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Jury rejects clean energy

The Marin County Civil Grand Jury is asking officials to pull the plug on their proposed Marin Clean Energy program, a plan designed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions ...The jury's report states that the costs of the program create too high a risk for ratepayers and taxpayers alike, lacks a transparent citizen vote, and will install a new level of bureaucracy that has little or no experience with energy management.

The Marin County Civil Grand Jury is asking officials to pull the plug on their proposed Marin Clean Energy program, a plan designed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and compete with Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E) as a local energy provider.

The jury's report states that the costs of the program create too high a risk for ratepayers and taxpayers alike, lacks a transparent citizen vote, and will install a new level of bureaucracy that has little or no experience with energy management. But program supporters, including Supervisor Steve Kinsey say that the report is factually flawed and that it misinterprets financial risk.

"In these economically challenged and difficult times, we question the decision to put the county into the business of operating commercial power generation facilities, a function not usually associated with the government of a small county," states the report, published
December 7.

Marin Energy Authority (MEA), which manages the program, rejected all suggestions of alternatives made by the jury and said that it would not drop
the plan.

"The Grand Jury Report is another piece of useful information, but it's not compelling," Kinsey said. "It doesn't seem to recognize... more [truncated due to possible copyright]  

The Marin County Civil Grand Jury is asking officials to pull the plug on their proposed Marin Clean Energy program, a plan designed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and compete with Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E) as a local energy provider.

The jury's report states that the costs of the program create too high a risk for ratepayers and taxpayers alike, lacks a transparent citizen vote, and will install a new level of bureaucracy that has little or no experience with energy management. But program supporters, including Supervisor Steve Kinsey say that the report is factually flawed and that it misinterprets financial risk.

"In these economically challenged and difficult times, we question the decision to put the county into the business of operating commercial power generation facilities, a function not usually associated with the government of a small county," states the report, published
December 7.

Marin Energy Authority (MEA), which manages the program, rejected all suggestions of alternatives made by the jury and said that it would not drop
the plan.

"The Grand Jury Report is another piece of useful information, but it's not compelling," Kinsey said. "It doesn't seem to recognize that the energy program we are looking at is the single greatest reducer of greenhouse gases by levels of ten-whether it is low emissions vehicles, weather stripping on houses, or some of the alternative energy programs that have been adopted by other cities."

MEA's board will vote on the program in February, but not without opposition. PG&E has reportedly dedicated nearly $30 million to push an initiative on to the June 2010 general election that would require a two-thirds vote by residents for the county to enact a competing energy plan.

Marin Clean Energy

The MEA consists of representatives from Marin County and all of its cities with the exception of Novato, Corte Madera and Larkspur. It was formed in 2008 under the California Community Choice Aggregation bill for the sole purpose of forming Marin Clean Energy, the affiliated power supply program.

If its plan is forsaken, Marin County would lose $540,000 of seed money invested so far. In its defense, the authority continually states that PG&E will fail to meet a 2010 mandate to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 20 percent.

If initiated, the Marin Clean Energy program would replace PG&E by purchasing electricity wholesale from commercial providers and reselling it to residents. Eventually the program would invest revenue into renewable energy infrastructure, including solar, wind and biomass.

The authority assures that it will not enter into a contract with a provider unless electricity prices are at or below PG&E's. It promises to provide a minimum of 25 percent renewable energy as part of its basic plan.

Criticisms

The Grand Jury is a group of 19 volunteer watchdogs who are appointed for a one-year position. During this time they are asked to conduct interviews, review documents and make assessments of local policy and county issues. During the 2008-2009 review period, a dozen reports were published on topics including homelessness and the need for a morgue.

On this report, critiques were made on 14 separate logistical points, and four requests were made of the energy authority-the first being an abandonment of the Marin Clean Energy program.

The jury asserts that the myriad costs involved in the program put both ratepayers and taxpayers at risk of a volatile industry. It questions whether the authority will be able to secure a capital investment of $6.4 million that will be needed during its initial year. But Dawn Weisz, principle planner for MEA, says she does not know where this number comes from. According to her, $1.4 million is needed, and was indicated in an updated November business plan.

The report also points out that success of the program will rely on eventual ownership of renewable sources such as geothermal power plants and wind farms. The jury doubts that the acquisition of these sources will be possible in the face of a stringent environmental review phase within the county.

Weisz said that this fear is exaggerated. "Ratepayers are at a much greater consumer risk now than they would be with a competitive energy provider, which would give them a choice. Right now, the choices are PG&E or going without power," she said. Weisz noted that PG&E, just like MCE, is continually investing in new sources of wholesale electricity and gas. PG&E recently purchased a natural gas plant from Shell.

The jury also takes issue with the program's opt-out policy. If MCE passes a final board vote on February 4, West Marin will automatically be enrolled in the program, though most residents will not be included until late 2011. Residents will then have 90 days to decide to stay with MCE or switch back to PG&E. While MEA sees this as a true customer choice, and a chance to vote through participation, the jury states the process evades a transparent public vote.

The jury asked how ratepayers would be notified of the change, and what fee they would face if deciding to switch providers after the initial
grace period.

The jury is not alone in its critique of the community choice program. In November, a panel sponsored by the Marin Peace and Justice Coalition met in San Rafael to discuss MCE. A union representative questioned the county's possible contract with Shell, who currently looks to be a likely provider, and their record of labor management. Solar advocates criticized MEA's initial business plan for not specifically including solar power initiatives.

"There has been a lot of misinformation surrounding the debate over the program, and we have addressed some of these concerns in an updated management plan in November," said Weisz. She added that the updated report was provided to the jury two weeks before its release, but said that that they must not have looked it over. The jury is not permitted to comment on its report.

If MCE is adopted in February, it would become the first community choice provider of energy in California. This alone makes the debate a difficult one, as no in-state comparison is possible. Proposals for similar programs in Berkeley and Sonoma County were shut down by opposing ratepayers and
skeptical politicians.


Source: http://www.ptreyeslight.com...

DEC 18 2009
http://www.windaction.org/posts/23697-jury-rejects-clean-energy
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