Community Choice Energy: Past Successes & Future Visions

Gerry Braun, an authority on energy markets, electricity systems, and clean energy supply technologies, says that CCE’s (Community Choice Energy) have achieved the success that was hoped for when they were first created in California about 20 years ago. CCE’s, he says, are now poised for their next stage of evolution—to help facilitate and strengthen integrative local energy ecosystems.

Braun has a wealth of experience as a clean energy advocate and adviser to a variety of energy companies and municipalities. With degrees in mechanical and nuclear engineering from the University of Michigan and MIT, he directed the first major solar program and managed solar and renewable energy R&D programs at Southern California Edison and Pacific Gas & Electric. He also organized the launch of the California Energy Commission’s Renewable Energy Secure Communities (RESCO) program and served as director of the California Renewable Energy Center at UC Davis. Braun is the founder of IRESN (Integrated Renewable Energy Systems Network), a nonprofit that seeks to enhance and accelerate the integration of renewable energy systems. He advised the City of Davis and Yolo County on their decisions to create a CCE—Valley Clean Energy (VCE)—and currently serves on VCE’s Community Advisory Committee and the City of Davis Utilities Commission.

California legislation in the 1990s paved the way for the creation of CCE’s—nonprofit, community-based, local governmental entities, which could purchase lower cost, higher volumes of renewable energy for residents than traditional utilities, and invest profits in local community energy projects. While California was not the first state to allow the formation of CCE’s—Ohio, Massachusetts, and Illinois were the first states to aggregate electricity customers to provide lower cost electricity—California CCE’s were the first to be created to accelerate the transition to renewable and low carbon electricity. California’s first CCE’s were established in 2002, and CCE’s now provide electricity to approximately 11 million residents in more than 200 cities and counties. In San Diego County, two CCE’s—Clean Energy Alliance and San Diego Community Power—now provide energy for more than 1.5 million households throughout the county. Several other states—including Arizona, New Mexico, and Colorado are currently exploring legislation to allow CCE’s, in the hopes of ramping up renewable energy use and reducing greenhouse gas emissions as California has done.

“CCE’s have provided a model that allows communities to purchase increasing amounts of renewable energy to meet their electricity needs at rates that are lower or at least competitive with rates offered by traditional for profit utilities,” says Braun. “The focus now is to maximize the procurement of 100% carbon-free energy so that emissions from fossil fuel energy sources can continue to drop.”

According to Braun, collectively, California CCE’s are now the primary procurers of renewable energy in the state, and the amount of renewable energy powering CCE-generated electricity has increased more rapidly than mandated by the state. Some CCE’s, he says, are aiming for a 100% renewable energy supply before 2030.

In his opinion, the “Six D’s” of a climate-impacted energy future will require: Decentralization—local investment in the local energy supply; Democratization—equitable access to the local energy supply; Decarbonization—shrinking the local carbon footprint; Demonopolization—diverse ownership of local grids and generators; Digitization—micro grid operation enabled by local broadband; and Disaster Continuity—supply continuity during regional grid blackouts.

“California CCE’s are now in a position to develop integrative, mutually beneficial relationships within local energy ecosystems created and regulated by cities and counties,” says Braun. “But,  this will only happen if California legislators work with decentralized local energy industries to update CCE authorizing legislation and empower local governments with an appropriate role in planning and managing local energy transitions.”