PG&E contracts, will be baked into EBCE bills. (The total cost to customers will still be less than what they currently pay.) The California Public Utilities Commission is currently considering establishing a new mechanism to make the transition cheaper for everyone. Once that’s hashed out, PG&E will be able to better determine what effect, if any, these CCEs will have on PG&E fees in the future, Vanrenen said.

The establishment of EBCE is the culmination of more than five years of advocacy and community meetings in Berkeley and the rest of the East Bay.

“When I first got involved in Community Choice, I saw it as a way of reducing our greenhouse gas emissions faster than PG&E ever would,” said Erica Etelson, chair of the Berkeley Climate Action Coalition CCE working group, in an email. “And then, as I learned more about it, I realized that it could also be an economic development engine.”

EBCE, like other CCE providers, will reinvest earnings in the community, to develop local power sources, create jobs and launch community programs — which, Hahn said, could potentially include incentives for switching to electric cars or solar roofing, or lower fees for low-income residents. A Local Development Business Plan is currently being drawn up.

Etelson and others advocated for a CCE program “that would prioritize reducing electricity demand and developing local solar to meet remaining demand,” she wrote. “These investments will create a lot of jobs for local residents and can also be structured in ways that allow for community ownership of solar projects which will be an additional economic benefit.”

Hahn said another benefit of a CCE is it’s a public agency, so the programs can be tailored to the needs of the participating jurisdictions.

That means upcoming decisions, such as potential annual rate increases, will be made at public meetings.

Natalie Orenstein

Natalie Orenstein reports on housing and homelessness for The Oaklandside. Natalie was a Berkeleyside staff reporter from early 2017 to May 2020. She had previously contributed to the site since 2012,...

Join the Conversation

71 Comments

  1. PG&E continues to provide cleaner power than EBCE, today and in the future. There seems to be no credible dispute with that conclusion. As discussed elsewhere in these comments, EBCE’s Power Content Label is in question.

    As Tom Kelly notes below, PG&E’s filing with the CPUC projects GHG content for 2019 as close to 100% GHG-free. Tom and others have advocated for a slightly more aggressive response to climate change by defaulting to 100% GHG-free and/or 100% renewable.

    I asked a month ago (see below), “When will EBCE have a projected GHG profile for its 2019 sales (or if available, where is it)?” As it turns out, the EBCE web site had that answer.

    According to EBCE’s Integrated Resource Plan filing with the CPUC, “In 2018, EBCE intends to serve customers with energy that is 87% carbon-free. This percentage will increase to 88.5% in 2019 and 90% from and after 2020.”
    Ref: https://ebce.org/wp-content/uploads/R1602007-EBCE-Integrated-Resource-Plan_20180801_Final.pdf

    Perhaps there is an updated EBCE filing with the CPUC that provides official updated projections of the GHG content of its delivered electricity. Without an updated projection, it appears likely that EBCE’s current official Plan is for EBCE to provide power with higher GHG emissions than PG&E for the foreseeable future. I believe that EBCE will convince their reluctant “board of local officials” to be as good as or better than PG&E wrt climate protection (i.e., by opting up). Others will explain why PG&E provides cleaner electricity, but none dispute that PG&E is serving up cleaner electricity now and going forward, based on official filed documents at the CPUC.

    I understand that it would only cost roughly $50,000 to opt all Berkeley’s new EBCE residents to 100% GHG-free. That is roughly 40,000 metric tons of greenhouse gas emission reductions. Among a great many alternatives for achieving GHG reductions, some of which the City of Berkeley has already examined in detail, spending $1.25 per ton per year to achieve carbon neutral electricity supply throughout Berkeley seems like a total NO-BRAINER. At a minimum, this is worth revisiting with a more robust public discussion at the Berkeley City Council. That $1.25 figure (and cost) should decline in future years and perhaps go negative as state and local Scoping Plan measures continue to get implemented and as EBCE’s procurement team steps into the limelight.

    In the meantime, a few of us will find it darkly amusing that the Berkeley City Council’s (our board of local officials’) decision to not adopt KyotoUSA’s recommendations (i.e., an opt up), guarantees that the City of Berkeley’s GHG emissions will increase with almost every additional PG&E customer involuntarily opted into EBCE. We can do better in Berkeley. Let’s reconsider how best to begin our City’s involvement in EBCE.

    Speaking of nuclear, does anyone know whether EBCE customers will help pay to shut down Diablo before the end of its useful life? There were plenty of demands on PG&E to shut it down prematurely and I think PG&E finally agreed to do so. Perhaps, they no longer need the power. Ancient CEC modeling by CCAP predicted a 25% increase in grid GHG emissions if it were shut down but I think the make up power would be mandated to be renewable. So, just wondering – will CCA customers have to pay a portion of the shut down costs for decommissioning the DC nuke plant? Are these costs already addressed or might they find their way into the bills of EBCE customers in the future?

    Well Dave, that is all I have for now. I appreciate your observations. The Sierra Club has historically not played nearly as prominent a role as NRDC and other mainstream environmental groups at the CPUC. Will the Club take on a more substantive role in CPUC proceedings in the future given the tremendous new authority that the CPUC has over EBCE and other CCAs? Can we count on the Club to intervene at the CPUC to fight against unfair cost transfers from the utility to CCA customers?

  2. I am using “net charges”. I guess I am the only one here so I will call but based on the pop-ups on their site I assume a lot of other people are calling as well. Seems a bad sign when they can’t uphold their promise on the very first bill.

  3. Hi Dude. My guess is that when you’re doing the calculation, you are not using the “net charges” amount for EBCE’s charges. On the billing page for EBCE charges, you’ll find a line titled “net charges” – the “total” there includes some taxes that you’ll pay whether or not you are on EBCE service. A visual explanation for this can be found here: https://ebce.org/residential-billing-page/

  4. So I got my first bill under EBCE and I am not impressed. If I take (PG&E rate + PCIA + EBCE charges – generation credit) and compare that to the straight PG&E rate (both before taxes) I am seeing a less than 1% savings with EBCE Bright Choice. Yet I still see 1.5% savings advertised on the EBCE site. Are others seeing the same?

