Community choice aggregation as envisioned by Paul Fenn

July 11, 2012

By Drs. Robert & Sonia Vogl
President and Vice President, Illinois Renewable Energy Association

Community choice aggregation (CCA) has made a big splash on the energy scene in Illinois with more than 250 political units already passing referendums authorizing their government to explore the possibility of implementing a CCA program in their jurisdiction.

CCA allows units of government to negotiate their own cost of electricity from suppliers other than utilities such as ComEd. Even though the power would be purchased from another entity, the electricity will still be delivered over the poles, lines and transformers maintained by utilities serving Illinois.

This approach allows local governmental units to choose what energy they will buy for their residential and commercial members. Communities have an opportunity to purchase renewable energy sources such as solar, small hydro and biogas, avoiding the uncertainties inherent in expecting utilities and state officials to support renewable energy and efficiency solutions for local economies. Greening the grid at the local level creates new local jobs while lowering energy bills.

Paul Fenn is a leading expert on community choice, as he co-authored the original community choice law in Massachusetts while serving as director of the Massachusetts Senate Committee on Energy. His ongoing efforts include work in California, Massachusetts, Illinois, Ohio, New Jersey and overseas.

For Fenn, the creation of a CCA only makes economic sense if local renewable energy sources are included from the very start. He points to northeast Ohio as one example of the success of his approach. It serves a million people and delivers greener power at lower costs than either utilities or deregulated power marketers are able to deliver.

A CCA called Cape Light Compact has provided power to Cape Cod, Nantucket and Martha’s Vineyard for more than a decade. In California, Marin Clean Energy is already providing 25 percent of the power to its participants at the same rates as PG&E. The power it provides is 78 percent greenhouse-gas-free.

Fenn’s work is focused on mayors, city council members and other local and regional government leaders determined to implement local solutions to the energy challenges we face. He sees it as technically feasible to supply 50 to 75 percent of local energy needs from renewable sources over a five-year time period.

The technologies used to reach this level of service will differ by place based on local resources, weather conditions, variations in energy demand and local governance authority. Fenn’s expertise involves figuring out how far and how fast any county or municipal government can transform its community energy supply by increasing its reliance on conservation, efficiency and renewable energy sources without increasing utility bills.

In Boulder, Colo., up to 12 different technologies are being considered in a program to provide at least 50 percent of its energy needs from local distributed sources. The design includes local energy storage and smart-grid applications.

For Fenn and his firm, Local Power, Inc., creating a CCA authority is a means to a larger goal of assisting local governments in determining the energy systems that get built to serve local energy needs.

Fenn is a keynote speaker at this year’s 11th Annual Illinois Renewable Energy and Sustainable Lifestyle Fair Aug. 11-12 at the Ogle County Fairgrounds in Oregon, Ill.

Major sponsors are the Illinois Clean Energy Community Foundation and The Rock River Times.

Drs. Robert and Sonia Vogl are founders and officers of the Illinois Renewable Energy Association (IREA) and coordinate the annual Renewable Energy and Sustainable Lifestyle Fair. E-mail sonia@essex1.com.

From the July 11-17, 2012, issue

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