Bay Area communities gearing up to create their own power systems

From Silicon Valley to the East Bay to the Central Coast, a “people’s power” movement is sweeping through California that will give local residents a choice to ditch PG&E and buy cleaner — and possibly cheaper — energy from the cities and counties where they live.

To its proponents, the idea is a no-brainer. But to its critics, it’s just a lot of hype — a feel-good solution that will lead to unstable prices, empty promises and — at least for the time being — no additional green energy.
  Overseen by a team of energy experts and a board of elected officials, new community-run utilities are buying power from the grid, procuring a higher percentage of renewable energy — think solar and wind, as well as methane from dairy cows — than PG&E, while aiming for a price around or even below the giant utility’s rates. The new power systems also are charged with developing more local renewable energy.

Elected officials in Silicon Valley — representing an alliance of Santa Clara County and most of its cities — are poised to decide in March whether to take the key steps necessary to develop a new electricity system that they say could be lighting homes by early 2017. And San Jose, the region’s largest city, is considering creating its own system.

Similar alliances are moving forward in San Mateo, Alameda, Contra Costa, Santa Cruz and Monterey counties. San Francisco’s power system is set to launch next year.

Whenever these plans are adopted, customers in the cities and counties are automatically enrolled, though they can opt out of the program at any time.