  5. The difference is that the others aren’t making what appears to be a false claim about the cleanliness of their power.

    Given the prior power mix, EBCE has no reasonable right to make the claim that it is offering cleaner power than PGE. But it is. It literally switched tens of thousands of customers without their consent who were told they are now getting cleaner energy…but they’re not.

    If EBCE wants to legitimately claim it has cleaner power than PGE, then it would need to put out a mid-year power mix statement that backs that claim.

    The solution, if EBCE did not have the contracts in September 2018 and does not want to put out a mid-year power mix statement, would be to drop all of the marketing saying it has cleaner power than PGE until at least September 2019 when it can support that claim. For now, EBCE should go on record that PGE is currently the cleaner power source but EBCE is hoping to take that mantle in 2019 if it’s able to get the contracts in place.

    I can understand why it would not want to do this, but there seems to be a civic obligation not to misrepresent the situation.

    When EBCE switches thousands of customers without their consent using the justificationn that they are providing cleaner power, then there is a reasonable expectation that they should either a) be able to demonstrate that fact or b) stop making that claim.

  6. Hi Mark – EBCE will provide the documentation annually, just as PG&E will. There are about 3,000 electric utilities in the U.S. and I’m not aware of any that disclose their power sources in real time, or monthly, or at any frequency more than an annual disclosure. Let me know if I’m mistaken, that’s just been my experience as someone working in the utilities sector for 20 years.

  7. Dan, what is odd to me is that EBCE is marketing its service as being cleaner than PG&E, but I can’t seem to get anyone to provide documentation that supports this claim. I suspect it’s not currently true. It would seem that if EBCE is marketing itself as cleaner, then it should be able to provide some documentation to demonstrate that.

    My understanding, at this point, is that EBCE switched over a whole lot of PG&E customers on the basis of cleaner power, but that PG&E is currently a cleaner power source than EBCE. There is a promise from EBCE that at some point EBCE will have contracts in place that make it cleaner than PG&E, but it currently is not. I don’t think that aligns with the marketing.

    If EBCE is marketing itself as cleaner than PG&E and switching customers over involuntarily on the premise that it is cleaner power, then it would seem that EBCE has an obligation to back that up with documentation of its current power mix.

  8. hi Mark- EBCE reports the power supply on the same timeline as PG&E. Neither agency reports power supply in real time, or even reports the power supply sources the same calendar year as consumption. Both PG&E and EBCE will issue an annual Power Content Label based on California Energy Commission requirements, but the disclosure won’t differentiate between unbundled RECs and bundled power. The PCL is published in the fall, and covers the prior calendar year. Details here: https://www.energy.ca.gov/pcl/power_content_label.html
    Typically, community choice energy aggregators like EBCE have provided more disclosure about energy sources than IOUs. For example, https://www.peninsulacleanenergy.com/energy-sources/. I expect that EBCE will provide similar detail, as power contracts are signed by EBCE in the wake of EBCE’s solicitation for California renewable energy supply.

  9. Dan, thanks for that reference. Very helpful and I appreciate you’re looking this up in the JPA on my account.

    At the end of the section you reference, there is a sentence that waives that 50% limit for generation from local facilities. So, to my understanding, if EBCE is marketing 100% renewable energy for one of its programs, a consumer believes they are getting 100% renewable energy but in reality, they might have be receiving up to 10% non-renewable energy (provided 5% comes from local generation).

    Given that the expectation is that EBCE will deliver just slightly ‘cleaner’ power than PG&E, that small difference may be in that range where the REC purchases are the only thing separating the two. For example, if EBCE were to be 32% renewables but 2% was RECs, and PGE were 31% renewables with no RECs, then EBCE would advertise itself as having a higher renewable mix than PGE, but PGE would actually have the higher renewable mix.

    To get past the hypotheticals, can you point me to the current power mix for EBCE today with REC numbers with its existing contracts? EBCE is advertising itself as cleaner than PG&E, and I would like to find some numbers that back that up.

  10. Hi Mark- there is a limit set by the California Public Utilities Commission that load serving entities use less than 10% unbundled RECs to meet the Renewable Portfolio Standard. So with a 30% RPS, an LSE could use up to 3% RECs. http://www.cpuc.ca.gov/RPS_Procurement_Rules_33/
    EBCE has a self-imposed policy to purchase no more than half the amount of unbundled RECs of what the CPUC allows for compliance with the state RPS. So that is a maximum of about 1.5% of EBCE’s purchases. That policy is in EBCE’s Joint Powers Agreement on page 15, the section entitled “Renewable Portfolio Standards”. The document is here: https://ebce.org/wp-content/uploads/EBCE_JPA_Agreement_12_1_16.pdf

  11. The question is not whether EBCE sells SRECs but whether it BUYS any RECs without also purchasing and selling the associated source power (or whether it contracts with someone doing so).

    People believe they are buying clean power, and they are being led to believe they are buying clean power, but they are potentially just buying RECs (marketing rights to market dirty power as clean).

    If EBCE purchases RECs and then claims those RECs in its power mix (the only reason I’m aware of to purchase RECs other than to resell them), then people are being misled.

    People believe they are buying clean power, not marketing credits for clean power someone else is consuming.

