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YOLO COUNTY NEWS
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City and county look to localize power

The Yolo County Board of Supervisors flipped the switch in July 2010 on the county's 1-megawatt solar photovoltaic project installed to provide power to the Yolo County Jail and nearby Juvenile Hall in Woodland. Sue Cockrell/Enterprise file photo

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March 11, 2011 | Leave Comment

A few years from now, Davis residents could get to choose how they light their rooms, dry their clothes and cook their food — by using electricity from renewable energy sources like solar panels or from mainstays like coal.

A 2002 state law allows local governments to create utility-like agencies responsible for delivering power to their residents. Unlike municipal utilities such as the Sacramento Metropolitan Utility District, these “community choice aggregation programs” own no power plants or transmission lines, but instead piggyback off infrastructure from private companies like Pacific Gas & Electric Co.

But the new agencies have the power to dictate where the energy they buy comes from. Under a county version of an aggregation plan, a ratepayer could stick with PG&E’s energy package, opt for a “light green” portfolio made up of half renewable resources, or go for a “deep green” portfolio made up entirely of renewables by paying an extra 10 percent.

“People feel like they have a choice in the type of energy they’re purchasing and from whom,” said Jacques De Bra, utilities manager for the city of Davis, which, like Yolo County, is considering starting an aggregation program.

Starting one of these programs is a major part of Yolo County’s Climate Action Plan, which the Board of Supervisors considers at its Tuesday meeting, which starts 9 a.m. at the County Administration Building, 625 Court St. in Woodland. Giving county residents the option to get more of their electricity from solar and wind power helps Yolo meet a state-set benchmark of rolling back greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels by 2020.

In fact, launching an aggregation program is by far the largest part of the county blueprint to achieve that goal. A community choice aggregation program would get Yolo County 43 percent of the way there, said Dirk Brazil, deputy county administrator. The next biggest pieces are people driving less, for a 15 percent reduction, and retrofitting buildings, to curb another 13 percent.

“It’s bold,” Brazil said of the aggregation program. “It’s really aggressive.”

The city of Davis also must meet the same requirement, and it, too, is interested in an aggregation program. A subcommittee of the city’s Natural Resources Commission made investigating the possibility a “priority action” over the next year, De Bra said.

PG&E already focuses on generating renewable energy, said PG&E spokesman Denny Boyles. ”We think there’s a compelling reason to stay with us,” he added, citing the company’s 100-plus-year history, economies of scale and the ability to spread risk over many ratepayers.

If either the city or the county got into providing energy, PG&E would make sure its customers knew all their options, including the benefits of staying with PG&E, Boyles said.

Customers have two 60-days periods when they can opt out of receiving power through the aggregation program and stick with PG&E. Otherwise, they’re automatically enrolled.

Despite being competition, PG&E will continue to work with Yolo County or any other local government wanting to start an aggregation program, Boyles said. “The bottom line is we are and will continue to cooperate with them.”

Brazil wasn’t surprised about the utility’s “heartburn” over a community possibly stepping up and taking the reins: “PG&E would love to continue to do what they do and not be told by anyone how to do it,” he said. “How can you blame them? That’s how they see the world.”

Blame or no blame, Brazil said he thinks Yolo County can provide electricity in a way that’s tailored to local needs: greener, cheaper “and ultimately better for us.”

“At least that’s how we hope the system works.”

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