Op-ed: Switch it up — support clean energy for Berkeley

What if every time an electrical switch was turned on in Berkeley, 100% clean energy was delivered to power our lights, computers and appliances – and charge our electric cars? Sounds like a futuristic sci-fi dream, right? But very soon, this could be the reality for Berkeley — and all of Alameda County – with your help.

On Aug. 2, the Alameda County Board of Supervisors will vote on whether or not to move forward with a plan that, if adopted, will be the single most important action we can take to achieve Berkeley’s Climate Action Plan greenhouse gas reduction goals. It’s called “Community Choice Energy,” and it involves the creation of a local power agency that can buy renewable energy on the market, or build its own local clean energy projects, and sell that energy to customers within its jurisdiction.

Currently, all of Berkeley’s energy is supplied and delivered by a single, for profit provider — PG&E.   By moving forward with the formation of a Community Choice Energy agency, Alameda County could soon have a new alternative supplier: a locally controlled, not-for-profit agency responsive to the community and dedicated to developing new clean energy resources close to home – at great prices!

Alameda County will not be the first to embark on this promising venture – many of our neighbors already have the option of buying electricity from a local clean energy supplier. MCE Clean Energy, established in 2010, offers clean energy to customers in Marin County as well as in Richmond and El Cerrito, all of whom receive a 56% renewable energy mix at prices comparable to PG&E’s 30% mix, and have the option to select a 100% clean energy plan for a small premium. Sonoma Clean Power launched in 2014 and offers an option to buy 100% locally generated renewable power. San Francisco launched its own CleanPowerSF program this year.

In addition to the obvious benefits of accessing cleaner — and over time, locally generated — energy at the same or lower prices than offered by PG&E, a recent study done by Oakland-based MRW & Associates shows that Alameda County’s local clean energy program could generate impressive revenues to help ensure rate stability, offer customer incentives, develop local power and create thousands of local jobs. With two competing suppliers, we should see lower rates and improved service across the board, and a broader range of solar and energy efficiency options and incentives available over time. And with a locally controlled, nonprofit provider, Berkeley residents will have an accessible agency where they can voice their ideas and concerns, provide meaningful oversight, and help determine our community’s energy priorities.

Berkeley clean energy activists Tom Kelly and Erica Etelson have chaired the Berkeley Climate Action Coalition Community Choice Energy Working Group for many years. As a longtime member of the working group, I know that their leadership has been key in moving Community Choice Energy forward both within Berkeley, and at the County level.

On Tuesday, Aug. 2, many years of work should come to fruition. I hope that you will join me and other members of the Berkeley Climate Action Coalition in letting the Alameda County Board of Supervisors know you want an Alameda County Community Choice Energy Program to move forward. It’s time to switch it up and join the growing roster of communities that are making clean energy available — and accountable — to their citizens.

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Sophie Hahn is member of the Sierra Club Northern Alameda County Executive Board and the Berkeley Climate Action Coalition Community Choice Energy Working Group. She is currently running for City Council in Berkeley’s 5th District.