Almost a year after Desert Community Energy began serving Palm Springs customers, representatives of the community choice energy program ceremonially signed DCE’s first local wind power purchase agreement on Tuesday under a 500-foot wind turbine in Palm Springs.
“This is an exciting day for Desert Community Energy, for Palm Springs and most importantly for our efforts to address climate change,” said Palm Springs City Councilmember and Desert Community Energy Chair Geoff Kors.
Palm Springs residents were automatically enrolled in the new electricity plan last April, which came with a 10% price increase for many. Supporters of the new utility program say the higher price will allow Palm Springs to transition to locally supplied, carbon-neutral energy, while giving more control to local government.
Desert Community Energy is a locally controlled nonprofit community choice aggregator, or CCA. CCAs are local entities that have the authority to purchase electricity and sell it to its customers. The CCA still uses Edison’s wires to transmit electricity, but Desert Community Energy chooses the plans that it offers, and focuses on renewable energy sources such as wind and solar.
Representatives of Desert Community Energy say the CCA has dramatically reduced the city’s carbon footprint since its launch last year. Greenhouse gas reductions from Desert Community Energy represent the equivalent of taking 15,000 cars off the road.
On Tuesday, Desert Community Energy signed three multi-million dollar, 15-year agreements with Terra-Gen, LLC to purchase power from three wind farms located in Palm Springs. Representatives of Desert Community Energy, the city of Palm Springs and Terra-Gen say these agreements will help provide rate certainty for customers, create local jobs and reduce the city’s carbon footprint.
According to Palm Springs Mayor Christy Holstege, the power purchase agreements will allow Desert Community Energy to save an estimated $7 million to $10 million over the course of the contracts, providing future rate certainty for customers. The investment in Terra-Gen’s three wind farms will also create five or six permanent jobs and up to 180 temporary jobs.
“These power purchase agreements are also supporting the development of new renewable energy resources closer to home,” said Holstege.
For the next 15 years, Desert Community Energy will receive 100% of the renewable energy produced by Terra-Gen’s three Palm Springs wind farms, including the Coachella Hills Wind II Project, where Tuesday’s event was held.
The Coachella Hills Wind II project is currently in development, and is a “repowering” project, according to Craig Pospisil, vice president and head of Wind Development at Terra-Gen.
“In 2017, we had seen a number of pioneering wind projects in this community, but sometimes ‘pioneering’ also means old,” said Popisil.
Popisil added that Terra-Gen is replacing 500 old turbines at the Coachella Hills Wind II project with 17 newer turbines, which will produce the same amount or more capacity than the 500 older turbines.
While the original plans for Desert Community Energy included several local cities, Palm Springs customers are the only ones currently under the CCA.
The idea to form a CCA started with a vote by the Coachella Valley Association of Governments’ Executive Committee. CVAG then partnered with the Western Riverside Council of Governments, which includes 18 cities and the Morongo Band of Mission Indians, to research its options.
But “those cities were on a different timeline than we were,” Erica Felci, CVAG’s governmental project manager, told The Desert Sun last March.
Desert Community Energy then became a collaboration between Palm Springs, Cathedral City and Palm Desert. But in March 2020, Cathedral City voted to withdraw from the program. In April, the Palm Desert City Council considered a motion to leave Desert Community Energy, but ultimately decided to stay in the electricity program without enrolling residents or municipal accounts into the program.
Many of the concerns about Desert Community Energy focused on the automatic enrollment of residents and businesses in the new program, which is about 10% more expensive than Edison’s basic program, and that they must actively opt out of the program if they want to stay with Edison.
In April, Palm Springs residents were shifted into Desert Community Energy’s zero carbon option, which costs $110 and includes electricity from 50% renewable sources, but 100% from carbon-neutral sources.
Desert Community Energy primarily gets electricity from solar and wind power, which is renewable, and hydropower, which isn’t considered renewable but is carbon-neutral.
Residents have the option to opt out of Desert Community Energy altogether, or to opt down into the “Desert Saver” option, which costs $99.50 and sources 35% renewable electricity. By comparison, about 36% of Edison’s energy comes from renewable sources for most customers.
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According to Kors, over 85% of Palm Springs residents have remained in the zero carbon plan. For those who opted for the “Desert Saver” plan, a total of $200,000 has been taken off their bills since the program’s launch.
“I am so pleased that so many people within Palm Springs, when given a choice, have chosen the 100% green option,” said Mayor Pro Tem Lisa Middleton during Tuesday’s event.
Kors noted that Palm Springs has frequently passed ordinances and made efforts related to sustainability, but called Desert Community Energy “the most important thing we have done to protect the environment and fight climate change.”
“So many people come and see the windmills and think that is what powers the Coachella Valley. But it doesn’t. But now it will, because these three wind farms will have 100% of their green renewable energy generated going directly to Desert Community Energy and Palm Springs customers,” said Kors.
Desert Sun intern Maya Jimenez and reporter Mark Olalde contributed to this report.