By Jesse Loren, Winters City Council member and VCE Board member
Starting in January, Winters residents and businesses will take a giant step toward a more sustainable energy future as the community becomes a full-fledged member of the Valley Clean Energy Alliance. The City of Winters and Mayor Cowan and I have been representing Winters on the VCE Board for over a year and we are excited that our start date is getting closer!
How does it work? VCE pools the electricity demands of our communities and purchases power with higher renewable and lower greenhouse gas content than is offered by PG&E. VCE customers pay exactly the same amount for this clean, low-carbon power as they would for traditional electricity provided by PG&E.
Meanwhile, PG&E continues to deliver electricity to our homes and businesses, maintains the power lines, handles customer billing and responds to new service requests and emergencies.
Founded in June 2018 by the cities of Davis and Woodland and the county of Yolo, the locally run electricity utility has been offering clean, green, renewable energy at competitive prices to its nearly 58,000 customers since then. As a not-for-profit agency, VCE re-invests its revenues right back into local communities, including ours.
Come January, you’ll be automatically enrolled in VCE unless you choose to opt out and stay with PG&E for your electricity. However, if you do opt out, here’s what you’ll miss:
- Cleaner, less polluting electricity: In the past two years, VCE exceeded its targets for renewable energy and carbon-free power.
- Choice for everyone: A standard energy portfolio includes power that is 75% carbon-free and 45% renewable, while customers may opt up to an “ultra-green” portfolio that is 100% carbon-free and 100% renewable. Choosing the enhanced option costs just 1.5 cents more per kWh than the standard service.
- Fiscal responsibility: $1.5 million in start-up loans from the participating government agencies were paid back well ahead of schedule. Additionally, VCE has repaid more than $1.5 million in deferred payments to SMUD, the Sacramento Municipal Utility District, for operating services provided to the nascent agency.
- Better solar benefits: VCE’s solar customers are paid 1 cent per kWh more than PG&E pays for any excess power they generate.
- Emission-free driving: A $2.9 million grant from the Sacramento Area Council of Governments is bringing an extensive electric vehicle charging network to Yolo County, including new charging stations at the Community Center and new stations at the new lot at First and Abbey.
- Local control: VCE is governed locally by elected officials from the four participating agencies who understand the community and work to provide benefits that align with community values. VCE’s directors are accountable to voters, not shareholders. I am one of two Winters City Council members who serve on the board.
- Re-investment and involvement in our communities: VCE has committed to renewable energy contracts close to home and is working to secure more. Furthermore, VCE is a good neighbor: The agency contributed $1,500 to the Greater Winters Fire Relief Fund; purchased and donated 500 reusable face masks to RISE Inc., a nonprofit organization that serves the Latinx community and Western Yolo County; and contributed $2,500 to the Yolo Food Bank at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.
- Not-for-profit and for the people: VCE does not have shareholders, keeping the benefits focused on its customers.
Have these wonderful new benefits come at a price for the city of Winters? Yes, a small one: We submitted a $25,000 membership fee to offset costs associated with joining the joint powers agency. However, according to VCE’s membership policy, that fee is due to be refunded upon enrollment of Winters customers in VCE in 2021.
And make no mistake: This is not an experiment. With more than 20 operational programs already serving more than 10 million California customers, community choice energy agencies such as VCE are providing a clear path to a well-managed, economically beneficial, clean energy future. Dozens more of these agencies are in the planning stages throughout the state and the nation.
It’s a terrific time for Winters to join the fold. Valley Clean Energy’s leaders have accomplished some remarkable achievements in just 2½ years of operation, and their plans for the future are even more ambitious. I can’t wait for Winters to have a voice in what’s to come!
About VCE: Valley Clean Energy is a not-for-profit public agency formed to provide electrical generation service to customers in Woodland, Davis, Winters and the unincorporated areas of Yolo County. Its mission is to source cost-competitive clean electricity while providing product choice, price stability, energy efficiency, greenhouse gas emission reductions and reinvestment in the communities it serves. For more information about VCE, visit valleycleanenergy.org or call 855-699-8232.