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Monday, February 25, 2019

The Green New Real


I am gratified and honored by the inclusion of Community Choice Aggregation in Bernie Sanders' Green New Deal, drafted by UMASS Amherst economist Robert Pollin, under the third bullet list of actions that Bernie will undertake when elected: "We will end greed in our energy system:"

"The renewable energy generated by the Green New Deal will be publicly owned, managed by the Federal Power Marketing Administrations, the Bureau of Reclamation and the Tennessee Valley Authority and sold to distribution utilities with a preference for public power districts, municipally- and cooperatively-owned utilities with democratic, public ownership, and other existing utilities that demonstrate a commitment to the public interest. The Department of Energy will provide technical assistance to states and municipalities that would like to establish publicly owned distribution utilities or community choice aggregation (CCA) programs in their communities. Electricity will be sold at current rates to keep the cost of electricity stable during this transition" (emphasis and acronym added - source).

I am a fervent supporter of this policy, and believe the Green New Deal to be the federal concomitant of leadership at the local level in 1500 American cities and towns through Community Choice Aggregation. In order to answer the United Nation's recent eleven year time frame for a "profound transformation of energy," America's economy must transition to new ways of surviving, based on more local resource orientation, local resilience and new forms of economic development, top among them the way we use energy for power, heat and transportation. The rapidly expanding movement for climate action through CCA throughout the United States would be a natural administrators of contractors and program staff involved implementing local and regional "climate works" projects.

It is crucial to act locally while supporting global and national initiatives: not to be lulled to sleep into a political daydream, and recognize the urgency of the United Nation's March 2019 warning that the world has eleven years to undertake a profound transformation of the energy industry in order to avoid irreversible damage to our planet. It is important to place a shake of salt on the matter, which is the likelihood of federal leadership within the UN's eleven-year time frame.  

It is also crucial not to view the present in terms of recent decades, and place all your eggs in one political basket. We have been here before, after all. The Green New Deal is not new. That was 2005. I gave a speech calling for it in Marin County then (click on video to view), to get San Francisco, Marin and other Bay Area cities to launch energy plans to solve climate change in a single public works project, "the scale of a bridge," through decentralized local energy technologies. Then in 2008, when Obama was elected, I and others called for him to implement a Green New Deal to solve climate change. My proposal was called "Climate Works" using federal "Climate Bonds." Obama's staff didn't bother to reply (nor Waxman/Boxer). The political conditions of the New Deal (a radicalized Congress), were simply not there for doing important, huge, things. 

The proposal, through popular, didn't happen in Washington, first because of Bush's natural enmity, but then because Democratic Obama couldn't get his own party to prioritize it during the first two years of the administration while it had a Congressional majority. Meanwhile, from 2005 to 2009 and 2013, Marin Clean Energy and CleanPowerSF were launched, and the rest of the Bay Area and most of California soon followed, all focused on systemic carbon reduction. "Community Choice Aggregators" are now approaching half of California customers, and also across the Midwest and Northeast US. The US is a big ship to turn, but thousands of smaller ships turn more quickly, while appearing slow. As thousands of cities and towns change, the market changes, barriers are removed, costs are lowered, and more energy systems transformed. It is like the tale of the hare and tortoise. 

Today, we dreamily re-ruminate a dream of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, but in reality the federal government has been good for little for many decades. Yet psychologically, the national ritual of federal debate and legislation creates the illusion of achieving something as if through gesture or catharsis (as if to reform public morals!). 

Local governments mostly do things, actually - unlike state politics, which "achieves" things in brief spectacles followed by national nap and a nice glass of amnesia. With local government, doing things takes time, but something actually happens: only the the tortoise can actually make it to the finish line. I'm glad Bernie's version of the Green New Deal recognizes the central role that CCAs and traditional municipal utilities and cooperatives play in designing and implementing projects that the federal government supports.  

A transformation of energy and other infrastructure requires planning, design, and purposeful coordination of local public agencies. The original New Deal, I said in my speech before Robert F. Kennedy Jr.'s anti-coal keynote at the Marin County Municipal Auditorium, was entirely based upon the municipal leadership of the Huey Longs of Winn Parish Louisiana, a Socialist/Populist Bastion; or the "power broker" Robert Moses who organized the planning of steel bridges in New York City, quickly copied by cities worldwide -  locally implementing a vision that had originated in the Populist, Progressive and Socialist movements of the late 19th century. Today, our Cold War mental image of public works is federal with Roosevelt's face on it, but in reality municipalities do this job. The New Deal was in this sense an emulation, co-optation or standardization of municipal public works that were already underway, asserting federal control over such projects, trading cooperation for federal funds: and postwar America was born. 

In this sense the New Deal was a watering down of a more radical municipal trend. On the one hand, the striking factor of the New Deal was its highly competent administration, scalability/impact, and cost-effectiveness in employing people during the crisis. It had to re-standardize the economy under a federal system, fundamentally marginalizing state and local governments. On the other hand, the system it created manufactured a yawning political complacency in American civil society. As America got rich with massive growth in the postwar years, many municipalities even granted their energy utilities "perpetual franchises" during these decades of corporate utopianism and the peaceful atom, reflecting the la-la land quality of political leadership concerning the energy sector, which was the focus of intense anti-communist propaganda campaigns of both the U.S. Cold War complex and Madison Avenue.   

The New Deal was thinkable and possible, because the broader civil discourse had moved so far left after the Wall Street Crash of 1929 that a deal was needed to get socialists to compromise with millionaires, and a regulatory state (not socialism) was thus established and continued through the 20th century. It was, ultimately, a kicking-of-the-can down the dialectical sidewalk. A growing chorus of market fundamentalism between the Democratic and Republican party cabals since then has resulted in a toxic bipartisanship in recent decades, with a consistently inadequate commitment to addressing climate change or any other serious mega-threats, like mass extinction and endless wars.

