‘Green’ electricity program coming to Richmond

As the non-profit Marin Energy Authority prepares to take over as Richmond’s main electricity provider, residents face an important choice: whether to get their energy from the more eco-friendly MCE or opt to stick with their current provider, PG&E.

Starting in July, PG&E customers in Richmond will be automatically switched over to MCE (formerly known as Marin Clean Energy), the renewable power program the city council adopted to replace PG&E. Council members have said the switch was made to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and slow the effects of climate change.

MCE offers two renewable energy packages to its customers: “Light Green,” which comes from 50 percent renewable sources, or “Deep Green,” which offers energy from 100 percent renewable sources.

Expected rate increases will mean MCE options will cost slightly more, although an MCE spokeswoman maintained the renewable energy company’s rates will still be “comparable” to PG&E’s mix of 20 percent renewable energy.

MCE staff plan to make presentations at four more neighborhood council meetings, in addition to mailing three notices to everyone in Richmond and attending “as many community events as possible,” said Jamie Tuckey, a spokeswoman for the program.

Another key aspect to the outreach effort is the formation of a group called the “CLAG,” or the Community Leadership Advisory Group, a group of community members from business, government and civic groups which will advise MCE on its marketing strategies in the city and help organize the town hall meetings. Anyone can join the CLAG, but the program is looking to keep it between 10 and 20 members, Tuckey said.

A PG&E spokeswoman said the power company supports Richmond’s decision to develop a community choice energy program like MCE. “PG&E for more than 100 years has had the privilege of serving our customers in Richmond clean, reliable and affordable energy,” said spokeswoman Nicole Leibelt. “At the same time, we do respect the energy options available to our customers.”

At last month’s city council meeting, some council members and residents expressed concern over rate changes.

In April, MCE’s board will consider a 7 percent increase. If it passes, it will tack on about 59 cents more per month to the average residential customer’s bill. In May, PG&E will also consider a “modest” rate increase to cover rising costs.

Assuming the board approves the increase, MCE’s power would be slightly more expensive than PG&E, at 7.884 cents per kilowatt-hour, while MCE Light Green would cost a little more than 8 cents, according to figures available on MCE’s website and confirmed by PG&E. Deep Green costs an additional penny more per kilowatt-hour.

But electricity prices change frequently; PG&E typically adjusts rates 3 to 5 times a year. Both companies calculate rate changes based on the cost of procuring the energy.

“Cost comparisons are a snapshot in time. We can’t always guarantee that we’ll be the cheapest, but we can guarantee our rates will be stable,” Tuckey said. “Even with the increase, the total cost of service remains comparable to PG&E.”

MCE customers will still receive their electricity bill through PG&E.

Because MCE is a “not-for-profit” company, it re-invests the money it gets from customers in community, Tuckey said. In other words, a portion of residents’ power bill will stay local.

MCE has helped fund Urban Tilth’s 6th annual MLK Day of Service at the Greenway Community Garden. MCE sponsors the Mindful Life Project, a local nonprofit that teaches mindfulness, yoga and hip hop classes in underserved elementary schools. The company also sent out holiday e-cards and donated the money saved from paper greeting cards to the Bay Area Rescue Mission, a Bay Area shelter for homeless and impoverished people.

MCE derives its power from a number of renewable sources, including solar arrays in central and southern California, wind turbines in Oregon and Washington and a number of biogas plants (which traps out-gassing from landfills and converts it to energy) on the West Coast.

MCE and PG&E both get power from hydroelectric plants. Although hydropower does not create greenhouse gases, the state does not consider hydropower “renewable” because it involves damming a river.

Leibelt of PG&E said the electric company is an industry leader in renewable power. “PG&E delivers some of the nation’s cleanest electric power,” she said. “More than half … comes from sources that are renewable or that have no greenhouse gases.”

According to its website, a quarter of PG&E’s power comes from natural gas, 22 percent comes from nuclear and 19 percent comes from renewable, including primarily wind, geothermal, biomass and small hydroelectric plants. Another 18 percent comes from a large hydroelectric plant in Fresno, Leibelt said.

Residents will be automatically enrolled in MCE’s Light Green option when their billing cycle restarts in July. To keep PG&E, residents will have to opt out by emailing or calling MCE.

Residents should expect five mailers from MCE – two in April and a third in May – explaining the changes and opt-out process.

This post has been edited to say that PG&E is considering a rate increase in May and to clarify PG&E and MCE’s electricity rate differences.

6 Comments

  1. natali

    This is uber cool. I like the choice. Very interesting to see how this pans out.

  2. Tony Suggs

    It is not a choice when you are automatically enrolled in something and then you have to “Op Out.”

