Rohnert Park goes ‘green’ with clean power

As of next summer, residents of Rohnert Park can expect to see a change in their electricity bill.  The city of Rohnert Park has decided in a council meeting to join Sonoma Clean Power, the local Community Choice Aggregate that will partner with Pacific, Gas and Electric in providing residents with electricity.   

This decision will give residents an “opt out” option, which means residents of Rohnert Park, including students living off campus will be deferred to utilizing Sonoma Clean Power as a power source. 

This means, according to Sonoma Clean Power, residents will be paying 4 to 5 percent less than they were on PG&E rates. This is because, unlike PG&E, Sonoma Clean Power is considered a not-for-profit public agency. Customers in Rohnert Park have the option to “opt out” if they should prefer to continue their service with PG&E; however, should they choose to continue to participate, no action is required. 

“Unlike for-profit investor-owned utilities such as PG&E, CCAs are not motivated by profit–we are motivated to save our customers money and produce environmental benefits,” said Kate Kelly, director of public affairs and marketing at Sonoma Clean Power. “Sonoma Clean Power offers a 100 percent renewable service now called EverGreen, the first service of its kind in California.”

The not-for-profit Community Choice Aggregate has no intention of becoming a municipal utility, instead focusing on increasing the amount of renewables utilized by consumers.  

Being a not-for-profit agency has its advantages as the agency doesn’t have shareholder investors to pay a return, therefore resulting in less expensive costs for customers.

“The immediate benefit to the residents will be lower electricity prices. The long-term benefit will be the ability to participate directly in the transition to a renewable electricity system in California,” said Daniel Soto, environmental studies and planning professor.

“Clean Start” and “EverGreen” are the two programs that are offered by Sonoma Clean Power that allow customers to decide which renewables portfolio they would like to partake in.  The first, “Clean Start,” offers 33 percent renewables, compared to the 22 percent offered through PG&E.  

Resources include biomass, biowaste, geothermal, wind and hydroelectric power.  The agency recognizes that some renewables such as wind is unpredictable so a broader portfolio of resources enables better reliability.

EverGreen, the second program offered boasts 100 percent renewable energy – all of it being geothermal.  This energy is generated by the Geysers power plant, located in the Mayacamas Mountains, north of San Francisco.  This plant generates geothermal energy by extracting steam.  

“Because Sonoma Clean Power has a stronger renewables portfolio, through community choice we can also help move the market toward less polluting energy sources,” said Rocky Rohwedder, environmental studies and planning professor. “It shifts more fiscal and ecological power to the local level, reducing pollution while empowering communities.”

Partnering with PG&E, Sonoma Clean Power provides the energy, whereas PG&E provides the power lines and meters. This means that the consumer will receive one bill that will come from PG&E; however, what customers will pay for power will go to Sonoma Clean Power.

In addition to serving Rohnert Park, Sonoma Clean Power also serves Santa Rosa, Windsor, Sonoma, Sebastopol, Cotati, Cloverdale and the local unincorporated areas of Sonoma County.

Similar to other energy providers, this agency will participate in the energy market.  This market, provided by the California Independent System Operator was established in 1998 and regulates transparency in cost and ensures competitive prices by electricity providers. Like PG&E, Sonoma Clean Power is subject to participating in this kind of market to ensure reliability for customers.  

“The decision to join Sonoma Clean Power is all about offering consumers a choice. Now we can choose something other than a regulated monopoly like PG&E, or we can stick with them,” said Rohwedder, “additionally, Sonoma Clean Power is cheaper than PG&E (even before PG&E’s upcoming rate hike), so individuals as well as our communities save money when we choose Sonoma Clean Power.” 

According to the California Public Utilities Commission, there are five recognized Community Choice Aggregations in California.  

These agencies are created under Assembly Bill 117, chapter 838 that called for further reconstruction of the electric market.

“Leading efforts such as these are gaining lots of attention from all over the country (including the White House),” said Rohwedder. “Once again, Sonoma County is a shining example for others to follow.”

Residents may see a change in their bill; the cost difference simply means a different power source. The source for this change is due to the agency itself, which stands for a renewable, more sustainable future. The decision to “opt out” should customers prefer to stay with PG&E is still available.