So much of politics depends upon metaphor. When we think of public mobilizations to face a disaster, the War Production mobilization in WWII comes to mind, and the trip to the moon. "The Apollo Alliance" which most notably promoted the Green New Deal in the Obama era, and after failing was absorbed by the United Nations as the "Global Apollo Program,"  was fixated upon this Kennedy-era metaphor. Today, the Climate Mobilization calls for a Godzilla-style "WWII style mobilization" on climate change. We naturally look to the past (or to fictional archetypes), to grasp for a precedent, when in fact we need to do something new, and in a new way

It is no less imporant to recognize that transforming energy must (1) redevelop the private sector, which consumes 95% of energy, and (2) reduce dependency on grid resources, not merely add green power to the grid. In my 2005 Marin speech, the New Deal metaphors were steel bridges and water and sewer systems/plumbing: these are precedents for the kind of infrastructure change climate change demands. Bridges cross the municipal with scale, but the precedent of plumbing and sewer systems connects small private systems to large public systems, and is closer in this respect to the way in which carbon emissions can be reduced through an integrated powering down of grids and pipelines.  I joked to the audience about how controversial plumbing had been in the time of Cholera debate in the late 1800s, the fear government pipes crossing the lawn, and a residual public denial of the idea of contagion: that Cholera was spread through water contamination. "Today, everyone has a toilet. The idea was extreme at the time. Queen Victoria at one time owned the only Crapper in the world."

Today, though this great hulk of the New Deal was designed to terminate, and did terminate, the 20th century federalized the entire country, converting a formerly local political culture based on newspapers and actual political communities in cities to a national/imperial audience based in T.V., in an era of mass suburbanization, which is is obsessed with the Presidency/Emperor, while neglecting all other forms of democratic participation.

Starting in the late 1970's and rising to a crescendo in the 1990's, industries were deregulated and off-shored, welfare "reformed," millions of drug addicts incarcerated, and unions bypassed. Globalization, or foreign investment-oriented trade agreements  have replaced the regulatory state - a replacement that in energy and other heavy industries, failed in  terms of delivering innovation in energy or transportation. Federal regulatory agencies have long systematically failed to protect the food supply from pesticides and GMOs, which aren't even labeled and hardly regulated, with even point-of-origin labeling efforts under a ban. Under this system, America got the McHorrible food system we have.

It's important to remember the downside of war mobilization and the command-and-control economy. During the regulatory state, the American population was exposed to radiation and minorities sterilized. Socialists,  communists, anarchists and libertarians (anybody with their own ideas) were hounded out of universities and important jobs (and off Hollywood and TV), a fact that persists today in America. The regulatory state was Pax Americana to the world in the postwar decades: America, Inc.. By the time of energy industry deregulation in the 1990's, it was an undeniable fact that the depression-era Wall Street solution called utility regulation had amounted to a manifest failure, and that deregulation was necessary to break the mold and start over. The postwar party was over, growth slowed down to a snail's pace in the early 1970's, and the industry itself began to talk about restructuring.

Changing the basic structure of the economy is routinely achieved by big business but is ultimately the natural province of the municipality. The restructuring of the energy industry since Jimmy Carter is the reason why we have done so little about climate change. We cannot go back, or we'll just get the sorry handmaidens - the California Public Utilities Commissions of the world - which are empty husks of their former selves, and serve as blank check machines for the energy mafia.

When you propose to transform energy, this is what you are trying to transform. It is a political force that has controlled the policy discussion for thirty years. Achieving transformation of this industry requires a specific, leveraged direction of approach, with known mechanisms, so that decisions may be made, partners signed and projects built in a timely manner.

We believe, with Schumacher, that Small is Beautiful, and propose, not a federal model of action, but the only reason Green New Deal is increasingly thinkable, pursuant to the last election: a nation-wide movement of local municipalities to implement energy localizations through Community Energy platforms known as Community Choice Aggregation or "CCA." Alongside the growing list of American cities committing to 100% renewable energy (implying intent to aggregate), these are achieving massive carbon reductions at no cost to taxpayers, building their Climate Works programs locally in their communities, as mutual associations, under city council management. 

These cities developing regional renewable facilities, numbering in the hundreds, join over a thousand nationwide that have already taken local control of their energy decision making. They are led by dozens that are well beyond this and into transforming the energy business model through localization and demand reduction.  I am working with several to focus development behind-the-meter in people's homes and businesses, de-growing the grid load from the bottom up.

De-growth is an urban re-development strategy! Giant wind farms and Megagrids ain't!

It is replacing a power plant with a thousand small facilities and building retrofits. In terms of cost center, it replaces fuel with labor and logistics. We are working with cities to help them hire local residents and employ local businesses. 

This is Green Public Works, Green Private Works too, being primarily customer-owned.

De-growth of power replaces the Green-the-Grid model of the Green New Deal and the status quo generally, with a strategy of downsizing the Grid through localization. Technologies are off-the-shelf, and already competitive in price with conventional resources. Microgrid-enabled, solar/onsite renewables, appliance and heating automation, shared Vehicle-to-Building (V2B) Electric Vehicles, and other onsite power and heating technologies embody a strategy not only to localize technology, but localize ownerhsip. Urban areas and  rural areas would follow slightly different models, but, depending on local conditions, you should be able to to provide most of your energy from within 20 miles of City Hall, much of it within 10 miles, based on adaption of efficiency, renewables, and flexible EV storage.

Moreover, unlike the New Deal, Green Public Works is not just about government ownership, but rather customer ownership and community economic benefits.

Rather than building a national grid for wind power, cities make investments to cool down utility substations throughout their jurisdictions, while offering residents a universal equity path, based on the proceeds: a kind of solar retirement fund. Economic benefits would be localized, not off-shored to Wall Street. Rather than raising taxes to pay for more federal workers and enrich the bankers, we would pay for more local workers, working for municipal contractors, and enrich ourselves. These new services, which municipalities manage, provide the funding to run the programs, so you don't oppress the people with unnecessary taxes to pay for it all.

I know we need important election issues, and the Green New Deal is attempting to address the most pressing threat to Americans and all people everywhere. But the how of it matters. The idea of a Green New Deal is to do something big and different. However, the gigantism of it makes Green New Deal somewhat stuffy, standard-issue federal gruel.   It is the classic error of leftists to forget that the state sucks, too. Disruption is more effective than planning. A bit of anarchy can be a good thing in a world of cartels and monopolies presiding over a captive institution: municipal anarchism, not central planning, is the responsible path to Climate Action.

Top-down policy platforms have inherent flaws: as Schumacher said, of gigantism.  In localizations, the city councils give orders to the town administrator, who directs staff managing town contractors. This simple, local democratic milieu presents the millions of  concerned Americans, who support Green New Deal because it is at least on the menu in Plato's cave, with a practical, achievable, scalable local path to a Climate Solution.