  12. Mind boggling response. Our local entity signed us up without our permission so we opted out of the higher rates MCE would have charged for something we don’t need or want.
    I really have serious doubts that rates can be held in check while the religious fanatics worship renewables. We are about as efficient and careful as can be and are are getting squeezed by the so-called ‘choices’.
    Want cheap clean energy and a transition from so-called fossil fuels-think nuclear power. All the solar and wind and batteries in the entire world could not power California.
    You have a steep learning curve my friend

  13. Everyone I talk with here welcomes Community Choice Energy for breaking up the monopoly of SCE over energy sourcing driven by shareholder interests. What Community Choice offers the future of our local community is unrelated to ‘open or closed grid’. For over a decade SCE has been forcing (despite community, City of Oxnard, and Ventura County Board of Supervisors repeated protest) energy sourcing that has been shown in detailed calculations to be guaranteed to increase rates over the coming decade and longer in comparison with actually less costly capital investment in DERs.

    See testimony to the PUC by Bill Powers Engineering analyses ftp://ftp2.cpuc.ca.gov/PG&E20150130ResponseToA1312012Ruling/2012/07/SB_GT&S_0557804.pdf and by Shute Mihaly Wineberger legal testimony http://docs.cpuc.ca.gov/PublishedDocs/Efile/G000/M225/K545/225545839.PDF to be

    Our local grassroots has been putting together a transition plan centered on solar/battery arrays at industrial corridors, community microgrids, with weatherization, commercial efficiency measures and Demand Response programs AND we expect significant longer term preferred resourcing from tidal/wave and offshore wind. We have the analyses of multiple engineers that this CAN be built with the help of the sourcing policies of our local Community Choice Aggregations over a period that can offer everyone the CHOICE of parity rates with SCE or 100% renewable energy for a not that much higher rate. The biggest upside is that in the decades to come our region will enjoy lower and lower rates for cleaner and cleaner energy than what we will have if SCE is the only option. Now we also have to be concerned that PUC is so much favoring SCE over CCAs that local community goals, especially the long-term goals to entirely transition away from natural gas and long-distance distribution, are being blocked.

    Marin Clean Power was required by law to provide four notices; we just received our first of four. That’s in state law. Maybe they did a bad job; the one we just got from CPA is badly designed. We thought they could learn how to better explain the CHOICES. You are right that how this is presented at the outset is extremely important.

    We appreciate all MCE’s pioneering work our program can learn from, especially regarding transparency and welcoming input of ratepayers. CCAs are an unusually democratic enterprise in our society in that people can show up and be on committees and vote out local leaders who don’t respond to majority wishes. People are shocked by the news that we now have grassroots democratic input into the provision of utilities. Being pioneers in making the new law a reality, it probably took MCE and the people of Marin County a while to effectively communicate about it. It’s a big extremely complex system and mind-boggling considerations for the people and their elected officials to suddenly realize they have to learn about.

  14. We were enrolled in Marin Clean Energy without our permission or knowledge. There were no savings whatsoever so we opted out. In fact I don’t believe electricity will go down unless and until PG&E is freed from the mandates. Besides the electric grid is an open system-why turn it into a closed one?

  15. Here is the status about rates at this time from the website: “Clean Power Alliance’s 2019 residential rates are established to meet standard bill comparison targets approved by our Board of Directors (1-2% cost savings for Lean Power, 0-1% savings for Clean Power, and 7-9% cost premium for 100% Green Power). These overall bill savings or premium—depending on which rate option the customer chooses—are in comparison to Southern California Edison’s (SCE) current base rates. SCE has proposed an increase of at least 12% to its base generation rates for 2019, as well as an increase to the exit fee charged to Clean Power Alliance customers, in order to make up for power market losses SCE experienced in 2018. If approved by the California Public Utilities Commission, SCE will likely implement these rate increases by April 2019. At that time, Clean Power Alliance will adjust its rates accordingly to continue to deliver the Board-approved bill comparison targets to our customers, offering cleaner power at competitive rates. Any future changes to Clean Power Alliance rates will be adopted at public meetings of our Board of Directors. The rates available below are for electric generation/supply only.” So people whose income is too high to qualify for CARE or FERA and don’t want to pay any more than they’ve been paying can opt down to the “Clean Power” package that has 50% renewable energy.

  16. It sounds like higher rates. Given the pressure PG&E and ratepayers are under I’d like to see the GHG-free mandates rolled back and rate increases held in check.
    “Those renewable and carbon free megawatts” are a small part of the pie- a pie most can’t afford and/or don’t want to eat.

  17. PG&E and the other investor-owned utilities count their renewable and carbon-free generation by volume in megawatts. The only reason PG&E can claim 75% for these is the departure of CCA customers. Those renewable and carbon-free megawatts become a larger part of PG&E’s pie.

    As a result, CCAs are increasing the share of GHG-free energy both directly for themselves by purchases from clean energy sources and their own renewables development, and indirectly for PG&E.

  18. PG&E includes information on its recorded emissions intensity and forecast emissions intensity in its filings with the CPUC when making its application for rate changes. I’ve extracted the relevant pages from its most recent submission (11/16/18) that you can find on the KyotoUSA website here: https://www.kyotousa.org/documents/view/116

    Some will argue that the emissions intensity forecasts are unreliable and that we won’t know what the actual figures are until the California Energy Commission has completed its audit of electricity sales. Nevertheless, the emissions intensity trend has been consistently downward the last few years and is bringing PG&E very close to delivering a carbon free product. Given our need to eliminate all GHGs as quickly as possible, it seems only prudent and rational for EBCE to do so as well. There are no impediments preventing EBCE from providing GHG free power. Other CCAs (Silicon Valley Clean Energy, CleanPowerSF, and Monterey Bay Community Power) are already doing so. And 12 California cities and counties have signed up for 100% renewable power. The City of Berkeley could eliminate 40,000 metric tons of GHGs annually virtually overnight by moving to 100% renewable power which in turn would drive the construction of more solar, wind, and energy storage facilities within California and the region.

