Meeting climate change goals through community choice aggregation

June 12, 2013

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

Community choice aggregation permits governmental units to purchase bulk power and distribute the energy across existing power lines to their customers. Its appeal is the opportunity to lower the consumers’ cost of electricity. It also presents participants with an opportunity to purchase electricity from renewable energy sources. But the actual electricity being used is unlikely to have been produced from renewable sources.

In Evanston, Ill., community aggregation will assist the city in meeting the carbon reduction goal of its climate action plan. A 100 percent renewable energy mix will be based on the purchase of renewable energy credits. These credits help fund the installation of more renewable energy. Evanston is considering including in next year’s third-party energy purchase agreement the cost of installing 100 kilowatts of solar electricity, equivalent to roughly the consumption of 30 homes. Also under consideration for next year’s contract is an energy efficiency program for residential and commercial customers.

In San Francisco, Paul Fenn, the creator of the community choice aggregation concept, has far more ambitious plans. Under contract, he developed a plan to facilitate energy independence and clean power from future local installations. It relied heavily on reducing consumption and the installation of hundreds of small and mid-sized solar electric installations throughout the city. Phase I of the plan covered a 10-year period, created 12,000 local installation jobs, performed 12,000 energy efficiency retrofits and included an expected $650 million savings for customers compared to projected PG&E rates. It was an aggressive plan intent on meeting the city’s renewable energy and carbon reduction goals and called for a $1.4 billion bond issue to support it.

Instead of Fenn’s plan, Clean Power SF signed a five-year $19.5 million contract with Shell Energy serving a third-party role. The city is expected to begin purchasing up to 30 megawatts of 100 percent renewable power, roughly 5 percent of residential use in the city. The electricity will come from distant sources and will neither provide additional jobs for the city nor supply the city with a revenue stream. Only a limited amount of renewable energy and efficiency will be installed in the city.

In Illinois, more than 40 communities successfully operate electrical generating facilities, and many of them offer their customers efficiency programs and renewable energy options. In 2008, Hinsdale, Ill., began taking steps to buy the electrical service system provided by ComEd, as their outage rate far exceeded the average. Communities such as Batavia, Ill., and St. Charles, Ill., which operate municipal electric systems, had their electrical service restored far faster than Hinsdale did following outages. Eventually, an agreement was reached in which ComEd upgraded a substation and replaced power lines, ending Hinsdale’s quest to purchase the system. Although not part of their plan to establish a municipal power agency, Hinsdale would have been in a position to create a major renewable energy and efficiency program.

The establishment of community choice aggregation provides a means to establish a renewable energy and efficiency program, but does not guarantee that controlling officials will implement it.

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 June 12-18, 2013, issue

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