And without needing to lob an improbable pass over the U.S. Senate and President, nor resort once again to the passion play for endless marches and public vomiting of cultural outrage. What demonstrations, these? Occupists? It carries the other-worldly scent of religion. We need real demonstrations of Green Public Works to spread nationwide. If we need federal support to do this, it is targeted support we need: backstopping for Solar Bond financing and credit/collateral assistance on power contracts to have better control. We would ask that it actually be adapted to existing municipal activities, not sprayed down from above. There is real work to be done here, not just bragging about how much public money you will spend or threatening draconian measures like travel bans. It didn't work for Syriza in Greece, nor Podemos in Spain, and it won't work in the U.S. What will work is municipal public works.

The 2005 speech introduced California's new Community Choice Law, and the Solar Bond authority that I had recently written and passed in the state legislature and by voters to San Francisco's City Charter (the world's first Green Bond). These two new local powers would be combined, repurposing the kinds of revenue bond investment in toll bridge authorities and public infrastructure, to build wholly new, modular, diverse miniature technologies in the basements and rooftops of the City: the private sector, which consumes 95% of energy. 

It is hard to awaken the Eternal Ones of the Dream from their sleep of a national glory. In the speech I reminded the (very enviro-) Marinites that Germany's celebrated solar program was also created by one city, spread by osmosis to neighboring cities, and to the local state, and only much much later to the catchment of national government. This is how real things happen.  One single city, Aachen (home of Charlemagne, mind you) imagined and created the example that inspired 27 surrounding municipalities, then the state legislature of Schleswig Holstein, then several other legislature solar buyback programs. 

People often forget the upward impact of a municipal policy on officials representing those municipalities at the state level. Here is a principle of cooperation more powerful than the human will. No federal law would have been possible, and would not have happened at all, without the initiative of Aachen's local government with no state support whatever. This dynamic outlines the thinkable and politically feasible where city councils have been enlisted to do battle. Those who said think globally act locally missed an important opportunity to think locally: and to act, not from begging change from the emperor, but articulating and demanding it at home, in City Hall, built from the ground up. 

(The ironic thing is, some Green New Dealers will think me an opponent, and probably say I am too idealistic, or that it will take too long and we need a global solution to bring it to scale! Yawn. Welcome to climate politics, Rip Van Winkle....) 

                                                           (updated October 1, 2019)

Thursday, January 31, 2019

PG&E's Bankruptcy and CCA


The bankruptcy of utility giant Pacific Gas & Electric should be understood in the context of decades of
More Zilla, less God
 regulatory bailouts and giveaways suffered by California ratepayers, which taken together already exceed the book value of the utility. Todays "emergency" is more of the same routine. Moreover, its cause, and its solution, should be viewed in context not of climate change (as Washington Post recently did), but of electricity industry restructuring, starting in the late 1990s.
The bankruptcy of Pacific Gas & Electric was not caused by climate change. While this notion is catchy and trending, California has been in a drought for half a century: PG&E's power transmission and gas transportation systems have been causing explosions and fires in more recent years, because its corporate leadership has neglected what should be the core of its business (wires), failing to conduct standard simple activity of trimming trees around power lines, and maintaining their pipes. Why? Because it was distracted by an irresistible opportunity to take advantage of political conditions to capture regulators, and build a new and illegal retail electricity monopoly: a strategy that backfired with bankruptcy after successfully subverting competition in 2001, and today backfires with another bankruptcy after having failed to subvert Community Choice Aggregation (CCA).
PG&E's fox needs removing the CPUC's energy henhouse. Hopefully, California's new Governor will take the lesson from Gray Davis, who was recalled for mismanaging the state's energy crisis by giving in to, and simply bailing out, the utilities in 2003, and make a point of finding opportunity in this crisis. The opportunity would be to get rid of the cause of this bankruptcy and the 2001 bankruptcy, for which the California Public Utilities Commission approved a $9B ratepayer bailout at that time. 
The cause of PG&E's distraction was politicization of its corporate leadership, based on an opportunity to subvert the legislature and corrupt state regulators. Since California's bipartisan legislature deregulated its electricity industry in 1997 and opened the state to competition in 1998, PG&E's brass, having won an equally large bailout of "uncompetitive assets" for endorsing the end of its power monopoly, nevertheless became obsessed with blocking competition, first by new suppliers entering the market, which they successfully blocked, causing a diaspora of would-be suppliers out of competing for customers. Having driven the Enrons and Reliants of the world into selling their power into  spot markets servicing utility "default service" customers, i.e. customers still "owned" by PG&E, PG&E has had a consistent strategy of rebuilding an economic, if not legal, monopoly over retail service. 
Customer ownership has been the strategic football of deregulation from the start. Subverting retail competition also resulted in the manipulation of spot markets, causing the energy crisis and the bankruptcy. At the time, one Nation writer called in an "Energy War." And, once the legislature found a new path out of the energy crisis by creating Community Choice Aggregation (Assembly Bill 117) in 2002, PG&E regarded municipalities, again, as mere competitors to body-block.  Building up to 2010, PG&E spent hundreds of millions of dollars on lobbying, lawsuits and astroturf campaigns to block early CCAs, starting in the Central Valley where it successfully killed the first CCA, and attempting to block Bay Area CCA startups, building up to Proposition 16 in 2010, which failed despite $46M in PG&E campaign spending.
Moreover, the attorneys and board of PG&E learned they could use the state regulators of a permanently weakened CPUC to subvert competition for electric supply, and made the CPUC its handmaiden. PG&E won approvals to resume monopoly-like activities as if CCA didn't exist, such as building new power plants that it would own, self-dealing and gas-for-power swaps with merchant generators, long-term power contract procurement undertaken with rubber stamp approval of contracts that are not even reviewed by commissioners, and multi-billion dollar regulatory reallocations of generation costs to transmission charges in the 2010 General Rate Case. In many of these decisions, CPUC regulators admitted that they were acting in violation of longstanding CPUC policy, and promised not to allow it again. This is widely known as bad parenting. The CPUC was training its corporate dog, Pavlovian style, that it could win by failing. Every high-cost contract would erect a new barrier to CCA. 

