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Local jurisdictions take steps in forming new authority to buy and sell green power.

By Sara Rubin

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Patrick Mathews, general manager of Salinas Valley Solid Waste Authority, envisions landfills going the way of soda cans. What was once treated as a useless trash heap could be a resource. 

SVSWA partnered with Mass.-based Ameresco to build a landfill gas-to-energy plant, completed about a month ago, on the Johnson Canyon landfill in Gonzales. The $2 million-plant will generate enough electricity to power 1,600 homes – in Palo Alto. 

Palo Alto’s Municipal Utility District will pay a better rate than Pacific Gas & Electric, so they’ll ship the power north. “There’s no way to sell our power to the local market,” Mathews says. 

That could change if Monterey Bay jurisdictions agree to form a regional authority and exercise Community Choice Aggregation, becoming wholesale buyers and sellers of green energy. 

CCAs function like public utilities when it comes to procuring power, but would still rely on PG&E to transmit power and manage billing. That’s how it works in Marin County, the only California county with an operational CCA. There, ratepayers can opt to pay an extra penny per kilowatt-hour for a 100-percent green energy supply. 

Gine Johnson, environmental adviser to Santa Cruz County Supervisor Bruce McPherson and manager of the burgeoning regional CCA, says a CCA can pay local power-generators – like homeowners with solar panels on the roof, or the Johnson Canyon landfill – a competitive rate. 

“A government entity doesn’t have same overhead as PG&E, and doesn’t pay shareholder dividends,” she says. 

PG&E spent $46 million pushing a 2010 ballot initiative that would’ve stopped CCAs. 

“We do respect the energy choices that are available to our communities and local governments,” PG&E spokesperson Nicole Liebelt says. By way of green credentials, Liebelt says nearly 60 percent of PG&E’s power mix comes from carbon-free, renewable or greenhouse gas-free sources, including solar, hydro and nuclear. 

So far, Monterey and Santa Cruz counties, and the cities of Seaside, Watsonville, Capitola, Scotts Valley and Santa Cruz have passed resolutions supporting moving forward with a feasibility study, the first step toward forming a CCA. 

Along with SVSWA, the Monterey Regional Waste Management District and the Monterey Bay Unified Air Pollution Control District, each city and county has a representative serving on a technical advisory committee. Their first public meeting is on June 6 in Santa Cruz. 

The advisory group is hoping to raise $150,000 in private donations through the Community Foundation for Santa Cruz County to fund the feasibility study.

Participating Local Partners as of May 2013

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