Sonoma Clean Power, besides providing cheaper electricity with lower greenhouse gas emissions than PG&E, is launching a program to promote the use of electric vehicles. At its May 5 meeting, the board of directors of Sonoma County’s community choice energy system voted to spend $3.5 million on green energy projects, including electric vehicle charging stations, public education on electric vehicles, and 10 electric-vehicle construction kits provided to middle- and high-school classes.
SCP CEO Geof Syphers was quoted in the Santa Rosa Press Democrat saying that when drivers shift spending from gasoline to electric power, the money they spend will stay in the county, boosting the local economy as well as the demand for renewable energy. The board indicated that the $3.5 million it approved May 5 was just the first installment – they plan to continue to allocate money for green energy throughout the year. SCP says its long-range plan also includes powering an electric mass-transit system.
Other plans for the next year include lowering customers’ bills, launching new solar panel arrays on treated wastewater ponds, increasing payments to customers who sell electricity back to the system, and a program to teach customers how to reduce electricity bills and shift their electricity use away from peak hours.
According to SCP data, 36 percent of the electricity it sells comes from renewable sources, compared to 27 percent for PG&E. Customers who pay more can get 100 percent renewable energy generated in Sonoma County.
In current debates over policies for the community choice energy system soon to be launched in Alameda County, SCP has been held up as an example of an agency that makes it a priority to develop local clean energy sources. The SCP 2014-15 annual report says the agency plans to double its local energy generation in the coming year, through construction of the solar panel array and the new program to pay retail prices to customers that produce more electricity than they use. Current local electricity generation comes from geothermal energy.
The new local energy sources are expected to produce 13.5 megawatts of electricity. But that’s still only about 16 percent of the total 83.5 megawatts that SCP plans to develop in California as a whole. According to Bruce Jensen, the senior planner working on Alameda’s community choice system, it’s cheaper to produce clean energy elsewhere in California because labor is cheaper outside the Bay Area. Cost seems to be a stumbling block to more rapid development of local clean energy.
But at the May 5 directors’ meeting, according to the Press Democrat, board members pressed for greater progress in developing local sources of clean energy. This priority is key to the ability of community choice energy systems to serve as a community economic development strategy.