The community choice movement has been flexing its muscles of late, and a case in point is the community choice provider Sonoma Clean Power in California. As its name indicates, SCP hooks up ratepayers with more renewable energy than their regular utility provides. Now SCP is hooking up some of its ratepayers with a free $1,000 voucher for an e-bike. So, how come community choice is not available in every state all over the USA?
Yes, They Will Practically Give You An E-Bike
Before we get into the community choice weeds, let’s take a look at that e-bike discount. Depending on what models and manufacturers are included in the program, the $1,000 voucher could get you a free e-bike.
On the wider market plenty of models are available for $1,000 and under, though if you have the means to kick out a little more you could go for a sporty foldable Rad Mini Step-Thru (one of which is on loan to CleanTechnica), or a workhorse two-seater with built-in cargo. Even more would get you into Harley-Davidson territory, but we digress.
The interesting thing about the voucher program is that it makes electric mobility more accessible to more people. As much as we love electric cars, they are not a mobility solution for people on a really tight budget. They cost less to maintain than gasmobiles, but they still cost.
That leads to the other interesting thing about the voucher program. All else being equal, in just a few years electric cars will be less expensive to buy than gasmobiles, which means that more people will be able to afford more cars, which means that there will be more traffic, more congestion, and more pressure to shove pedestrians and cyclists aside in favor of more car lanes.
And don’t even get us started on where to put all the EV charging stations and how to beef up other electricity infrastructure when millions of EVs hit the road.
We’re thinking that encouraging people to use 2-wheelers instead of cars will ease both congestion and EV charging issues.
What Is Community Choice & Why Are They Giving You An E-Bike?
Of course, a national plan to invest many dollars in mass transit would help, but we digress again.
The community choice movement revolves around the idea that local governments can force their utility to introduce more renewable energy into the mix and negotiate for their ratepayers as a group, which explains why the full name of such programs is “community choice aggregation.”
When the cost of renewable energy was relatively high, CCA ratepayers had to pay a premium in order to get the full clean power benefit. That opt-in element was a hard sell. After all, who wants to pay more money for electricity unless they are super interested in saving the planet?
The opt-in element is around even though the cost of renewable energy has dropped, but that is becoming a moot point. Last year New York became the first state in the US to provide a low cost CCA clean power program on an opt-out basis, and others are bound to follow. After all, who wants to pay more money for electricity when somebody hands you a discount?
As for the e-bike giveaway, community choice aggregation provides more opportunities to bump up community assistance programs.
For Sonoma Clean Power, the e-bike program is an add-on to conventional ratepayer assistance for income eligible households.
“Any Sonoma Clean Power customer on our reduced CARE/FERA rates is eligible to participate in this program,” they explain. “We also accept proof of participation in several income-qualified programs such as SNAP (aka food stamps), Medicaid/Medical, Cash Assistance Program for Immigrants (CAPI), Women Infants and Children (WIC), Head Start, and many others.”
How Come Everybody Can’t Have Community Choice?
If you want to dip into the community choice aggregation field, you might have to move. CCA agencies have to be approved under state law or by regulation, and according to our friends over at Energy Sage they are only available in California, Illinois, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Rhode Island, and Virginia.
Oregon, Nevada, Colorado, Arizona, and Maryland appear to be next in line, according to the CCA advocacy organization Lean Energy.
Though still constrained on a state by state basis, the community choice movement is already having a significant impact on the US energy profile.
A 2019 study through the National Renewable Energy Laboratory estimated that approximately 42 million MWh per year on behalf of 5 million ratepayers came under the CCA umbrella in 2017.
“CCAs may have already begun to reshape electricity portfolios by purchasing more renewable energy than is required by state mandates,” the authors noted. “In 2017, we estimate that CCAs procured about 8.9 million MWh of renewable energy above and beyond levels required by state mandates. We project that CCAs could procure as much as 28.9 MWh of voluntary renewable energy under relatively conservative assumptions about the ongoing expansion of CCAs.”
No Really, Why Not?
There being no such thing as a free lunch, the authors list four obstacles: competition with regular utility rates, the possibility of passing up regional opportunities for the sake of local autonomy, the availability of renewable energy, and ratepayer turnover.
That’s not all. In regulated markets, policy makers will have their work cut out for them. Compensating legacy utilities, ensuring reliability of supply, and addressing issues related to sectioning off the grid all come into play.
Nevertheless, the authors foresee future growth in the CCA field. That may be somewhat overly optimistic in some states but the newly minted Biden administration may help expand opportunities in existing CCA states, and bring the fence-sitters on board.
In that regard, they have an impressive headstart. Somewhat ironically, the EPA was promoting community choice all during the Trump administration through its Green Power Partnership program.
“CCAs are an attractive option for communities that want more local control over their electricity sources, more green power than is offered by the default utility, and/or lower electricity prices,” EPA enthuses. “By aggregating demand, communities gain leverage to negotiate better rates with competitive suppliers and choose greener power sources.
More Power For CCA, More E-Bike For You
EPA does note a raft of obstacles, but don’t be surprised to see the CCA field take off like a rocket in the states that permit it, and that could provide another powerful kick for the e-bike industry.
Last month, eight CCA agencies in California hooked up with each other to form a “supergroup,” combining their buying power into one formidable-sounding entity called the Joint Powers Authority.
Along with Sonoma Clean Power, the group includes Central Coast Community Energy, East Bay Community Energy, MCE, Peninsula Clean Energy, Redwood Coast Energy Authority, San José Clean Energy, and Silicon Valley Clean Energy. An additional CCA, CleanPowerSF, is in the pipeline.
“Additional benefits of the new JPA include enhanced negotiating power, larger renewable and storage project procurement, shared risk mitigation, and increased opportunities for innovation, as demonstrated by the first, major joint procurement for 500 megawatts (MWs) of long-duration energy storage,” JPL explains.
So, how many of the member CCAs will give you a free e-bike? That remains to be seen. Ratepayer turnover being an issue, the concern would be that some people use their $1,000 voucher and vanish off the grid in short order, so it’s a good bet that other CCAs will keep a close eye on the Sonoma Clean Power experiment.
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Photo: Person on a Harley Davidson e-bike, by Tina Casey.