  19. Our Community Choice Aggregation (CCA) in Ventura County, the Clean Power Alliance (CPA) , will soon serve my unincorporated area. People trust the CPA Board of Directors a LOT more than we could ever trust SoCal Edison. Certainly not everything the city councils have done has been great for the environment, but all the votes of our CPA Board members have been in favor of accelerating development of resilient local sources of cleaner energy. This is important for us being near the northern end of the SCE grid with high-wires sparking fires.

    I can list a dozen actions by SoCal Edison to block the development of renewables over the last decade in favor of making us more dependent on their long-distance distribution lines and refusing to underground in high-risk areas.

    We like that the CPA staffing structure is fairly paid and qualified, but no fat-cats on routine lobby trips to SF and Sacramento to specify the favors from PUC and CEC. CPA is not beholden to stockholders like the behemoth IOU. Profits that could be as much as 10 per cent of revenues, that have historically be eaten up by SCE waste and profits, will be reinvested locally.

    Ratepayers have no way to express preferences in resource planning to the IOU’s. We just voted out several local electeds in Ventura and Oxnard and other cities who weren’t putting a priority on emissions reduction. You can’t vote out the SoCal Edison leadership. Lack of transparency and undercover trickery means you don’t even know what they’re up to until the damage is done. We’ve tried for decades to get away from long-distance, utility scale, gas-fired electricity. SoCal Edison has always done the opposite of what we clearly knew would be in the best long-term interests for ratepayers. We have a lot more control over our energy sourcing with our new CCA starting with their decisions to set the default at 100% renewable energy. There will be a third-party study and transparent discussion about how its going and what should be changed. We have a Community Advisory Committee who will speak up for ratepayers, especially low-income people and for the need for just transition for utility workers. Would this happen with SoCal Edison? Not!!!!

    We have a good news story here that an 8 per cent higher electric bill as the default is by far the cheapest way to reduce one’s carbon footprint and that CARE and FERA customers will get that 100 per cent renewable energy product at parity with current SoCal Edison bills besides their low-income discount. We are happy about what our CCA brings that we did not have with the IOU–transparency, a pathway to input and reciprocity, efficiency, equity and priority on rapidly accelerated emissions reduction.

  20. This explanation is very helpful. Thanks Tom!

    I reiterate that your advice earlier this year to opt up (asterisk free) was excellent advice to cities/EBCE members. It remains as good advice today.

    I do not see any objections in this discussion, nor in other discussions, to Tom’s proposed opt ups. I would recommend to Berkeley electeds that they conduct a Berkeley Considers community survey on opting up to 100% renewable. I speculate that we’d find there was a surprising level of pent up demand to do more to advance clean energy. Address that demand by using Tom’s recommendations!

    Tom, where did those projected PG&E 2019 figures come from? Wow! All utilities must be closely watching the spectacular exponential rise of carbon-free electricity and electrification in California.

    I want to caution some who might be tempted to compare PG&E’s projected 2019 GHG profile with EBCE’s 2018 GHG profile. That would be an apples to oranges comparison, and would be as misleading as comparing EBCE’s projected 2018 mix with PG&E’s 2017 actual mix.

    The best use of PG&E’s projected 2019 mix is as Tom suggested – to design and implement new and improved EBCE products.

  21. I take it that Greg San Martin misread “It became clear . . . that EBCE’s Bright Choice program would offer GHG-free content that was . . . likely lower than PG&E in 2018.” to mean lower in renewables/carbon-free. It might be that it’s lower in price. Actually, EVCE’s Bright Choice is 85% renewables + carbon-free ( https://ebce.org/power-mix/ ) compared to PG&E’s claimed 78% ( https://www.pge.com/en_US/about-pge/environment/what-we-are-doing/clean-energy-solutions/clean-energy-solutions.page ). PG&E’s 27% nuclear has problems of its own, not to mention GHG from mining and transportation of fuel.

    Besides, EBCE plans to develop local renewable power sources and other programs here in its territory, which will employ local workers and contribute to the local economy. ( https://ebce.org/local-development-business-plan/ ). As a joint powers agency, it’s governed by a board of local officials.

  22. I’m pleased to see such a robust discussion of EBCE and especially of its default product called “Bright Choice”. I’d like to add some detail to Greg San Martin’s comments that may help to clarify where things stand vis-a-vis the carbon content of Bright Choice.

    The good news for Californians is that the greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) associated with electricity have been falling steadily. And the renewable content of that electricity has been steadily rising. The result of that process has made it more difficult for Community Choice Energy programs to make claims that their default product offerings are “cleaner and greener” than the electricity delivered by the local investor owned utility (e.g. PG&E).

    In February 2018, EBCE’s Board of Directors voted on the energy mix and discount for Bright Choice. Staff initially recommended 35% renewable and 35% hydro (70% GHG free) with the rest of the mix (30%) made up of “unspecified power” which has a “carbon intensity” of 0.428 MT CO₂e/MWh. Unspecified sources means that the source can’t be identified. If it could, it would take on the carbon intensity of that source. To their credit, the EBCE Board – recognizing that PG&E’s 2017 electricity was about 78% GHG free decided to change the power mix to 38% renewable and 47% hydro (85% GHG free) and 15% unspecified power. Ben Foster and I had estimated the carbon free content of PG&E electricity for 2018 to be 85%-88%.

    At some point later this year, it appears that EBCE staff made a decision to reduce the percentage of Board approved large hydro in Bright Choice from 47% to 24% and replace that 23% reduction with unspecified power from a source called an Asset Controlling Supplier (ACS). There are 3 companies that are approved by the California Air Resources Board to provide ACS power. ACS power comes mainly from large hydro but has other sources that produce carbon emissions. As a result, there is a “carbon intensity” associated with ACS power. It is my understanding that this power is coming from a company called BC Hydro and has a carbon intensity for 2019 of 0.0254 MT CO₂e/MWh. So, this form of “unspecified power” is relatively clean, but it is not carbon free as implied by EBCE. Effectively, Bright Choice is not 85% carbon free, but something less.