    Just goes to show how confident they are in this. If they truly thought that the residents would make the choice to switch to MCE they would make it an Op In instead of an Op Out choice.

    They are counting on many residents not bothering to read the bills and notices or not bother with calling to switch back to PGE.

    • Mr. Suggs,

      I’m sorry to hear about your concerns with the opt-out process. One of the guiding ideals of MCE is the value of giving customers a choice, but I understand that the opt-out process can create some skepticism about the program. MCE and similar programs are opt-out programs because they’re required to be California Assembly Bill 117 and the California Public Utilities Code.

      MCE has taken customer notification very seriously and hopes that all Richmond residents will be aware of the switch so that they can make their decision accordingly. In addition to the five mailed notices customers will be receiving over the next several months, MCE and the City of Richmond have organized the following community outreach events and activities:

      • 59 Houses of Worship have been contacted and provided with information about MCE enrollment in Richmond. We’ve also made ourselves available to them for presentations and Q&A;
      • Multiple presentations and updates to the Richmond Neighborhood Coordinating Council (RNCC), including offers to speak at individual neighborhood councils;
      • Presentations held and/or scheduled with 10 of Richmond’s Neighborhood Councils, and more being scheduled on a weekly basis;
      • Presentations held and/or scheduled with local chapters of Sons in Retirement (SIR), Rotary, Kiwanis, Council of Industry (COI), and other community-based organizations;
      • We’re currently planning 3 town hall-style Community Events in Richmond that are completely open to the public, one specifically for Spanish speakers. The first is scheduled for Monday, April 22 (Earth Day!) from 6:30-8pm @ Lovonya DeJean Middle School in the Multi-Purpose Facility on 33rd, just south of MacDonald (a flyer for this event is online at https://mcecleanenergy.com/PDF/4.22.13_Richmond_Mtg.pdf);
      • We have convened the Community Leadership Advisory Group, which is made up stakeholders from a broad spectrum of local boards, organizations and diverse constituency groups to help advise community outreach activities;
      • MCE is a member of the Richmond Chamber of Commerce and has had representatives in attendance at several RCOC events;
      • Presentations continue to be held and scheduled with various Richmond Home Owners’ Associations (HOAs);
      • Representatives have been made available at information tables for Richmond community events like the MLK Day of Service on the Greenway, Sisters in Solidarity Celebration of Intl. Women’s day, and the Dare to Dream event at Contra Costa College;
      • Published first of several planned public service announcements (PSAs) in various local periodicals and media outlets, including the Richmond Post, Richmond Pulse, Richmond Confidential, Redeemed World.org and Redeemed World Magazine;
      • Representatives have met individually with nearly every member of the Richmond City Council, including those who did not vote in favor of joining MCE;
      • Announcements have run and should continue in the Richmond City Manager’s Weekly Report;
      • Presentations have been held and continue to be scheduled with several English as a Second Language classes offered in 13 different Richmond schools and houses of worship;
      • Distribution of informational materials in various languages, including English, Spanish, Chinese, Vietnamese. We have distributed nearly 1000 MCE Residential brochures in Spanish alone.

      This list is not comprehensive, and is expanding on a weekly (if not daily) basis.

      If you or any other readers would be interested in scheduling a presentation with MCE representatives, please contact MCE at info@mceCleanEnergy, or visit http://www.mceCleanEnergy.com for more information. We look forward to speaking with you and answering your questions about our service to Richmond and the various choices we offer.

      Thank you,
      Justin Kudo
      Account Manager, MCE

  3. michael spexarth

    Options are always better than Monopolies. Choices Required. Richmond could establish a “City Light” company, like Seattle. Build its own gas fired turbine generated power supply. Always offer choices, options.
    Does MCE have a low-cost energy pricing for Seniors and Low-Income residents?

    • rob

      Choices can be good when not underhandedly sneaked into the system. Keep in mind the Pacific Bell story, when traders of services latched onto Pac Bell’s infrastructure, but who is maintaining the infrastructure, Pac Bell…and who is helping Pac Bell…no one. The residents always suffer. Would it not be a lot less complicated to improve and support the main system we have…..its easy to purchase energy but these folks don’t own any infrastructure or respond to any repairs or emergencies…its not their business. Getting energy piped into people’s houses under the streets are the expensive things that can fail. Get the whole picture before jumping on the green bandwagon. If the State would count PG&E’s hydroelectric program they would be at a lot more than 20% renewable….but the State won’t let it be counted because they had to build a dam to make it work…..holy cow.

      • JoeRichmond

        Damming a river can be an incredibly an incredibly damaging thing to do and can permanently change the geology of an area.

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