Today, PG&E plays victim, claiming that its renewable energy contracts have lowered the cost of renewables for CCAs, who have an unfair advantage now that renewables prices are lower. This is Mickey Mouse economics: PG&E didn't lower the price of renewables; China did. Moreover, CPUC regulators acknowledged that PG&E's contracts were extremely high at the time it approved them, and repeated this acknowledgement when it approved massive increases on the PCIA charge to CCA customers to pay the resulting premium. PG&E is no victim. It is a repeat offender. 

The pattern is clear, from 2004-5 during the CCA proceeding, which focused on the conflicts of interest of PG&E and the utilities in "cooperating" with CCA as required by the CCA law, while also having to maximize returns to Wall Street investors. All in all, CPUC dropped the ball. All of these monopolistic activities increased PG&E's desire to control retail energy, and made it neglect its core business of maintaining the wires and pipelines. Northern California has paid the price. 
It is indeed Groundhog day, 18 years later, and nothing has changed. So if Gavin Newsom is smart and wants to be re-elected, he will make it a point to avoid repeating Gray Davis' mistakes, by using this opportunity get PG&E out of the power business entirely, and to refocus it on its core mission: the grid. Moreover, he will move to strengthen the role of CCAs as the dominant retail power providers that they already are in California. Bailout or no bailout, this should be the "win" for California. Otherwise bailing out PG&E yet again will be merely another repeat-rinse, and California is likely to have another Republican governor in a few years.
For CCAs, CCA activists, and CCA suppliers, however, the question is, what will happen to the economics of CCA if yet another ratepayer bailout is approved by the CPUC? CCA has already been hit hard by CPUC approvals of extremely high cost PG&E power contracts (admitting at the time that they were too high, but approving them anyway), then increasing surcharges on CCAs to pay for them: the dreaded PCIA charge. We just got done paying for the last bankruptcy. All of these shrink the power portion of the bill and thus depress the competitiveness of retail supply.    
One question is how they are bailed out. This will have different impacts, obviously, but either way the overall trend is the same: competition shifting from energy rates to net utility bills: from energy to capacity. The worst case question is, assuming they are bailed out at customer expense, what is the net impact on markets and CCA. Or Assuming they are rescued, is there a different future?
Questions about impacts of the bankruptcy tend to focus on the bailout outcome, but in some ways the competitive landscape outcome is the same either way, based on the fact that bailouts have formed so much of the PG&E bill for the past two decades. One key question is will PG&E's insanely expensive power purchase agreements with renewable generators be invalidated by the bankruptcy, decreasing the extant and oppressive PCIA charge that Jerry Brown's CPUC imposed on CCAs? This is a big one, and would be appropriate, because it is the only upside we see other than getting PG&E out of the power business. However, it is not controlled by state regulators. This is a question of FERC jurisdiction vs. the bankruptcy court: and FERC recently said it can protect the holders of PG&E's high cost contracts: so don't count on it. 
All in all, the question is, if there is a bailout and a new bailout surcharge, will CCAs fold, or will they adapt? On that question, rest assured: CCAs are proven resilient public agencies, so they will adapt. There are over 1500 CCAs out there across the nation with a 20 year history, with few terminations in constantly fluctuating market conditions. CCAs in California have an unusually high level of control and resources that they have only begun to use. 
In some ways, the question is not whether CCAs will go away, but how this second crisis will influence CCA procurement activities and how it will impact California's energy markets. PG&E will either collect bailout costs from customers for the next decade or longer, or will not. Either way there will be strong pressure to get them out of the generation business entirely, and PG&E itself has made statements about some sort of "restructuring." Based on the last bankruptcy, a large surcharge will be added to already oppressive PCIA charge increases of recent years. But considering the likelihood of PG&E's days as a energy generating and procuring company will mean a drop in natural gas sales and a shift of wholesale energy markets to CCAs. Moreover, CCAs should use this opportunity to win more support from the state in their new role, such as backstopping Solar Bonds to invest in California renewables and energy efficiency.
When considering impacts of another bailout, it is important to remember that surcharges are volumetric charges on delivered grid power. Therefore, there are nonlinear benefits from PG&E's ever increasing "surchargization" of the power bill (in which paying a bill will be primarily to pay for surcharges, not energy). The more of the bill is a volumetric surcharge and not cost of energy, the better will look the economics of distributed energy resources that reduce the customer's use of grid power.  Increasing T&D charges will encourage CCAs to undertake a stronger adoption of a customer-ownership-of-energy model, promising an increasing turn to Community Solar, Cooperatives, Community Microgrids, and financed efficiency projects. A "CCA 2.0" focus on consumer electronics such as home area networks and IP thermostats, targeted V2B electric vehicle sharing, and generally the integration of residential and small and medium sized business customer investment in storage, onsite PV, boiler heat capture and other kilowatt-scale distributed power with onsite IP and system level networks, will prove more cost effective, being exempt (as non-consumed grid power) from volumetric surcharges, than surcharge-encumbered conventional supply with Renewable Energy Certificates, which otherwise (stupidly) remains the dominant CCA model.  
How will the utilities focus their strategy? 
PG&E is a very poorly trained dog that is fond of dragging its bottom on the Persian carpet. They have learned that they can win through over-procurement and above-cost procurement, ratepayer bailouts, and surcharge increases on departing customers. They appear to be considering an exit from the power business, speaking of "restructuring." The state and CCAs should support this move. Either way, they will seek to increase transmission and distribution charges. PG&E will continue to consolidate its position as a wires company, and a big part of this will be to get the CPUC to authorize a huge new investment and thus rate increases. One way or another it will seek increases, whether to repay a bailout or to make new customer rate-basing of  their transmission infrastructure, or both
How the CCAs will focus
--Turn away from increasingly expensive business model of conventional power with Renewable Energy Certificates, and toward resources that reduce consumption
--Move from in the current approach of in-state RECs and long-term PPAS with regional renewable developers to customer-owned, behind-meter, integrated Distributed Energy Resources
--Take an increasingly flexible approach to grid power procurement, shifting program emphasis towards a long-term focus on integrated DER and onsite integrated renewables development: Solar plus storage, EVs, in-city PV, and other technologies
--Deliver demand response and dispatch, load reform and peak shaving, avoided capacity charges, and lower non-supply savings to the cost of power.  
--Move into non-rate customer savings through focus on load management, and marginalization of procurement as the competitive part of the business model.
Market advice
From an investment point of view, PG&E's bankruptcy underscores the need for CCAs to get operational control over their power. Unconsumed energy cannot be surcharged. Whether a bailout follows or not, this is yet another hint for Community-scaled integrated DER to CCAs in California. Smart investors and CCA suppliers should focus on iDERs integration rather than traditional renewable PPAs, specifically automation, microgrids and flexible storage integrated with onsite renewable power generation and conservation technologies. Expansion of CCA service to heating systems and dynamic EV chargers are also highly recommended. Moreover, more innovative CCA service entities are needed that are responsible for both power and development of iDERs.