    What I do find troublesome with EBCE’s statements about the carbon emissions associated with Bright Choice can be found in the Power Content Label (PCL) sent out to customers as part of the notice requirements and what is found on EBCE’s website. The PCL sent to customers indicates that Bright Choice is 62% carbon free and 38% unspecified power. That is a correct statement. However, on the PCL listed on EBCE’s website (https://ebce.org/power-mix/) there is an extra footnote to the unspecified power which states:
    “***Unspecified sources of power include power provided by Asset Controlling Suppliers (ACS). EBCE is forecasting that 23% of its generation mix will come from the BC Hydro system, which is a form of ACS and carbon-free large hydroelectric power.”

    This statement is misleading and may lead a reader to believe that Bright Choice has 47% hydro which it does not.

    In addition, PG&E has filed documents with the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) that forecasts that its 2019 electricity will have a carbon intensity of 0.005 MT CO₂e/MWh which makes its electricity virtually carbon free.

    EBCE does have a way to fix this situation. It could change it’s default product for 2019 to Brilliant 100 (40% renewable/60% hydro). Alternatively, cities could tell EBCE that they wish to “opt up” all customer classes (municipal, residential, non-residential) to the 100% renewable product and allow price sensitive customers to “opt down” to Brilliant 100. That would allow each city to make a big dent in their overall carbon emissions and speed the transition to 100% renewable power. 10 jurisdictions in the LA area served by Clean Power Alliance have already done so (https://www.greenbydefault.org/). Jurisdictions within EBCE have the option to opt up customer classes now and in my view should be discussing that option as soon as possible. If cities wait too long, EBCE will be locked into long term power contracts that will make it less likely that citywide changes will be possible.

    Tom Kelly
    KyotoUSA

  23. Hi Dan,

    I have faith that EBCE will succeed, but I also want to guard against the potential reliance on potentially false marketing claims as a basis for that success.

    In mid-November, Tom Kelly and Ben Foster submitted a fine new study (published in October 2018) to the Berkeley City Council. It is very difficult to find public communications noticed on Berkeley’s CC agenda. A variation of the report is found at KyotoUSA:
    https://www.kyotousa.org/app_pages/view/113

    The 22 page report submitted to the City Council a month ago states:
    “It became clear . . . that EBCE’s Bright Choice program would offer GHG-free content that was . . . likely lower than PG&E in 2018.”

    In other words, EBCE’s default Bright Choice product would be a lot less clean than PG&E’s default mix. The report projected a GHG-free mix of only 62% for EBCE in 2018 (compared to 88% for PG&E). This data was labeled “as of September 24, 2018.”

    This is confusing because the KyotoUSA report also states that in February 2018, the EBCE board had a discussion that led to a decision to increase the GHG-free levels from 70% to 85%. Not 62%, but 70%. This suggests that EBCE knew almost the entire year that its projected mix for 2018 was not projected to be as clean as PG&E’s mix. Am I reading this correctly?

    All of the EBCE customer communications to date seem say the opposite – i.e., that EBCE’s mix is cleaner than PG&E’s mix. That EBCE was able to move its needle 15 to 23 percentage points higher (if that is in fact what happened) seems like good evidence that EBCE can do so in the future too. But this begs the question, what was the GHG intensity of the contracted power in accordance with ARB and CEC reporting and audit protocols?

    When exactly did the EBCE board decide to reduce its level of GHG emissions to close to where PG&E is projected to be – i.e., 85% vs PG&E’s 88%. The KyotoUSA report is not clear whether it was February or after mid-November. If in February, then has EBCE known throughout the year that PG&E’s default mix was projected to be cleaner than EBCE’s projected mix? Which contracts bridged the gap between 62% and the newly claimed 85%? And when were those contracts signed?

    I want to make sure that no liberties are taken in estimating an updated GHG-free emission rate for Bright Choice. My understanding from past experience is that the default emission factor of 0.428 MT CO₂e/MWh must be applied to “unspecified” electricity purchases. This compares to the much more favorable BPA rate for specified power of 0.0129 MT CO2e per MWh. What proportion of the newly contracted power was from unspecified sources? Is the lower rate being applied to unspecified power?

    We are projected to have a big hydro year in 2019, and I expect that will bump PG&E’s GHG-free mix into the 90%+ range in 2019. 2019 begins in two weeks. When will EBCE have a projected GHG profile for its 2019 sales (or if available, where is it)?

    It seems possible, if not likely that that PG&E’s mix will be lower in GHG than EBCE’s mix in 2018, 2019 and perhaps in subsequent years. We will not know how the two utilities compare in 2018 until September 2019, is that right?

    Despite the information presented in the KyotoUSA report, the questionable marketing statements continue, such as in this Berkeleyside article:

    CM HAHN: “[Establishing a CCE] is the single most powerful thing we can do as a community to reduce our carbon footprint. Essentially with one flip of a switch, the entire community will be accessing cleaner energy than they obtain through PG&E, at a lower price.”

    These statements are true if many or all customers voluntarily enroll in the more expensive EBCE program. As general statements, these statements seem speculative at best. Due to statements like these, most customers (i.e., the 97% that KyotoUSA predicts will remain in the least cost EBCE option, BrightChoice) seem likely to conclude perhaps incorrectly that EBCE enrollment will automatically result in lower GHG emissions for themselves and for the city. In fact, the weight of evidence seems to suggest that Bright Choice enrollment will increase Berkeley’s GHG emissions rate in 2018 and 2019 and perhaps in subsequent years. Did the Mayor and CM Hahn understand this before issuing these statements?

