SLO, Morro Bay will offer carbon-free energy by 2020 — thanks to a new partnership

By 2020, the cities of San Luis Obispo and Morro Bay will be providing carbon-free energy to power homes, appliances and more.

That’s because the cities have joined with a Monterey-based program that provides community choice energy.

On Wednesday, San Luis Obispo and Morro Bay joined Monterey Bay Community Power’s community choice energy (CCE) program following a unanimous vote by the Monterey program’s board.

The program will kick in locally in January 2020. Local consumers can then start powering their properties with energy from sources including wind, solar and water, which will be purchased through the program.

The cost of the program will be the same for customers as what they’re charged by PG&E, according to the program’s website. The energy will come entirely from carbon-free sources, with a minimum 3 percent rebate on the December bill, the website said.

Electricity will still be powered through PG&E’s infrastructure, even through it’s coming from the CCE program. Customers have the option to opt out from CCE and use PG&E services, as customers do under the existing service. And community choice energy will still be included on customers’ PG&E bills.

SLO’s Natural Resources Manager Bob Hill, Mayor Heidi Harmon, and Sustainability Manager Chris Read (from left to right), pose near an electric vehicle charging station. The city has a 2035 carbon neutral goal. Courtesy photo

“I’m really excited to have this option of carbon-free electricity,” said Chris Read, San Luis Obispo’s sustainability manager. “The carbon-free electricity provided by Monterey Bay Community Power (MBCP) allows us to achieve our 2020 greenhouse gas reduction targets and will be the foundation for our path to carbon neutrality.”

Read said the move is a big step forward to help the city achieve its ambitious goal of being carbon neutral by 2035, 10 years earlier than California’s statewide goal.

Carbon neutrality, or net zero energy, refers to the concept of reducing as much carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases from the atmosphere as possible, with the overall goal of achieving a zero carbon footprint.

“The city of Morro Bay is excited to join Monterey Bay Community Power, a proven community choice energy program, to bring affordable, greener and cleaner energy to our community,” Morro Bay Mayor Jamie Irons said in a MBCP press release.

The partnership adds 29,000 new customers to MBCP’s base, now totaling more than 300,000 customers and reduces 25,000 metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions, according to the MBCP press release.

The anticipated increase of electric vehicle use will also contribute to reducing greenhouse gases, Read said.

Twenty-one California cities and county government agencies, including Santa Cruz, Monterey and San Benito county government agencies, now make up the Monterey Bay Community Power partnership.

Throughout California, 19 different community choice energy programs are operating, serving 8 million customers statewide, according to a MBCP press release. They are also known as community choice aggregators.

The majority of the San Luis Obispo County Board of Supervisors opted not to pursue community choice energy in January, New Times reported then.

San Luis Obispo and Morro Bay will share a seat on the Monterey-based program’s policy board, made up of election officials, and operations board, composed of city managers. The cities will also share a position on a citizens advisory committee.

San Luis Obispo and Morro Bay had considered partnering to form their own CCE, but a recent California Public Utilities Commission ruling changed a fee on CCE customers that would make a small, new program too costly, Read said.

“It’s a very complicated fee formula, but it makes it much less stable for new, smaller programs with a limited cash flow than it does for larger programs that are already established,” Read said.

“The CCE program will become the cities’ primary provider of electricity, leading to reduced greenhouse gas emissions, investments in renewable energy projects and energy programs, and lower electricity rates for consumers,” the city of San Luis Obispo said in a news release.

Related stories from San Luis Obispo Tribune