The city of Tracy plans to switch from Pacific Gas & Electric Co. as the primary source of power for Tracy homes and businesses and bring in a new company, East Bay Community Energy of Oakland, in its place.
On Tuesday night, the Tracy City Council approved an ordinance that authorizes a community choice aggregation program, which allows the city to seek out other energy sources instead of or in addition to PG&E. A follow-up resolution authorizes East Bay Community Energy to become the primary provider of electricity for Tracy under that program.
Both the resolution and the ordinance passed on 4-0-1 votes, with Councilwoman Veronica Vargas absent.
The vote is an effort to move Tracy from carbon-based energy sources, such as natural gas, toward renewable energy sources. East Bay Community Energy’s website, www.ebce.org, lists the company’s sources as hydroelectric, wind and solar. Since June 2018, the company has taken on Alameda County as a customer, along with 11 cities in that county, including Oakland and Livermore.
While the council was mostly supportive of the move, local businessman Robert Sarvey, who has done consulting work with the California Public Utilities Commission and Californians for Renewable Energy, noted that the council chose East Bay without reviewing other options, which could turn out to be much less expensive for ratepayers while still supporting renewable energy.
Sarvey told the council that East Bay’s rates were about the same as PG&E’s, while other local renewable energy providers — including Modesto Irrigation District and Turlock Irrigation District, which provide hydroelectric energy from dams in the Sierra foothills, and Northern California Power Agency of Roseville — offer rates that are at least 30% lower that PG&E’s rates.
“There are a lot of other energy providers in the market that the city should consider before jumping headlong into a financial arrangement that doesn’t demonstrate significant economic or environmental benefits to the citizens,” Sarvey said.
The council’s move doesn’t require everybody in town to make the switch. PG&E will still be listed on energy bills as the electricity provider if that’s what customers want.
East Bay Community Energy CEO Nick Chaset explained that his company would contact customers before starting service with information on how they can opt out and choose PG&E instead of East Bay before their next bill comes out.
“It is the law that we have to reach out to our customers,” he said. “We’re proactive in our community outreach, and we’ve learned a lot in the past year and a half about how to get out there and really engage, so the partnership with the city will be critical.
“We have a full year from when the documents are going to be submitted to the state to when service would start, at least a year, and that really does provide a lot of time to come up with a plan and bring that plan forward to this board for review and start implementing it.”
Council members expressed some reservations but were mostly supportive of the move.
“We should be leading our county and leading the Central Valley in this type of effort,” Councilman Dan Arriola said. “We have an incredible opportunity here. For those that are concerned about choice, it’s been very clear today that you can opt back to PG&E, but for all of the potential benefits, I think that we as a municipality need to really be understanding the ramifications and responsibilities that we have for renewable energy and this is an incredible opportunity and we should take it.
Councilwoman Rhodesia Ransom acknowledged that East Bay Community Energy shouldn’t be the city’s only option if Tracy moves forward on prioritizing renewable energy.
“Citizens have asked, was this our only choice?” Councilwoman Rhodesia Ransom asked. “If there is another company that comes along and offers something better, are we able to have more than one provider?”
City utilities director Kul Sharma noted that he had contacted agencies like Modesto Irrigation District and South San Joaquin Irrigation District, but learned that the city would have to buy power lines and other electricity delivery systems from PG&E as part of the process.