    In November, the KyotoUSA report (and EBCE?) recommended placing every involuntary customer into the higher priced Brilliant 100 program by default. In hindsight, that was excellent advice because it seems the alternative is that EBCE may remain as the dirtier option for the foreseeable future, always promising more but delivering less. Since we were all involuntarily enrolled in EBCE, perhaps we can just flip a switch and involuntarily bump up all EBCE customers to B100?

    I would like to see EBCE marketing statements stand up to third party scrutiny. In particular, I want to see EBCE’s GHG marketing claims verified in accord with CEC’s audit protocols. If the claims that were made were inaccurate or misleading, then there should be consequences.

    Again, I have faith that EBCE will end up doing great things locally even if other jurisdictions fall further behind. That is what leadership means, right?

  24. Isn’t battery production intensely toxic to the environment? The batteries themselves are a nightmare to dispose of properly and are loaded with toxins. Seems like we may be just trading one environmental damage for another.

  25. Unfortunately, this is in no way equivalent to going solar. All you are doing is paying a premium to the power company for the right to say you went solar from a person who already went solar. This has little to no impact on carbon emissions. It is, to avoid mincing words, a legal scam.

    People who go solar receive SRECs which are marketing credits for each kWh they produce. They can sell these to a power company. The idea is that the power company is theoretically ‘buying’ their clean power but they’re not. The power is allowed to be sold separately from the marketing credits or used by the producer. That’s the shady part. If you install a solar array that generates 100kWh of solar, you can use that 100 kWh, and then sell an SREC to a power company for 100kWh of clean power allowing the power company to legally claim that 100kWh of their coal or natural gas based power is carbon free. It’s nonsense. And it’s legal.

    It is a way of selling the same ‘clean’ power twice. The person who installed solar feels like he’s saving the environment because he generated 100kWh of solar. You separately feel like you’re saving the environment because you’re buying 100kWh of supposedly clean power at a premium. But the amount of solar being used is the exact same as if you’d done nothing. There is still just 100kWh of solar being generated.

    You’re buying the right to market someone else’s efforts. It’s kind of emblematic of our times.

    Theoretically, marketing credits could result in a slight increase in green energy production IF everyone needed to market their energy consumption and IF the regulatory requirements were so hard to meet that RECs became incredibly valuable. But that’s not the situation. Individuals, big energy companies, and many companies in states that have minimal clean energy requirements have clean energy to spare. So, everyone can go right on doing what they were doing before, and just sell the RECs they don’t need to whoever wants to make (and more importantly, sell) a marketing claim about how clean their energy is.

    And BTW, as you’d expect, the power companies make more money because they can sell “clean” energy at a premium.

    The whole thing stinks.

  26. The most recent Alameda Municipal Power content label on their site has them at 60% unspecified sources of power. Assuming this is also spot market and mostly natural gas, then they’d come out about 300% worse than PGE for carbon emissions. Their claim to fame is that they’re very cheap (probably related to their willingness to buy power from any source) https://www.alamedamp.com/ghg-power-content-label

    Palo Alto and Silicon Valley Power power labels show clean power but it’s impossible to tell as they just report that they offset 100% of their dirty power with RECs (marketing credits purchased from a clean energy provider that is selling electricity to someone else who doesn’t need to market it as clean).

    Fun fact I just learned: Alameda Municipal Power has been around since 1887. It’s older than PG&E by 18 years.

  27. Thanks for the response. Is there anywhere that we can get the current mix? Or will we not be able to find out what the actual power mix is until September 2019?

  28. Dan, you seem quite knowledgeable about this. Can you comment on Mark’s concerns (or have you already elsewhere)? Specifically, when someone opts into cleaner power with EBCE, can that just mean PG&E sends cleaner power here and sends the same amount of less-clean power to areas that don’t have EBCE, so overall the same amounts of each kind of power get used?

  29. Without so much as a “by your leave” parts of CoCo county were enrolled in a similar scheme. We opted out and, given the pressure PG&G as well as ratepayers are under, only hope they can buy electricity at the cheapest rates-no matter what the source-it all goes on the grid.

  30. I guess the question is what percentage of the spot market is coal, rather than what percentage of overall usage is coal. My uninformed guess would be that clean power would sell under contract first and that dirtier power would be more likely to sell on the spot market.

    Are there current numbers for EBCE’s actual power mix somewhere?

  31. Mark – I just realized I didn’t reply to your final question. EBCE will disclose our power supply mix historically on an annual basis via the mailing of a Power Content Label to each of our customers every September, just as PG&E does. We’ll also post that info on our website.

  32. Ah, 23% of the total mix is BC Hydro, not 23% of the 38%. Thanks for clarifying that.

    So, as I understand it, EBCE has 15% of its power coming from unspecified sources (mainly the spot market). If that is entirely natural gas, then EBCE come in lower than PGE for carbon output. If that is entirely coal, then EBCE comes in higher than PGE for carbon output. Depending on the mix, it’s unclear if EBCE or PGE will have a lower carbon output.

    With 15% of EBCE’s energy coming from unspecified sources, it seems like it will be impossible to determine which is cleaner. And depending upon the actual spot market purchases, it may be substantially cleaner or substantially dirtier. Are the average components of the spot market in CA available somewhere?

    Also, do you have access to similar data to EBCE’s table for the current energy mix as of December 2018? The table shows a “forecast of the power mix”. It would be useful to know what the actual mix is.

    Thanks.

  33. Gregory, you might note that the original article, from which that quote was derived, was published in April, before EBCE started service to any customers. That is noted in this current article, but it does seem out of context to print the same quote now.