Sunday, May 27, 2018

As CCA transforms California's energy system, the state's top regulator mistakes the solution for the problem

San Francisco Chronicle, May 27, 2018
Bureaucrats cannot distinguish between their own power and the public's: yet they are totally different in fact and law. In the case of Community Choice Aggregation (CCA), public power over energy has been shifted, by the law of the  legislature and ordinances of California's local governments, from one creature of the state - the CPUC - to another: municipalities.
The CPUC's recently published "Green Book," while threatening that CCA could cause another energy crisis like the one in 2000-1, appears to forget that the CPUC itself caused the last one. Moreover, the CPUC's dysfunctional, co-dependent relationship with the utilities continues to cause many of the problems its President now blames on California communities that are now getting out from under the CPUC's control.
Instead, President Michael Picker repeats the fictional mantra that "shortages" were primarily to blame for California's energy crisis, when it was conclusively proven that these shortages were illusory
But Picker says CCAs will cause more shortages.  The CPUC forgets that what caused the last energy crisis was CPUC-tolerated market manipulation, starting with the state's investor-owned utilities,  PG&E, Edison and SDG&E, using their market power to block competitors from accessing the retail market in spite of legally mandated competition, and keeping all their customers captive under utility "default service," which forced competitors to sell power through manipulation-prone centralized spot markets. It was a failure to create retail competition that forced all selling through centralized utility channels and created the conditions for fake "shortages" and blackouts that were later blamed on the likes of Enron.
CCA has now created real retail competition.  President Picker was not professionally involved in energy during the energy crisis, so maybe he just doesn't remember that utility obstruction of competitive supply was primarily to blame. His new CPUC Green book is thus full of revisionism about the energy crisis, and appears oblivious to the continuing role of his own agency acting as handmaiden to the utilities, and causing the very crises he blames on CCAs.
For example, the CPUC report asserts over and over again that the utilities are the "Providers of Last Resort" in law, implying that they need to be guaranteed revenues in order to act as traditional monopolies, when the energy crisis proved this designation a myth in fact: that when the proverbial shit hit the fan during the crisis, the utilities unloaded this role on the state of California, under duress of blackouts. It was, and remains a fact of life that the State of California is the Provider of Last Resort, not the utilities, which are but wires companies. In 2000, California's investor-owned utilities abrogated their legal obligation to serve customers - breaking the legal foundation of the "Regulatory Compact" underlying their monopolies - reflected in the fact that the State (CA Dept. of Water Resources) lost $57B when it took over that responsibility to buy power, and ratepayers were ultimately forced to underwrite this loss.
CPUC's "Green Book" is boldly revisionist, also falsely claiming that the state "re-regulated" after the energy crisis and made the utilities into monopolies again in 2001. This is directly contradicted by the fact that the legislature and governor approved the CCA law (AB117) in 2002 as an answer to the crisis. In fact, the utilities have fielded several bills to re-establish monopoly regulation since 2002, all of which failed to pass the legislature. The CPUC's revisionism under Picker is a blatant and dangerous falsehood, and a betrayal of California ratepayers, who were after all required by the legislature and CPUC to pay PG&E, Edison and SDG&E $28.5B in utility bill surcharge ("Competition Transition Charge") payments in addition to the DWR contract surcharges, in return for giving up their monopolies, and with which these former monopolies formed unregulated holding companies and purchased unregulated utility assets all around the U.S., China and South America. Again, this is in addition to not only the $57B lost by California taxpayers in DWR contracts and the subsequent CPUC-approved bankruptcy bailouts (about $12B for PG&E) that were also born by ratepayers.
As the "Competition Transition Surcharge" bailout funds collected from ratepayers according to California's deregulation law AB1890 were after all received by the utilities, and obviously were never returned to ratepayers, the utilities cannot claim to be legal monopolies, cannot claim the right to be treated as such by the CPUC: ratepayers paid for the right to choice, specifically Community Choice, and are guaranteed this right specifically by the CCA law, AB117. The CPUC has neither the right to steal this back for the utilities through a bogus history lesson, nor the power to do so.
Moreover, while the CPUC "Green Book" admits that virtually the entire state is departing CPUC-regulated utility service to CCAs, it neglects to mention that they do so in part because of the discredit and disgrace under which the CPUC now operates, following multiple ethics violations and widespread evidence of continuing corruption, from illegal backchannel communications to cost-shifting, affiliate transactions, self-dealing, and gold-plated renewable energy contracts that the utilities signed and now wave before CCAs as if it were their problem. Since the CCA law was passed, the utilities have in fact used over-procurement of power to deliberately create new stranded costs that effectively erect new economic barriers to CCAs - a fact that we anticipated and attempted to head off at the CPUC's CCA rules proceeding over a decade ago.
The CPUC paper indicates that the state needs CCAs to fulfill their self-declared mission of building local renewables, behind-meter customer-owned solar, and expanding energy efficiency, and I agree with these statements - but they must be achieved by eliminating CPUC and utility barriers, not by backtracking or erecting novel protection rackets for would-be energy monopolies.
The CPUC paper fails to mention that CCAs have achieved record high renewable energy levels at rates below the utilities, and have revolutionary energy localization goals in their mission statements and charters. That being said, in their launch phases, CCAs have indeed depended too much on Renewable Energy Credits (RECs) for their renewable content, and need to focus on rebuilding their programs to use renewable energy and energy efficiency finance in the private sector to change the utility business model, create local power and eliminate the need for the mega-facilities and associated transmission lines that the utilities have always preferred.   
But again, the CPUC has a significant role in delaying the ability of CCAs to implement energy efficiency and finance renewables. It took eight years for the state's first CCA to receive an investment-grade credit rating from Moody's in large part because of perceived risk created by fierce and well-funded utility subversion of CCAs that has been largely tolerated by CPUC. Moreover, while the state's CCA law AB117 allows CCAs to administer substantial funds that their ratepayers pay every month for energy efficiency programs, the CPUC's obsolete program evaluation criteria have effectively blocked CCAs from innovating by forcing them to imitate utility programs, driving most of state's CCAs away for over a decade.
The CPUC should examine its own role in discouraging innovations by CCAs rather than flirt with an illegal and dangerous dream of re-establishing its discredited empire. It should abandon command and control and adapt its practices to allow local municipal innovation: the core mission of virtually all of California's CCAs.
It is critical that regulators and legislators recognize that CCA legitimately includes not merely a transfer of customers from monopoly service to competitive supply, but also a transfer from CPUC planning to regional planning. Picker complains that there is "No Plan," as if his own inability to plan CCA meant that no plans exist. This remark reflects a fundamental bureaucratic blind spot; there is central planning and regional planning - the former by one subdivision of the state of California (CPUC) and the latter by another (municipalities). AB117 enshrined a legislative decision and created a state-local process to make this transition, in which municipalities must comply with state requirements, but are as California subdivisions not regulated by the CPUC.  The CPUC doesn't because the legislature and people of California opted out of that system and into another. It is the CPUC's responsibility to use the limited powers it has under law to provide municipalities with appropriate guidance and support as they usher in a regional, more democratic, and greener energy system for the Golden State.

