“Hit job” on Marin Clean Energy

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By Rebecca Bowe

In a report officially released yesterday, the Marin County Civil Grand Jury tore apart Marin Clean Energy, a community-choice aggregation program that is intended to reduce the region’s greenhouse-gas emissions to address climate change.

The Civil Grand Jury report called the project “costly and extremely risky” and recommended that the whole effort be abandoned. It criticized the program as adding another layer of bureaucracy at a time when resources are limited, and described it as being plagued with uncertainty. The report was titled “Pull the Plug,” and it warned of risks ranging from market volatility to legal costs if Pacific Gas & Electric should take steps to attack the effort once it is launched.

“The county and all participating municipalities of Marin Energy Authority should step away from their adversarial political posturing and seriously work with foundations, federal, state and local agencies and PG&E to foster cooperation,” the Civil Grand Jury report recommended.

The report was released on the same day as the start of the historic United Nations Climate Change Conference in Copenhapen, and coincided with the Environmental Protection Agency’s ruling that greenhouse gases endanger human health. MEA Chair and Marin County Supervisor Charles McGlashan said the timing was poignant, and called the civil grand jury report “a purposeful hit job by a biased group of conservative people in the county” that is “riddled with errors and misinformation.”

According to McGlashan, energy customers who accept the transition to MCE would automatically begin using electricity that is 25 percent greenhouse-gas-free, as opposed to PG&E’s 15 percent GHG-free power, with no difference in price.

McGlashan also said that the report makes false claims that the program would place an undue burden on Marin taxpayers. Nor would it impact the general funds of participating cities, he said, because the Marin Energy Authority, a Joint Powers Authority, would operate independently. “There actually is no risk to the taxpayer,” McGlashan said. “We’ve repeatedly answered the accusation over and over again that that cities are at risk,” he added. “The grand jury, by repeating that nonsense, is not helping anybody.”

The release of the report also coincides with a 90-day review period in which participating cities are evaluating an energy-supplier contract and voting whether to remain a part of the program.

PG&E has sent representatives to public meetings about Marin Clean Energy. The utility has been a vocal opponent since the program would reduce its customer base. The arguments put forth in the Civil Grand Jury report were “suspiciously similar” to PG&E’s rhetoric, McGlashan told the Guardian.

Suspicion is also swirling because PG&E had a copy of the report before the Civil Grand Jury released it to the public. In an email forwarded to the Guardian, a member of the public informs Mill Valley Council members that he got the report from David Rubin, PG&E’s director of service analysis, on Dec. 4. The report wasn’t publicly released until Dec. 7, but the date printed on the report is Dec. 2. An early leak would constitute a violation of the law. McGlashan has requested that district attorney look into the matter.

The Civil Grand Jury is comprised of 19 members and six alternates, all residents of Marin County. Nine of them reside in cities that aren’t participating in the Marin Clean Energy program. The Civil Grand Jury does not publicize whom it interviews for investigations, but it does publish a list of documents that informed its analysis. Although the grand jury was provided with Marin Clean Energy's implementation plan, it was not included in the list of documents that were reviewed, according to program interim director Dawn Weisz. “It’s unfortunate,” she said. “We went through a lot to get it to them.”

Marin Clean Energy is scheduled to clear an important hurdle when the MEA Board votes to finalize a contract with an energy provider Feb. 4. Shell Energy North America is apparently the front-runner of three companies that are competing for the bid, and the MEA has weathered some criticism for considering a partnership with a subsidiary of Royal Dutch Shell, which is known for human-rights violations in Nigeria. If the contract is executed and the eight Marin cities stick with the program, customers will automatically switch to MCE unless they opt out and decide to stay with PG&E service.

The initial goal of the program is to provide power sourced from at least 25 percent renewable resources at rates that are equal to or less than that of PG&E, while customers who want to purchase 100 percent renewable power can do so at a premium.

The Marin Energy Authority has been in discussion with San Francisco Sup. Ross Mirkarimi, who has been instrumental in developing San Francisco’s own community-choice aggregation program, about possible collaboration between the two entities. “That is still something we’ll continue to discuss and explore,” said Weisz, MCE’s interim director, but added that so far no specific proposals have been made.

