Marin Clean Energy focused on promoting local power projects as it celebrates its fifth service year

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By Richard Halstead, Marin Independent Journal

Marin Clean Energy officials are highlighting the joint power authority’s efforts to stimulate the creation of local renewable energy projects and local jobs as the authority celebrates its fifth year and the opening of its new San Rafael headquarters.

“Survival of the agency is no longer at issue,” said Marin County Supervisor Damon Connolly, a Marin Clean Energy board member. “The debate has changed; now it’s about continuing to meet goals and benchmarks that we set for ourselves.”

Marin Clean Energy is the first successful attempt in California to launch a new, public model for providing electricity to residents. It was founded to jump-start the use of renewable energy sources by stimulating demand; it offers customers the opportunity to buy electricity that is supplied by 50 to 100 percent renewable sources. It competes with Pacific Gas and Electric Co. as a retailer of electricity, but PG&E continues to maintain power lines and other electrical power infrastructure.

Marin Clean Energy serves about 137,500 customers in Marin County, the city of Richmond and the unincorporated areas of Napa County. It is adding the cities of San Pablo, Benicia and El Cerrito and expects to have a total of about 165,000 members by the end of this month.

Marin Supervisor Kate Sears, who heads Marin Clean Energy’s board of directors, said “we are extremely proud to announce that 10 new local projects will be providing service for our customers.”

Sears said that since Marin Clean Energy began serving customers it has generated more than 2,400 California jobs. She said Marin Clean Energy’s new solar projects will create more than 750,000 union work hours in just 12 months.

Rep. Jared Huffman, D-San Rafael, said, “I’m especially excited about the new clean energy production that is now under construction here locally. That has always been one of the better parts of the promise of Marin Clean Energy, and it’s happening now.”

The agency has its naysayers, however. Jim Phelps of Novato, who has worked as a consultant to the electric and petrochemical industries, and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 1245, which represents PG&E’s electrical workers, have hammered MCE for its use of renewable energy certificates, typically referred to as RECs. RECs are tradable commodities that certify that 1 megawatt-hour of electricity has been generated from an eligible renewable energy resource.

Critics of the use of RECs assert that they are priced too low to effectively stimulate the creation of new, renewable energy production. Marin Clean Energy and others who use RECs acknowledge their shortcomings but say they are currently the only game in town.

Projects announced Thursday will produce about 63,000 megawatt hours per year, sufficient energy to meet the average electricity consumption of about 10,400 Marin Clean Energy residential customers, said Jamie Tuckey, a Marin Clean Energy spokeswoman.

In most cases, Marin Clean Energy has encouraged development of the projects by agreeing to purchase a certain amount of electricity at a specified price over the next 20 to 25 years. The largest project, 30,000 megawatt hours per year, is being financed by Waste Management and will convert landfill gas at Redwood Landfill in Novato to energy. The project is scheduled to begin generating energy this year and the contract is for 20 years.

The second-largest project, 19,800 megawatt hours per year, is slated to go online this year on land in Richmond that Marin Clean Energy will lease from Chevron. Marin Clean Energy is investing $125,000 from its local renewable development fund to help cover predevelopment costs for this project. Marin Clean Energy has an agreement to purchase the project from developer Stion in its seventh year.

Four of the projects will be in Novato, and one will be in Larkspur. The Larkspur project, 600 megawatt hours per year, will be a rooftop solar project.

Connolly said that since Marin Clean Energy began serving customers it has doubled the amount of renewable energy purchased for homes and businesses in its region, reduced greenhouse emissions by 59,421 tons, sourced green power from more than 30 California suppliers and saved customers more than $5.9 million in energy supply costs last year alone.

Marin Clean Energy, which has 23 full-time employees, celebrated its service anniversary with a party at its new headquarters at 1125 Tamalpais Ave. in San Rafael. It has moved from a 2,188-square-foot space to offices with 10,710 square feet. The meeting room in the new headquarters is named after former Marin County Supervisor Charles McGlashan, one of Marin Clean Energy’s founders who died of a sudden heart attack in 2011.

Connolly said Marin Clean Energy would not exist today if not for McGlashan’s “passionate dedication and leadership.”