Sunday, February 11, 2018

New York CCA 2.0 Working Group Report Released!


New York State's "CCA Policy Recommendations Report" has recently been completed.

New York State created a special working group a year ago to prepare a detailed report assessing the opportunities, barriers and limitations to CCA 2.0 for the New York Public Service Commission's (PSC) Clean Energy Advisory Council (CEAC). You can read the report in full by clicking the link below.

New York State is a major opportunity for energy localization because, unlike other states with CCA, New York's leadership has recognized CCA, from day one and the highest level, the opportunity for Distributed Energy Resource development (CCA 2.0). Unlike other states, New York State has focused material resources to its implementation, such as the CCA Toolkit, which Local Power helped prepare. While New York's already deregulated electricity and gas markets present certain challenges to CCA 2.0, and the PSC's regulations added some restrictions to the "California" (wholesale) approach to local development, nevertheless New York is fertile ground for a CCA 2.0 model, which moreover can be replicated in other U.S. states with active deregulated markets having "retail" market structures. This, above all else, is the reason why Local Power worked with Citizens for Local Power to draft CCA legislation in 2014, and became actively involved with the PSC and NYSERDA since then: having gotten CCA 2.0 on its feet in California, we want to prepare a nationally replicable model that will work in states that (unlike California) have retail market structures.

The New York "CCA Policy Recommendations Report" is yet another systematic effort to make DER happen on a meaningful scale here. Local Power Inc. was honored (as the only outsider) to work with New York-based NGOs and market participants to make these recommendations to the PSC and the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA) for policy and program changes to augment a transition of CCAs to locally-based renewable energy systems. The final report was presented to the CEAC and submitted to the Public Service Commission at the end of January, and could potentially expand CCA program opportunities if its recommendations are implemented by the PSC and NYSERDA.

The working group was chaired by Brad Tito, NYSERDA's Communities & Local Government Program Manager. As Citizens for Local Power reported, "a wide range of interests and perspectives were represented in the working group, including utilities, which did not agree with some of the report's recommendations." However the report provides valuable insight into current pathways and obstacles to CCA 2.0 in New York, as well as recommendations to the State of New York on how to further simplify and support ongoing efforts of CCAs such as Westchester to use CCA as a platform for Distributed Energy Resource (DER) development.

Apart from Local Power Inc., the report authors include the Association for Energy Affordability,  Citizens for Local Power, Constellation, Consolidated Edison, Croton Energy Group Inc., Joule Assets, Municipal Electric and Gas Alliance (MEGA), Office of Clean Energy, New York State Department of Public Service, New York State Electric and Gas Corporation (NYSEG) and Rochester Gas and Electric (RG&E), National Grid, Orange and Rockland Utilities,  Pace Energy and Climate Center, Renewable Highlands, Sustainable Westchester, and Tompkins County Council of Governments.

Read the Full Report Here.

Saturday, January 6, 2018

CCA Reaching Critical Mass



GTM Research - The "Total Addressable (PV) Market for
 California Community Choice Aggregators" - Oct 2, 2017

Even though Community Choice Aggregations (CCAs) still serve a small minority of communities in the United States, the scale of going green regionally is already registering in national green power industry statistics.  It's about to get a lot bigger.

CCA is already 4% of the national PV project pipeline based on a “green CCA” market that is just getting started and about to expand rapidly in both California and New York. Given the fact that CCA is just now hitting a major growth curve in some of America's largest energy using states, and most new adopters are motivated by a focus on energy localization, this percentage is certain to grow significantly in 2018. 

CCA is finally getting the attention of national industry and media as a major and revolutionary new force in American energy. In October, GreenTech Media announced that CCA has taken over the solar market in California, and the impact is being felt across the country.  “Community Choice Aggregators (CCAs) are positioned to represent up to 45 percent of California’s utility PV demand over the next five years. The total addressable market for CCAs is set to reach 3.9 gigawatts by 2022, but it is also expected to grow beyond that projection, as eight more (county-scale) CCAs are slated to launch in the immediate future."

 Green CCA is not new, and was in fact the original concept, but has taken years to make into the rule rather than the exception among CCA implementors. While the initial growth curve of CCA in Ohio and Illinois was focused on discounts and/or higher renewable energy content using Renewable Energy Certificates (RECs), more recent, and even much dramatic growth curve has been largely motivated by the benefits that can only be achieved by localization: local jobs, climate action, and local economic development. 

In California, truly a revolution in power is already underway, with 85% of all customers of investor-owned utilities expected to be served by CCAs in the next few years. Virtually all of these CCAs are focused on development of local renewables, energy efficiency and meaningful greenhouse gas reductions in addition to greener power: 150,000 GHh switching to CCA could leverage an unprecedented wave of DER development, and cause an historical greenhouse gas reduction.   