  34. hi Mark- Coal isn’t supplying much of California’s power anymore. According to the California Energy Commission (https://www.energy.ca.gov/renewables/tracking_progress/documents/declining_reliance_coal.pdf), in-state coal was only 0.1% of annual supply in 2017, and including imports California’s electric supply was only 4.1% coal, and that has historically been consumed in southern California. That number is on a steady decline, so likely even lower in 2018. PG&E’s Power Content Label has zero coal (https://www.pge.com/pge_global/common/pdfs/your-account/your-bill/understand-your-bill/bill-inserts/2018/10-18_PowerContent.pdf).

  35. Gregory, you might note that the original article, from which that quote was derived, was published in April, before EBCE started service to any customers. That is noted in this current article, but it does seem out of context to print the same quote now.

  36. Hi Mark. Please allow me to clarify. The table (https://ebce.org/power-mix/) lists 38% of our power in 2018 is forecast to be derived from unspecified sources. The footnote to the table states that 23% of the unspecified power is forecast to come from BC Hydro system, hydropower from British Columbia. That leaves 15% as truly unspecified, likely spot market purchases of a mix that is predominantly natural gas. We expect that our Bright Choice service will have a similar (slightly lower) emissions factor as PG&E’s power supply.

  37. Agree 100%. Buried in the article is this line:

    “EBCE has not yet determined exactly where the clean energy will be sourced from, but the agency is currently soliciting and reviewing proposals, Henderson said.”

    Please Natalie look into this and write a follow up?

  38. Thanks for that Dan. That would mean that approximately 29% of EBCE’s standard energy mix will be natural gas (the remaining 77% (after BC Hydro is taken out) of the 38% listed as “unspecified”). EBCE’s 29% carbon based power compares to the 20% carbon based power in PG&E’s standard energy mix.

    In other words, even if we accept that these energy mix numbers are meaningful (and we probably shouldn’t because they’re not), EBCE is selling a substantially dirtier energy mix pushing about 45% more carbon into the air than PG&E for the same power (!!!!).

    …and all the while, marketing themselves as providing cleaner power.

    I could probably stomach this under ‘caveat emptor’, just typical misleading marketing, except that EBCE slammed (to use the telecom term) every resident and business in Alameda County by switching them without their consent.

    How many Alameda County residents would be happy to learn that their elected officials moved every local resident and business by fiat to a power company whose power mix has a higher carbon output?

    And that their local politicians gave themselves seats on the Board of this company? And presumably pay themselves salaries for doing so (anyone know how much)? And have given themselves the authority to direct the profits of this company to whatever allies they see fit?

    We’re being bamboozled here.

  39. Natalie, can you or someone at Berkeleyside investigate this argument and run a story exploring/confirming/debunking it?

  40. Hi Mark- If you look at the footnote to the Electric Power Generation Mix table on the link I sent, you’ll see that for EBCE: “Unspecified sources of power include power provided by Asset Controlling Suppliers (ACS). EBCE is forecasting that 23% of its generation mix will come from the BC Hydro system, which is a form of ACS and carbon-free large hydroelectric power.” Otherwise, “unspecified” is recorded for purchase made in the spot market, which in today’s market is largely from natural gas facilities. I hope that info helps. EBCE will report our actual electric supply historically on an annual basis, as PG&E does.

  41. Based on Dan’s link and EBCE’s numbers, PGE standard service appears to be substantially more climate friendly than EBCE’s standard service:

    PGE: Renewable + Large Hydro + Nuclear = 78%
    EBCE: Renewable + Large Hydro + Nuclear = 62%

    This isn’t really the number that matters though. What really matters is the carbon content of the non-clean energy sources.

    With PGE that’s 20% Natural Gas + some portion of its 2% Unspecified sources of power.

    With EBCE, it’s 0% Natural Gas + some portion of 38% Unspecified…meaning that it could be 38% Coal or 38% Solar, we have no idea.

    Taking the worst case of ‘unspecified’ being entirely coal for both PGE and EBCE, then EBCE’s carbon footprint would be about 300% higher (!!) than PGE. If unspecified were entirely natural gas, then EBCE’s carbon footprint would be about 70% worse (!) than PGE.

    I honestly think the reality of what’s being provided versus what we’re being told deserves more attention. .

  42. The track record of public power entities such as municipal utilities and community choice energy aggregators like EBCE is very good – they generally have lower rates and greener power than investor-owned utilities like PG&E. Look at Silicon Valley Power, City of Palo Alto Utilities, Alameda Municipal Power, etc. Like those utilities, EBCE is operated by energy-industry experts, not elected officials. And in full disclosure, I work at EBCE.

  43. Dan, you miss the point. The point, more clearly, is that I don’t trust elected officials to get anything done promptly, efficiently and cost-effectively. Do you?

  44. Just to be clear, solar thermal with molten salt storage (heated up to 1000 deg. F) is actively being used in Nevada and around the world. Obviously it’s more suited to deserts and areas with plenty of solar access and wide expanses. The thermal energy stored in the molten salt is then used to drive steam turbines and dispatch power any time of day, including when the sun doesn’t shine.
    I’ve heard that pumped storage is one of the cheapest ways to store intermittent renewable resources (and one of the reasons that a consortium is looking in to using Hoover Dam as a giant battery). That said, batteries need not be grid scale like these other solutions and can serve as a backup power during outages for home solar systems, as well as dispatched during peak demand.

  45. PG&E’s procurement and sales of power have been a pass-through activity for many years. In 1982 the CPUC “decoupled” profits from sales. So PG&E should be neutral in terms of profits.

  46. Can anyone tell us how much each of the public officials will be paid for sittling on the Board?

  47. This is almost entirely smoke and mirrors as best I can tell. It’s extremely complicated, and I don’t begin to claim to fully understand it, but digging into it, there seems to be little to no difference in options or power supplied. EBCE contracts with many of the same providers including wholesale purchases from PGE. The whole thing is a marketing gimmick where companies that want to claim clean energy pay companies that don’t need to make that claim to ‘use’ their electricity. Nothing really changes. Some guy in Stockton now supposedly has “dirtier” power so politicians and slacktivists in Berkeley can claim they have “clean” power…but everyone goes right on using the same energy.

