Thursday, January 21, 2021     Volume: 21, Issue: 47

Santa Maria Sun / News

The following article was posted on July 23rd, 2019, in the Santa Maria Sun - Volume 20, Issue 21 [ Submit a Story ]
The following articles were printed from Santa Maria Sun [] - Volume 20, Issue 21

County moves to join Monterey Bay Community Power, cities consider the same

By Zac Ezzone and Kasey Bubnash

Santa Barbara County is the latest jurisdiction to move toward joining Monterey Bay Community Power (MBCP), as the public electricity provider continues to expand southward. 

The decision follows the county’s conducting multiple studies over a four-year period, as it weighed its options to join MBCP, create its own community choice energy (CCE) agency, or do neither. 

CCEs are governed by a board of directors made up of officials from participating cities and counties. The organizations handle generating and purchasing energy, while leaving companies like Pacific Gas and Electric Company (PG&E) responsible for transmission and distribution.

At its July 16 meeting, the Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors voted 4-1 to move forward with MBCP. During the meeting, Ashley Watkins, chief of the county’s sustainability division, presented the findings of the county’s most recent study exploring its CCE options. 

Watkins said that creating a new CCE to serve the county would cost about $9 million up front and would take the county almost a decade to recover expenses. Meanwhile, joining MBCP will only cost about $5,000 to $7,500 to join, she said during the meeting.

This less-expensive alternative was a selling point for 5th District Supervisor Steve Lavagnino, who was against the county spending millions of dollars to create its own CCE.   

“For me it was an easy ‘no’ to create our own … believe it or not, I will be supporting this, and I’m interested to see where it goes,” Lavagnino said.

According to a staff presentation, joining MBCP will save county residents money on their electric bills. Their rates will remain the same, but MBCP provides rebates at the end of the year that will result in customers saving between 2 percent and 8 percent annually. 

In addition to saving customers money, MBCP relies on a higher percentage of renewable sources of electricity, such as wind and solar. The company also allocates funding to local renewable energy projects.

MBCP services Monterey, Santa Cruz, and San Benito counties, with cities throughout San Luis Obispo County also joining. Santa Barbara County is the first jurisdiction to join MBCP south of SLO County, while some North County cities, such as Santa Maria and Guadalupe, are still weighing their options.  

During a Santa Maria City Council meeting on May 21, the council deferred making a decision on joining MBCP until after the county made its decision. In an email to the Sun, city Public Information Officer Mark van de Kamp said he isn’t sure when staff will bring the item to council again. For the city to join MBCP next year, the city would have to have a make a decision in August.

“We are aware of the August timeframe in order to join in 2020, if there is a decision to join, but completing our analysis to ensure that the City Council can make a fully informed decision is of higher importance than rushing to meet an August deadline,” van de Kamp said. 

Before the county made its decision to join Monterey Bay, the Guadalupe City Council considered joining the CCE at a meeting on July 9. Council members didn’t make a decision then and were set to consider the issue again at a meeting on July 23.

Staff is recommending that Guadalupe follow the county’s lead and join Monterey Bay because the CCE is expected to save customers—including the city itself—money, according to interim City Administrator Robert Perrault.

Though Perrault said it would cost the city about $5,000 to $7,000 to join the CCE, Monterey Bay’s rates have historically proven to be at or below those offered by PG&E. Along with a reduction in costs, Perrault said Monterey Bay customers can be confident that their power is being consistently sourced in a renewable and environmentally friendly way.

If Guadalupe were to join Monterey Bay, Perrault said the city would have to apply, be accepted, and then have an implementation plan approved. The change wouldn’t be effective until January 2021.

“All businesses and residential customers would be automatically enrolled in the program,” he said, adding that residents can easily opt out and continue service with PG&E.

Though Perrault said Monterey Bay has specific plans for public outreach and education if Guadalupe approves the change, City Councilmember Gina Rubalcaba-Almaguer said residents and businesses should have an opportunity to learn more about Monterey Bay Power and give feedback before a final decision is made.

“I feel that this is the respectable thing to do, as we are elected by them,” Rubalcaba-Almaguer wrote in an email to the Sun.

—Zac Ezzone and Kasey Bubnash

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