New York is the exciting new CCA 2.0 kid on the block. After the State of New York approved CCA as a platform for Distributed Energy Resource (DER) development in 2014, the New York State Energy Research & Development Authority (NYSERDA) has taken the lead role in helping municipalities pursue a DER-centric "CCA 2.0" strategy, creating a "CCA Toolkit" with Local Power's assistance, and forming a special workgroup to advise the state on how to augment energy localization and remove any outstanding barriers in state law and regulation. I am proud to have participated in these processes.

The trend towards green power has even spread back to early CCA states whose early adopters were initially focused on achieving discounted rates for customers, inspired by widespread successes of CCAs to achieve greener power at discounted rates, and also new local benefits associated with local renewables.

In Massachusetts, about 130 municipalities out of the Commonwealth's 351 total are already under CCA service, with the City of Boston recently joining the pack, focused on achieving greenhouse gas reductions. 

More than 250 communities in Ohio are under CCA service, including the nation’s first “green CCA” in Northeast Ohio. Today, NOPEC has 850K customers in 218 communities in 14 counties statewide, all being served 50% renewable power at a discount below utility rates - something that was unthinkable even in California only half a decade ago, but becoming widespread under CCAs, which have been proven able to deliver greener power much cheaper than utilities and deregulated suppliers. This kind of scale creates substantial environmental benefits. In Southeast Ohio, SOPEC has been focused not merely on greener power but on energy localization for the past couple of years, providing the state with a ramming rod for CCA 2.0.

About 600 communities in Illinois are under CCA service. Between 2011 and 2014, 91 Illinois municipalities representing 1.7 million consumers switched their communities to 100% Renewable Energy using CCA. 91 medium sized cities and towns containing 1.7M customers have chosen 100% renewable energy (using RECs), which is a six TWh annual renewable demand boost - the carbon reduction equal to eliminating one million cars! While Illinois' CCA law needs changing to eliminate barriers to CCA investment in local renewables and efficiency, these accomplishments demonstrate both the power of CCA and the political will for significant action in green power.

With the numbers starting to show, national policy groups are beginning to recognize the true potential that CCA has to create significant local benefits like customer equity, community wealth retention, local jobs and economic development, and local pollution reduction, as well as global benefits like greenhouse gas reductions.  NAACP's just featured CCA in its Environmental and Climate Justice Program's Just Energy Policies and Practices Action Toolkit. 

 Watch for some major new leaps in 2018, with emerging CCAs shifting their focus further towards the local, and even behind the meter. As CCAs continue to prove new services like EVs and solar plus storage, solar bonds/green bonds continue to go mainstream, and increasing levels of DER integration prove themselves in the form of community microgrids, and community solar, EV sharing and dynamic charging, CCAs will revolutionize demand-side technologies and customer-ownership the way the have already transformed retail energy. Mark my words: what was a luxury will soon prove cheaper than status quo power, and what was a fantasy utopia will soon become reality.

Friday, April 21, 2017

Don't Think of a Windmill



Activists from the West Coast to the East are awakening to the necessity of local action to transform the energy system. This has put new wind into the sails of the Community Choice movement, and with it a whole new level of purpose and meaning.

Next month, the Center for Climate Protection will host its annual California CCA conference in Long Beach: the Business of Local Energy Symposium. Like similar events going on around the country where CCA laws are in place, this year's Business of Local Energy Symposium is conspicuously focused on the theme of energy localization, "distributed energy resources," or CCA 2.0: on how CCAs can be the vessel for a bigger idea about change.

In part, the trend towards local action comes from widespread disappointment with President Obama's performance in battling climate change over the past eight years. An already growing awareness of the shortcomings of national politics in addressing climate change is reinforced by now-President Trump's effortless unravelling of Obama's modest gains. What little progress was made in the past eight years, was so easily unmade: hardly a recipe for stopping climate change.

In another respect, there is also growing awareness among people committed to climate action that the goal-setting paradigm of state and federal energy policy is simply inadequate. There is a growing awareness that it is easy and misleading to pretend to solve problems by setting targets for carbon reductions or green power levels twenty or thirty years into the future when future governments may un-set them. More people see now that greater strides and more permanent changes are needed. Creating new targets, incentives and trading schemes that can just be unchanged by the next politicians are just another form of kicking the can down the road.

Energy policies that don't actually change the energy system, but merely set targets, provide funding, adjust incentives or subsidies, or trade carbon credits, have inherently limited horizons that "real" change can and must transcend before we can declare victory.  Another form of this can-kicking, widely adopted by policy makers of all stripes until recent years, is also increasingly scrutinized by activists: renewable energy certificates (RECs).

From the time that Climate Change became a generally accepted phenomenon in U.S political discourse in the 1990's until today, the governing paradigm of public policy has been neoliberal, in the specific meaning that the government's role is implicitly defined as creating and/or tweaking markets in which incumbent corporate interests compete. Under neoliberal policies, governments do not do anything directly, but merely create market mechanisms so that market players will do it. This is the origin of carbon trading, renewable energy certificates, and similar policy frameworks.

Today, many activists and elected officials have come to recognize that deliberate, controlled actions by governments are required to ensure that significant greenhouse gas reductions are achieved and endure into the future. This cannot be under carbon credit and renewable energy credit trading, which are a form of "rented" green-ness that can disintegrate tomorrow when the natural gas market shifts.

In so many ways, neoliberalism has met its match in climate change. Much as Bernie Sanders called broadly for a "revolution" in American politics, many climate activists now see that structural change is needed to deliver a new business model in energy, and not just greener behavior by the same players. Many Americans now recognize that we need physical change in the energy industry, not trading schemes and meaningless goals and targets: a different way of doing energy, not just mitigations and marginal improvements.

We seem to have passed beyond a secret threshold, in which bigger ideas about change may now be considered. And we have come to a greater commitment to ensure that the policy solutions we work on are themselves sustainable into the future.  The epiphany that engages more and more Americans with each passing year involves a shift from the idea of "green power" to the idea of "local power," and from a paradigm of renewable energy certificates to a to a paradigm of physical change. The benefits of physical change, from de-growth, customer- and community-ownership, to grid and fuel independence, rate stability, to local green jobs and local economic development, offer ten-fold more compelling reasons to implement CCA compared to increasing renewable energy credits, as so many early CCAs limited themselves to doing. In this emerging view, environment, prosperity and social justice are not competing for crumbs, but combining into a single purpose.

