Community Choice Aggregation (CCA) programs have become quite prominent in communities across California, and have begun to spring up in other states including Illinois, Massachusetts, and Ohio. Through CCA, communities can purchase electricity on behalf of residents and businesses, in place of investor-owned utilities such as Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E), San Diego Gas & Electric, and Southern California Edison.
The California Community Choice Association claims local governments in more than 200 towns, cities, and counties across California have chosen to participate in CCA to “meet climate action goals, provide residents and businesses with more energy options, ensure local transparency and accountability, and drive economic development.” The association says there are currently 24 operational CCA programs in California serving more than 11 million customers, and it expects those numbers to continue growing.
One of the places where CCA is providing benefits is in the San Francisco Bay area. East Bay Community Energy (EBCE), a not-for-profit public agency, operates a CCA program for Alameda County and 14 incorporated cities, serving more than 1.7 million residential and commercial customers in the area. EBCE initiated service in June 2018 and expanded to the cities of Pleasanton, Newark, and Tracy in April 2021.
As a guest on The POWER Podcast, Nick Chaset, CEO of EBCE, explained some of the benefits his agency provides to customers. “There are three categories of benefits that we really focus on. One is cost savings. So, since we started operations in 2018, we have delivered upwards of $30 million in bill savings to our customers, relative to what the cost of electricity from PG&E would have been, if they had stayed on that service,” he said. “The second is clean energy. So, we have delivered higher levels of renewables over the course of our operations, on average. Since we started operating in 2018, I believe we’re somewhere in that 5–7% more renewable range—and that can be more or less than that average depending on how much renewable energy PG&E ends up actually buying—but on average, it’s been in that 5–7% more renewable.”
The third thing Chaset said really differentiates EBCE from not only incumbent utilities, but also from some other community energy agencies is its emphasis and focus on investing in clean energy locally. In September 2021, EBCE commenced commercial operation of the Scott Haggerty Wind Energy Center, a 57-MW facility with 23 wind turbines located in Livermore, California, a community EBCE serves. It expects the wind farm to power more than 47,000 homes in its district.
Beyond that, EBCE is doing several other projects to enhance local energy systems. “We are also building virtual power plant projects that integrate just over 1,000 residential solar and storage systems to provide consumers both clean energy and resiliency, and provide us with batteries that we can use to meet our broader customer base’s electricity demand,” Chaset said. “And we’re also investing in programs like electric vehicle charging stations. So, we have two large, fast-charging stations that we’re currently working to build and have plans to build a broader network of fast-charging stations across the 15 communities that we operate in.”
Chaset suggested the nation could learn from California’s experience. Specifically, he said policies created in California could be applied at a federal level. “Policy is a critical lever to supporting the clean energy transition,” he said. “I would focus today on federal actions that can have really significant impacts in accelerating not just renewable energy, but really accelerating cost-effective energy. And I say that because today solar power and wind power are the cheapest sources of electricity generation out there. And so, we want more clean and cheap electricity, and we have the opportunity to accelerate that through a handful of actions.”
At the top of Chaset’s list are extensions to the investment tax credit (ITC) and the production tax credit for wind and solar. He also believes expansion of the ITC to cover energy storage is important, as is modifying the structure of those credits to make them fully refundable.
“Today, East Bay Community Energy, as a public agency, is not able to monetize the investment tax credit. And so, it makes it quite difficult for us to directly own renewable generation. We have to work with third parties, who do have the ability to monetize the investment tax credit,” Chaset explained.
If the ITC was fully refundable, however, EBCE could own the generation. “And that is beneficial, because as a public agency, we have the ability to raise public debt. That is lower cost, which in turn further makes renewable energy less expensive and more economically competitive,” he said.
“I also believe strongly that we need to firm up our domestic supply chains for these generation technologies. So, federal action to invest in storage manufacturing, lithium manufacturing and extraction, solar panel manufacturing—all really important policies that were part of the Build Back Better, which at this time, unfortunately, is on hold, but hopefully, we’ll be able to get back to that,” said Chaset.
And the last policy that Chaset said would be beneficial involves transportation electrification. “I strongly believe more aggressive action at the federal level to invest in charging infrastructure and domestic manufacturing of electric vehicles is a really critical step forward for our clean energy revolution,” he said.
To hear the full interview, which includes more about EBCE and its mission, listen to The POWER Podcast. Click on the SoundCloud player below to listen in your browser now or use the following links to reach the show page on your favorite podcast platform:
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—Aaron Larson is POWER’s executive editor (@AaronL_Power, @POWERmagazine).