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New energy supplier looks to partner with city

on October 27, 2011

Marin Energy Authority, a nonprofit energy provider, is looking to partner with Richmond to provide a cleaner alternative to PG&E for residents and industrial customers.

MEA is still at the beginning stages of its proposal and would not be able to provide power to Richmond until January 2013. The agency is currently researching the benefits and risks of implementing their program in Richmond.

City Council members expressed their concern with the program after a presentation at the council meeting on Tuesday.

“In certain ways, we probably differ from the typical Marin demographic,” Council member Jeff Ritterman said. “We certainly do in terms of energy use.”

Though customers would have the option to choose their energy source, MEA partners with PG&E.

MEA takes over the sources and procurement of energy, which is a combination of solar, wind, biogas and large hydro, but still depends on PG&E to deliver it through their lines.

Customers who choose MEA will still continue to receive a bill from PG&E each month, though they will be paying for energy from MEA.

Right now, MEA’s rates are slightly higher than PG&E’s, but Jamie Tuckey, a communications director at MEA, said that rates will change too much in time to make a comparison.

“It will be guaranteed that both our rates will be different down the road,” Tuckey said. “It is too far out to compare.”

Prices are even trickier because there are different classes of customers, residential customers and commercial, and there are tiered rates within each one of those classes, Tuckey said.

For example, there are nine different residential classes with five different rates, including regular and low-income rates, which are all continuously adjusting.

The authority does intend to offer programs to industrial companies, like Chevron, as well as residents.

MEA has two programs to offer both Richmond residents and industrial customers. The first is the Light Green package, which is the standard package, and provides 27 percent renewable energy with comparable rates to PG&E’s current rates.

The next package is the Deep Green package and runs on 100 percent renewable energy sources. This package costs an additional penny for every kilowatt-hour.

Both packages offer the additional benefit of reduced greenhouse gas emissions.

According to the current proposal, interested residents can sign up but keep the option to opt out of either package within five months without a fee.

“The way your program works is kind of a tricky program. You got to sign out to opt out. A lot of people don’t read,” Council member Corky Booze said. “A lot of people get a billion postcards. I would like to see the other way around, that you don’t get it unless you opt in.”

After five months, a resident can opt out with a $5 administrative fee and a corporate customer can opt out with $25 fee.

Other council members, including Ritterman, voiced concerns about PG&E’s senior and low-income programs, which some Richmond residents depend on.

Dawn Weisz, the executive officer of MEA, assured the City Council that any PG&E program, including CARE, which adjusts energy bills according to income, and weatherization and insulation help, would continue seamlessly, since MEA partners with PG&E.

“I am just concerned that in governance structure that somehow we make sure that we feel adequately represented,” Ritterman said.

Booze also insisted that Weisz cite an actual number of jobs that will be created for Richmond residents.

“It’s not a huge job generation endeavor,” Weisz said. “It’s really not a part of what we are able to accomplish.”

She could only confirm that one to six jobs would be created.

MEA estimated that based on its record in Marin County, 35,000 new customers would be enrolled, assuming a 20 percent opt-out rate.


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