For quite a long time, Sonoma County residents have lived with a single electricity provider (PG&E) without any choice of where their power comes from. Beginning in May of this year, that will all change, when Sonoma Clean Power (SCP) starts service for a little more than 20,000 customers with two distinct energy products.
The default service, called CleanStart, has 30 percent lower greenhouse emissions than PG&E’s service and costs 2 to 3 percent less. It’s a big win for the county, because it advances environmental goals while saving everyone money, making it an easy choice. But the more exciting part of SCP is a product that’s never been offered anywhere in California before. EverGreen is an optional power product that will provide 100 percent renewable electricity from sources inside Sonoma County for a premium of about 20 percent on your power bill. And it all starts with something as odd as a toilet.
Local clean energy
After people in Santa Rosa and Windsor flush their toilets, the wastewater gets treated like normal at Santa Rosa’s Subregional Water Reuse System. Then a series of pumps known as the Geysers Recharge Project drives the treated water up to Calpine Corporation’s geothermal steam fields in a dormant volcano on the northern border of Sonoma County and down into a fissure deep into the earth. Hot rocks turn the water into steam, which expands, turning a set of turbines and producing clean geothermal power.
It’s special, because geothermal power operates all of the time. Most renewable sources can’t do that. Solar power can’t run at night, and wind power can’t run when skies are calm. As a result, this geothermal power is an ideal and reliable starting point for building Sonoma County’s clean power mix.
Because of the benefits EverGreen will provide to the local economy, SCP is offering it to everyone in the participating cities of Windsor, Cotati, Sebastopol, Santa Rosa and Sonoma and all of the unincorporated areas of the county—even if they’re not eligible for CleanStart yet. The cities of Petaluma, Rohnert Park and Cloverdale are currently not participating in Sonoma Clean Power, so customers in those areas won’t be able to sign up. And the city of Healdsburg already has its own power utility.
SCP’s launch has been incredibly smooth for a new public agency taking on a major service function, and much of that success is due to the support of early leaders. Work to educate elected officials, environmental and labor groups and local business leaders was critical, as was early political backing from the county Board of Supervisors and the Sonoma County Water Agency. SCP also received valuable startup funding from First Community Bank of Santa Rosa.
From the first feasibility study onward, SCP proponents watched and learned from the pioneering Marin Clean Energy (MCE) program, which launched three years ago. The most successful elements of that program were copied, and the areas that needed improvement were changed. As an example, MCE negotiated its initial power supply contract with a single supplier, while SCP maintained a competitive bid process (which came down to the final hour), helping keep early power supply costs lower than it likely would have received through negotiation alone.
Early on, when traveling the county and talking about SCP, those working to establish the utility encountered a number of common questions that, when answered in words, met with only limited success. An example is, “Are you replacing PG&E?” After trying many different ways to explain SCP would be partnering with PG&E to deliver power from greener sources, SCP instead developed a simple picture of how it works, and suddenly it just clicked.
About Sonoma Clean Power
SCP was formed through an alliance of environmental and business interests looking to create a profitable way to support environmental benefits (see “Power Play,” Sept. 2013). SCP partners with PG&E to deliver power, which guarantees the same reliability you’re already used to. In simple terms, SCP fills the wires with cleaner power and PG&E delivers it. Customers will still call PG&E to start and stop service and report outages and emergencies. They’ll also continue to receive just one bill from PG&E every month with all power charges.
Using a phased approach, the first 20,000 accounts, most of them commercial, will be eligible for SCP service starting in May, and will be enrolled in the 33 percent renewable CleanStart product. Those customers will have an opportunity to stay with CleanStart, sign up for EverGreen or opt out and stay with PG&E. Only customers who are eligible for service and who have received an enrollment letter can opt out. Phases II and III, each with about 60,000 primarily residential accounts, will be enrolled in early 2015 and 2016, respectively.
A strong start
At SCP, we’re excited about what’s coming. Over the next three years, we’ll be investing more than $20 million back into Sonoma County for power contracts and program administration, including staff, consultants, rent and local services. If the response to our 100 percent local product, EverGreen, is as strong as we believe it will be, we’ll be investing even more back into the county.
Geof Syphers is CEO of Sonoma Clean Power. For answers to frequently asked questions including detailed rate information, discount programs, information for solar customers and more, visit sonomacleanpower.org.
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Located at 1410 Neotomas Ave. in Santa Rosa,NorthBay biz magazine is a monthly business-to-business publication covering Napa, Sonoma and Marin counties. This year, the magazine is celebrating 43 years of continuous operation. It originally hit the stands in 1975, when it was called Sonoma Business, and only covered Sonoma County. Norm and Joni Rosinski and John Dennis, acquired it in 2000 and changed its name to cover an expanded market. Today, the magazine is part of Amaturo Sonoma Media Group. More here..