As with Bernie, it was the "vision thing," that mattered: the people are not to be spoken down to with simplified fictitious renewable energy certificate schemes, but talked up to with palpable, enduring investments in a completely new energy, community-scaled system. This shift in emphasis is paradigmatic. It is a shift from thinking about making energy greener to reducing dependency on the grid: from green consumerism to energy independent communities.

In my view, the recent surge in CCA proliferation is the direct result of the successful realization of the CCA 2.0 vision to deliver a "revolution in power," starting with the Bay Area CCAs and spreading South and East to inspire climate activists who simply did not see the opportunity to use CCA in this way. As a result, the constituency for CCA is growing rapidly, and the trend towards innovation in iDER approaching a critical mass. We appear to be on the cusp of a national movement for energy localization.

Today, the realization of CCA as a platform for fundamental change is reaching  a shift from the conventional utility-based conception of renewable generation and energy efficiency programs to a more specific technological concept of integrated Distributed Energy Resources (iDER): of  technologies like microgrids, storage, load control, and islanding that when integrated provide a complete change from, and vastly increased independence from, the old system.  The maturation of technological integration has been matched with increasingly mature community-based energy mechanisms. Since the advent of Solar Bonds, an army of DER financing industries has developed which, in conjunction with key program design elements such as shared renewables, solar co-operatives, on-bill financing, and blockchain (non-utility) billing systems, provide ample opportunity for CCAs to organize and finance iDER.

From day one (22 years ago) CCA was designed to be a platform for this change, which has been a long, long time coming. The time has come to put down those credits, and pick up a shovel!

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Honey I shrunk the utility: California's final nuclear plant closure attributed to CCA

The impact of CCA on California is just getting started, but it has already caused a nuclear power plant to become redundant. Pacific Gas & Electric officials said its recent decision to close the Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant was influenced in part by the loss of customers because of Community Choice Aggregation (CCA), under which local jursidictions group power purchases to choose alternative suppliers.

With six Bay Area counties already under service from Napa to San Francisco, and virtually every coastal county of the state now preparing to launch their own local electricity services, PG&E's nuclear baseload power is simply no longer needed. Industry analysts predict that 60% of all Californians served by investor-owned utilities like PG&E will soon be served by CCAs, leading the media to ask, can renewables and energy efficiency replace nuclear power?

Moreover, now that CCA is definitely and permanently transforming California's electricity system, the operative question is, will the CCAs forming up and down the coast from Humboldt to Alameda County, San Mateo County to San Jose, Santa Cruz to Lancaster and Los Angeles County and Riverside, San Diego and Del Mar, realize their founders' dreams of becoming energy independent, building local renewables and energy efficiency, creating local green jobs. and achieving a new business model focused on the other side of the meter? These are palpable local benefits that only get delivered if substantial local buildouts happen, and in a meaningful time frame.

The answer lies in the very activists who are driving each of these efforts in each community. CCA is not just a solution to the energy crisis and climate change: it is an opportunity for democracy to deliver this result. CCA is not an end, but a means to an end. Activists must realize that this unique opportunity to change everything requires more than the conventional campaign, in which winning a vote on a law is the goal, then everybody folds up their tents and goes home.

CCA is a more holistic, comprehensive process that takes years of community deliberation to fully execute. Changing everything takes perseverance on the inside, and activists who see CCA through to launch only are blowing it if they think they are "done" once the program launches. Creating your new CCA program is just the beginning, not the end, of CCA. Now you have to attend to the details of transforming energy. It must involve an active community process. If you want to deliver local jobs, local development, local companies, and local ownership, there is work to do to make those things happen. The physical transformation of energy takes time but it won't happen unless it starts at program launch. No waiting for reserves is called for, because so many ways now exist to finance efficiency and renewables, build-outs should begin at program launch, and local build-out be the centerpiece of the program from day one. If CCA activists, who have successfully made local build-out the central focus of California CCA, will just persevere with their elected officials that govern CCA programs, and hold their feet to the fire, democracy will prevail: we will truly revolutionize energy in this state, as we have promised for so many years. 

Friday, April 22, 2016

New York Gets CCA 2.0

On April 20, the New York Public Service Commission (PSC) approved an order authorizing the
establishment of Community Choice Aggregation (CCA) programs by municipalities statewide, and articulated the necessary program design principles and standards that municipalities must apply in developing and implementing CCA programs for their constituents.

The PSC order adds one of the nation's largest markets for power to the list of U.S. states that allow CCA, including California, Illinois, Massachusetts, Ohio, and New Jersey, with several other states considering similar laws. Local Power Inc. played an active role in educating the PSC and other New York state agencies throughout its process, drafting legislation in 2014 and preparing testimony and comments in the proceeding over the past year, while also advising local advocates on their efforts to win CCA rules to encourage and open a clear path to DER development and community energy in New York.

The order opens a path of activists in Ulster County, Sullivan County and others to follow the lead of Westchester County, which launched its local CCA program under a PSC pilot project earlier this year. Perhaps most significantly, New York's CCA take California's move toward a more ambitious form of CCA foward another step, focused strategically not only on retail choice or greener power, but the development of Distributed Energy Resources, or DER.

The Public Service Commission's order, approved following the lead from NY Governor Andrew Cuomo following disruption of New York's power supply from Hurricane Sandy in 2012, states that while CCA will offer the vast majority of residents and businesses benefits from retail electric competition that deregulated markets have failed to deliver, but "(m)ore importantly, the CCA construct provides substantial positive opportunity for meaningful and effective local and community engagement on critical energy issues and the development of innovative programs, products, and services that promote and advance the achievement of the State’s energy goals....CCA programs can educate, encourage, and empower communities and individuals to take control of their energy future through engagement with existing...opportunities and development of new DER and clean energy programs" with the Governor's Reforming the Energy Vision (REV) and New York's Clean Energy Fund (CEF).

Local Power Inc. is very pleased by this order, and thrilled to see CCA growing both in the scale of the market, and in the wisdom of is intention. We look forward to helping New York communities realize energy independence, develop local economies, create local jobs, and transform customers into owners in coming years under this order, and encourage community energy activists everywhere to take encouragement that our strategy is not only working, but finding its way to the mainstream.

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