    Theoretically, if there is a massive new demand for clean power, this might motivate someone to build clean energy that doesn’t exist…but because of existing CA climate goals, these facilities were already being built. It’s a shell game. Move the clean power onto this bill, move the dirty power onto this other bill, and charge anyone who wants to say they’re 100% green a little extra. The guy in some other city who doesn’t care about his power mix gets a little dirtier energy and various business s make more while selling the EXACT SAME power.

    It gets worse. By law, a provider can source its power from a coal fired plant and claim he is sourcing it from a clean energy source simply by purchasing a credit. Those credits can be sold by actual clean energy producers who sell the credit separately from the power.

    For example, if you have solar, you can use the electricity you produce yourself and sell the credit to a coal fired power company who then claims they used your clean electricity. Only one person can claim the power they used was clean, but since you don’t care about marketing your solar usage, you have no need for the credit. Ta dah! Clean energy!!

    The key point is that NO extra clean energy was created in this transaction. A company that wants to market itself as using clean energy just played a (legally sanctioned) accounting game to say he used your energy and you used his.

    The only real difference I see with EBCE is that you now have local politicians sitting on the board of directors of a newly minted power company they created by fiat. You are also now liable for all the long term contracts PGE entered while you were a customer AND if you switch back, all the long term contracts EBCE entered while you were a customer. Congratulations. This was decided by the CPUC a month ago. It shows up on your bill as the PCIA.

    Ultimately, the politicians have given themselves the power to switch you to their service at your expense without your approval and the ability to redirect funds back to salaries and projects of their choosing…because, of course, politicians would never abuse such power.

  48. Do we have a plan on how to dispose of depleted batteries in a ecologically friendly way yet? It seems we’ve needed one for a long time now, especially since the battery-operated cars came out.

  49. That’s interesting! I guess I must have opted out, since my December bill shows PG&E provided my electricity. I was absolutely delighted to find that PG&E applied a sum equal to almost double my usual bill *total! The only explanation I find is this: “Your gas bill for this month reflects a credit amount from your last bill, which may be due in part to the California Climate Credit included in the ‘Adjustments’ section of your last month’s gas bill.” The credit I got is at least five times more than my monthly gas bill, so I have to wonder where the rest of the credit came from. As it is, I still have a substantial credit toward what I’ll be asked to pay for the total bill in January 🙂 Sometimes, you just have to say, “Thank you” and smile 🙂

  50. EBCE provides generation service only; PG&E will deliver the power. So, yes, EBCE will not be maintaining any poles, that’s PG&E’s job.

  51. Hey East Bay and Berkeley– you can go solar in about 15 minutes through your new energy company.

    If you’re concerned about pollution and global warming and want to do
    something about it now, sign up for 100% Renewable or 100% Carbon Free
    energy from your new power company, East Bay Community Energy (EBCE).
    The switch takes about 15 minutes. You will need your PG&E Account Number.
    Sign up is at https://ebce.org/opt-up/ . The cost is about the same as your old PG&E rates.

    East Bay Community Energy (EBCE) became the power supplier for most of
    Alameda County, including Berkeley residents, on November 1. EBCE is a
    local, community-controlled non-profit company. Your power bills will
    still come from PG&E, but your electrical *supplier* will be from
    EBCE. EBCE’s rates are predicted to be cheaper than PG&E. PG&E
    remains your natural gas provider.

    To switch to 100% Carbon Free or 100% Renewable Energy, do the following.
    You’ll need your PG&E Account Number, so find your PG&E Bill or find it on
    https://www.pge.com/.

    1. Point your browser to https://ebce.org/
    2. “Brilliant 100” is 100% Carbon Free. “Renewable 100” is 100% renewable. View the differences at https://ebce.org/residents/. The price of either plan is similar or less than your old PG&E rates.
    3. Click on “Opt-Up” at the top of the page, and fill out the form to upgrade to “Brilliant 100” or “Renewable 100”.

    Thanks all!

    (I’ve been sharing the above post on Facebook and elsewhere. I want to get more people signed up for green energy to help combat global warming. It’s very easy to do. Please share!)

  52. I confess to a worry that this is mostly a distraction and a waste of time. PG&E has offered an option to buy 100% greenhouse gas free power, and is itself already 80% greenhouse gas free, and is transitioning to fully greenhouse gas free. I will change my tune if EBCE establishes new rate schedules that encourage lower energy use and emissions. Can we get a rate schedule that reduces the electricity cost for street lights if they have a dimming schedule? We are going to need new greenhouse free power to replace existing fossil fuel units, and possibly to provide new growth (electric cars anyone?). EBCE has to buy power from PG&E or some other provider. Will they pony up the money to install solar PV on municipal parking lots? The Berkeley facilities parking lot below Sacramento street has enough area to be able to provide considerably more than 100 kw. Is switching to EBCE just a change in bureaucracy, or will it actually mean action.

  53. Diurnal storage may be economic with batteries, but longer term storage is not (at least not yet). There is some interesting work on thermal storage, and in the production of chemical fuels from feedstock and electric power that may provide these solutions.

  54. It kind of looks to me like PG&E is giving up most of the income they’ve been getting from us, yet will continue to be profitable, despite still having to maintain the physical grid. Does this mean they were charging us much too much for the service they were providing before? Or is it all just done with smoke and mirrors?

  55. More seriously, the price of batteries is going down so rapidly that it is going to be the main form of energy storage. It is already cheaper in many places to build wind energy with battery storage than to use coal.

  56. “EBCE’s board of directors, consisting of an elected official from each participating city, . . . ”

    That’s all I need to know. I can read the article from 2020 now, “EBCE didn’t maintain a single pole in 2019.”