There was plenty of electricity but little warmth in Fairfax when a Pacific Gas and Electric Co. representative criticized county plans to provide an alternative source of power.
“We think the county’s plan is optimistic with regards to the costs of rene wable power,” Peter Griffes, director of market design and analysis for PG&E, told the Fairfax Town Council on Wednesday. “We think the costs will be higher than those specified in its business plan, that its opt-out program is idealistic and that there would be risks to the customers themselves and the municipalities involved.”
The Fairfax council was the first to support “community choice aggregation,” a plan that would allow the county to purchase and sell electricity to Marin residents through a joint powers authority. County and Fairfax officials say the plan would help Marin fight pollution by buying power from renewable sources such as wind, solar and geothermal generators.
Griffes noted that PG&E already provides some of the nation’s cleanest power, and the company has pledged to be “50 percent carbon-free” by the end of 2008.
Fairfax Councilman Larry Bragman pointed out that a significant portion of PG&E’s “carbon-free” energy comes from nuclear power. He also questioned Griffes’ contention that Marin’s utility rates would be “10 to 15 percent higher” than PG&E’s, noting that while the county’s plan looks at costs over 30 years, PG&E’s analysis looks at the same costs over 20 years.
“Wouldn’t that naturally skew cost estimates upward?” Bragman asked. “On what basis are you suggesting (the county’s) costs are too optimistic?”
Bragman and Councilman Lew Tremaine argued that a locally controlled nonprofit would be more likely to offer better rates to its customers than a large, for-profit utility.
“This takes us out of the threat that your parent company is going to raid our coffers and cost us all kinds of money, as happened in 2001,” Tremaine said.
A retired PG&E employee rose to the company’s defense, noting that much of the company’s power comes from hydroelectric sources.
“I take offense when the mayor says she’s been ripped off for 50 years by PG&E,” said Louis Vaccaro of Olema Road, a 35-year veteran of the company. “I’d like to see evidence of that. Yes, the company pays dividends to people who invest in it. If that’s wrong, there’s something crazy going on here.”
Several other Fairfax residents said the concepts of local control and commitment to clean energy made the county’s plan worth the risks.
“If, in the worst-case scenario, we’ve underestimated the costs of renewable resources, then we’ve probably also underestimated the rising costs of nonrenewable resources like oil and natural gas,” said David Glick of Cascade Drive. “We know we don’t want nuclear power. This is a step in the right direction.”
Mayor Mary Ann Maggiore agreed.
“If we control how we get our power and what kind of power we get, that’s part and parcel of us becoming independent of a monopoly,” Maggiore said. “And monopoly is against democracy.”
5 June 2008
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