San Francisco’s Community Choice Aggregation Program for Clean Energy Goes Online

San Francisco’s Community Choice Aggregation (CCA) program — CleanPowerSF — has arrived. First proposed in 1998, the program has been mired in conflicting agendas for almost two decades, mirroring the erratic evolution of the CCA movement as a whole over that same period of time. Now, finally, the program is online and serving 7,800 locations with a load of 40 MW. At full capacity, CleanPowerSF plans to deliver 400 MW of power to over 300,000 accounts.

Like other CCAs, CleanPowerSF allows the city to aggregate demand and procure its own electricity generation. PG&E, the local utility, retains responsibility for transmission, distribution and billing. In their earliest days in the 1990s, CCAs focused on competitive rates by purchasing cheap (and dirty) electricity in traditional wholesale markets. Later iterations of CCAs looked for greener sources of power and included renewable energy certificates in their portfolios.

By the time CCAs made it to California — Marin Clean Energy (MCE) went online in 2010 and Sonoma Clean Power (SCP) launched in 2014 — local renewable projects had become affordable, and a fierce debate over program priorities was in full swing. It was the rancor of that debate that sank earlier efforts to make CleanPowerSF a reality.

“We didn’t have political alignment in terms of what the real goals of the program were,” Barbara Hale, assistant general manager for power at the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission (PUC), said. “We had affordability as a goal. We had greenness as a goal. We had local jobs as a goal… [Political disagreement about] how much weight you give to each of those objectives is really what kept the program from launching at that time.”

The CleanPowerSF that launched on May 1 hopes to achieve all three goals and to embody the greenest, most local-jobs-friendly iteration of CCA to date. The initial default “Green” product offers a 35 percent renewables portfolio (compared to PG&E’s 27 percent renewables), while the premium “Super Green” product draws from 100 percent renewables (for an upcharge of around $6/month).

Most of CleanPowerSF’s initial renewables come from local wind projects. The program plans to fill out the renewables portion of its portfolio with only bundled local renewables.

“When we put our bidding package together for this initial portfolio, we flat out told all the bidders that we’re going to define local in a certain way, and you’re going to get a preference if you can bring us local power,” Hale said.

This fall, CleanPowerSF plans to present the PUC with a proposal for a feed-in tariff that would further stimulate local build out of rooftop solar.

Like most CCAs, CleanPowerSF operates on an opt-out basis, meaning customers in the service area are enrolled in the program by default, but can choose to opt-out at any time. Typically, 80 to 85 percent of customers choose to stay with the CCA. So far, Hale is encouraged by the receptivity of San Franciscans to CleanPowerSF.

“We’re seeing 99.3 percent are staying in, so we have an incredibly low opt-out rate,” she said. “We see that as one measure of the success of the program.”

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Max Bloom is a journalist and marketer of renewable energy products and services.

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