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.