Marin County Wants to Buy Power

Marin County in California wants to purchase electricity on behalfof its citizens, a move that would bypass the state’s largest utility,Pacific Gas and Electric Co., and could lead other local governments tofollow suit.

According to a recent article in the San Francisco Chronicle,last Thursday the county’s new public power agency — the Marin EnergyAuthority — outlined its rates and selected a third-party company tobuy wholesale electricity for many of its residents. If the plan goesthrough, Marin County would be California’s first to implement“community choice aggregation,” an arrangement under which municipaland county governments buy power for their citizens while the local,private utility retains ownership of the distribution network.

A provision for community choice aggregation (CCA) was written intolaw following California’s energy crisis in the early 2000s. It wasoriginally intended as a backstop measure to enable municipal andcounty governments to intervene on behalf of their citizens to ensuretheir interests were met, mainly with regards to price. Marin County’slatest foray is an indication that some governments may consider usingCCA to address broader environmental issues:

“We’re stepping up and answering the call of, ‘What arewe going to do about climate change?’” said San Francisco SupervisorRoss Mirkarimi. “Everyone talks a good game, but we’re right in there,working on the nuts and bolts to make this happen.”

San Francisco officials are pondering a community choice aggregation plan of its own.

For its part, PG&E — the major electricity supplier in MarinCounty — is wary of the trend. Although the utility originallysupported the law that established community choice aggregation, it isnow backing an initiative that would make public purchasingarrangements more difficult. As owner of the distribution lines,PG&E has threatened to suspend delivery of electricity in the eventthat the Marin Energy Authority follow through with their plan. Theutility has also said that Marin County consumers would see rate hikesunder a CCA arrangement, an assertion that county officials deny.

Approximately one-third of PG&E’s electricity portfolio is comprised of renewable energy resources.

Marin County Wants to Bypass PG&E, Buy Power