Marin Clean Energy

This is a very local story. A new public initiative is beginning in Marin County, California. It will compete with the monopoly power company Pacific Gas and Electric which has enjoyed having its way for many years. PG&E has been able to kill other efforts at public power competition in San Francisco and elsewhere. They are prepared to spend millions of dollars to maintain their position and have been able to force three city councils to close their cities to the new entity. But the  county and every city in Marin except Larkspur, Corte Madera and Novato joined the energy initiative.
authority. This story appeared today in the Marin Independent Journal

Supervisors OK loan guarantee for Marin Clean Energy

Richard Halstead
Posted: 02/02/2010 06:29:09 PM PST

With the fate of the Marin Clean Energy initiative hanging in the balance, Marin County supervisors voted 3-2 on Tuesday to serve as one of the co-signers on a loan that will supply the venture with critical start-up capital.More than 200 people turned out for the public hearing at the Civic Center and more than 30 people were allowed to make one-minute comments.

The board, with Supervisors Steve Kinsey and Judy Arnold dissenting, agreed to guarantee $950,000 – one of two loans totaling $1.7 million. Three Marin residents, whose names have not been released, have pledged to co-sign the $750,000 portion of the loan that will be tapped initially. The loan that the county is co-signing will be activated only after that first loan is exhausted.

Supervisors made their fateful decision after reviewing a litany of actions taken by Pacific Gas and Electric Co. to block the initiative, which will put the Marin Energy Authority in competition with the investor-owned utility as a retailer of electricity in Marin. The joint powers authority consists of the county of Marin and seven of Marin’s 11 municipalities.

The county’s loan guarantee comes just in time for the authority – which is scheduled Thursday to vote on a final contract with Shell Energy North America, a subsidiary of Royal Dutch Shell – to fill the role of electricity wholesaler.

“The risk is real; PG&E’s efforts are potentially lethal,” said Supervisor Charles McGlashan, who has championed the initiative in an effort to boost the county’s use of electricity generated from renewable sources beyond the 12 percent delivered by PG&E in 2009.Marin County Counsel Patrick Faulkner told supervisors Tuesday that PG&E chief counsel Christopher Warner warned him that PG&E will refuse to sign an agreement with the Marin Energy Authority to distribute electricity to the authority’s new customers.

“He’s made the same threat to Public Utilities Commission staff,” said Stephen Roscow, a program and project supervisor with the commission. “We told them they’re not allowed to make that threat under the commission’s tariffs.”

The Marin Municipal Water District board canceled plans to discuss co-signing the start-up loan during its Wednesday night meeting after Warner last week threatened to sue the water district. Last month, Warner sent a detailed letter to the Marin Energy Authority’s board putting it on notice that PG&E believes that the authority is legally obliged to conduct a study of the environmental implications of its clean energy initiative. The authority is bracing for a lawsuit on that issue.

Marin Clean Energy plans to offer customers electricity generated from 25 percent renewable sources at prices comparable to PG&E’s rates and 100 percent renewable electricity for about a 7 percent premium. But PG&E maintains the effort will result in higher greenhouse gas emissions because PG&E gets energy from nuclear plants and large hydroelectric projects that, while they don’t qualify as renewable, don’t contribute to greenhouse gas emissions.

Authority representatives say that if customers leave PG&E, the utility is likely to cut its dirtiest and most expensive source of energy production: natural gas.

On Tuesday, several members of the public spoke of their outrage at PG&E’s actions.

Fairfax Mayor Lew Tremaine, who is a Marin Energy Authority board member, said, “This is our opportunity to stand up to a bully.”

“Let’s not let Goliath crush our efforts,” said Andy Peri, the Marin County Bicycle Coalition’s advocacy and outreach coordinator.

But John Hanley of San Anselmo said, “I am not drinking the Kool-Aid. What you’re doing here is risking our funds. This is not a good policy at this time when the state is going to cut the influx of our funds.”

Former Assemblyman Joe Nation, who is being paid by PG&E to lobby against Marin Clean Energy, said, “This is a risk that is growing larger every day.”

Before casting his no vote, Kinsey cited a ballot initiative that PG&E has qualified for the June 8 ballot that would require two-thirds approval from local voters before launching alternative energy providers such as Marin Clean Energy. Kinsey said that if the initiative passes Marin Clean Energy may be prevented from expanding its customer base.

“We have this remarkable bully that is doing everything in its power to prevent us from being on the playground,” Kinsey said. “There is a choice to walk out and call out the bully and say, ‘Go ahead. I dare you.’ And I think we know what the outcome of that would be.”

Arnold, who cast the other dissenting vote, said the county is facing a $20 million deficit in the next fiscal year and simply can’t afford to risk additional expenditures.

“It’s a luxury to be so passionate about a single issue,” Arnold told enthusiastic Marin Clean Energy supporters. “We as supervisors don’t have that luxury.”

Both supervisors Susan Adams and Hal Brown said they wrestled hard with the issue before finally deciding to co-sign the loan.

Adams said she believes PG&E’s aggressive efforts to stop Marin Clean Energy indicate that “they see this actually could work. This is a very real risk to their bottom line.”

McGlashan said that while backing away from the loan guarantee might feel like lower risk, “The bottom line is that is the road to perdition. I want to choose the destiny of vision and hope.”


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