Comments

Perhaps the Grand Jury is right; MCE is risky and nobody argues that it will be costly. It is even conceivable that it won't fly fiscally without SF's participation if Marin lacks the necessary number of consumers who continue to conserve and decrease their energy demands. Big gamble here.
PG&E will continue to launch attacks (what business wouldn't) to maintain their market share, and the economy could well continue waffling for another couple of years, or more.

Initially, I was an outspoken supporter of MCE however, without Novato and the Twin Cities participation, and with Shell as the "clean energy supplier" i now have my own doubts. Shell is simply shedding their old skin to re-emerge a clean energy supplier...they still derive over 85% of their revenues from petroleum and refining. Then why not choose Chevron or Exxon? F or $7-800 million they would probably ramp up an alternative energy subsidiary too.

Imagine the retrofits, commercial solar installations, and other refinements that would benefit the collective taxpayers if the estimated $800 million was directed toward us with the "Clean Energy Subsidies" repaid as the commercial and residential installations sell back to the grid in combination with reduced consumption for the life of the installed systems. That spells Ratepayer Relief!

MCE is a great concept, the devil's in the details.

Posted by Scott Wilmore on Dec. 09, 2009 @ 3:45 pm

" Juliette Anthony's editorial "Marin Voice: Is Marin Clean Energy a wise investment?" does a good job explaining some of the problems with Marin Clean Energy's "Green Wash" for its filthy energy project under the auspices of it's so-called Marin Energy Authority (MEA).
http://www.marinij.com/marinnews/ci_13752888?IADID=Search-www.marinij.co...

I too once thought, Community Choice Aggregation (CCA), so-called “public power” was the solution to stopping PG&E’s monopoly for energy ratepayers. That’s before I learned that it was just a scheme put forward by Enron in the late 1990s to swindle the ratepayers of billions. Enron’s plan was to use renewable energy to green wash its plan to build more gas fired power plants throughout California. Rob Bradley who was a known whistleblower Enron worked there for sixteen years, almost as long as Ken Lay himself; from September 1985 to the mass layoff of December 3, 2001. His expose is at http://www.politicalcapitalism.org/enron/

Enron knew what most politicians and bureaucrats are unable to understand that most forms of renewable energy (except for hydro power) are intermittent and unreliable during periods of peak demand. Even hydro is unreliable during a draught. Solar has the highest capacity factor during peak demand when people are operating air conditioners, while wind power has the lowest capacity factor during peak demand because its highest production occurs in the early morning, late evening, and the middle of the night. This means increased emissions will be incurred by new wind projects in the form of more reliable gas turbine power during periods of peak demand; and therein lays the premise behind Enron’s swindle. Industrial wind technology is a meretricious commodity, attractive in a superficial way but without real value—seemingly plausible, even significant but actually false and nugatory.

Those who would profit from it either economically or ideologically are engaged in wholesale deception. For in contrast to their alluring but empty promises of closed coal plants and reduced carbon emissions are this reality: Wind energy is impotent while its environmental footprint is massive and malignant.

A wind project with a rated capacity of 100 MW, for example, with 40 skyscraper-sized turbines, would likely produce an annual average of only 27 MW, an imperceptible fraction of energy for most grid systems. More than 60% of the time, it would produce less than 27 MW, and at peak demand times, often produce nothing. It would rarely achieve its rated capacity, producing most at times of least demand. Whatever it generated would be continuously skittering, intensifying, magnifying the destabilizing effects of demand fluctuations, for wind volatility is virtually indistinguishable from the phenomenon of people whimsically turning their appliances off and on.

Moreover, the project could never produce capacity value—specified amounts of energy on demand, something that should be anathema to regulatory agencies, with their task of ensuring reliable, secure, affordable electricity. The ability of machines to perform as expected on demand is the basis of modernity, underlying contemporary systems of economic growth, wealth creation and well-being.

Readers need look no farther than to former Enron swindler Tom Delaney of Marin Clean Energy (http://marincleanenergy.info/newMCE/updates.cfm ) to and these two links see the truth:
http://www.ppcpdx.org/Archives%20CarTalk/RTOCarTalk.052104aa.pdf
http://www.ppcpdx.org/Archives%20CarTalk/RTOCarTalk.060404aa.pdf
Marin Clean Energy is a front for Enron’s master plan for California. "

Posted by Michael Boyd on Dec. 09, 2009 @ 2:28 pm