2015-11-19 / Front Page

Energy collective gives alternative choice to electricity buyers

By Sylvie Belmond


SPEAK OUT—Alan Weiner of Agoura Hills addresses a recent Calabasas energy collective workshop. Left and right, Ken Smokoska and Joe Galliani from the 350.org Climate Action Group. 
SYLVIE BELMOND/Acorn Newspapers SPEAK OUT—Alan Weiner of Agoura Hills addresses a recent Calabasas energy collective workshop. Left and right, Ken Smokoska and Joe Galliani from the 350.org Climate Action Group. SYLVIE BELMOND/Acorn Newspapers Energy buying collectives are taking root across California, thanks to a 2002 state law that gives local governments the right to form nonprofit entities that can provide alternative power for their constituents.

Known as Community Choice Aggregation, the energy-buying collectives allow cities and counties to pool the electric demand of residents and businesses to achieve greater purchasing power. They use existing power lines for distribution.

Southern California Edison and PG&E are the state’s two largest investor-owned utilities in control of the generation, transmission and distribution of electrical power.

“The thrust of it is addressing climate change and building a global movement, getting off fossil fuels and going on to green renewable energy as quickly as we can,” said Alan Weiner of Agoura Hills, who organized a recent workshop at the Calabasas Library to discuss the new trend.

The energy collectives give local governments and their residents more control over where their electricity comes from and how much it costs, Weiner said.

Only communities served by investor-owned companies such as Edison and PG&E can form a municipal aggregation program. Cities with municipal utility dis- tricts, such as Los Angeles, are not eligible.

Advocates say the new purchasing paradigm will help to reduce the influence of utility companies and the fossil fuel industry, and decrease carbon emissions.

In theory, customers would get a higher proportion of clean energy at comparable or lower prices.

Robert Laffoon-Villegas, spokesperson for SoCal Edison, said his company remains neutral on the aggregate concept.

Edison purchases most of its power through the marketplace, and the energy comes from independent producers.

“We’re in the distribution side of the equation,” Laffoon-Villegas said.

In 2014, 24 percent of the power distributed by Edison came from renewable resources, including wind and geothermal, and 27 percent originated from natural gas, the utility said.

“Community Choice Power makes Edison our partner and we take over the buying of energy from them,” said Joe Galliani, organizer of the South Bay 350.org Climate Action Group.

“Edison still continues to deliver energy. But we form a nonprofit procurement group that buys energy on the open market. The goal is to generate 100 percent renewable energy in L.A. County,” Galliani said.

First steps

The community energy programs can be created by city councils, county supervisors, or by a vote of the people. The L.A. County Board Supervisors recently agreed to pay $300,000 toward feasibility study. About a dozen cities, including Malibu and Santa Monica, plan to participate in the study.

“This will be the first step toward unifying local communities into a virtual utility entity,” Weiner said. “It’s already happening in Marin (and) Sonoma (counties), and Lancaster. The counties of Los Angeles and Ventura are encouraging us to pursue this,” Galliani said.

“The idea behind community choice aggregation is that people choose and vote to create an economic entity to purchase electricity,” said Andy Pattison a Policy Studies professor at Cal Lutheran University.

Scott Wolfe, planning director for Westlake Village, said the recent presentation in Calabasas was informative, but left questions unanswered.

“We won’t really know how practical a (Community Choice Aggregate) will be for the City of Westlake Village until we see the results of a feasibility study,” Wolfe said.

“The key to realizing financial savings with a CCA is the ability to enter into contracts for energy from producers at beneficial rates, which exist right now, but are not guaranteed in the future,” Wolfe said.

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