The Valley Clean Energy (VCE) Board of directors—comprised of elected officials from Woodland, Davis, and Yolo County—is studying the potential acquisition of PG&E distribution facilities in Yolo County as a way to provide safer, cleaner, more reliable, and affordable electricity service to its customers. PG&E’s recent bankruptcy filing provides an opportunity for a fresh look at how electricity is delivered.
The decision to explore options to provide electric distribution service is not unique to VCE—the city of San Francisco and the South San Joaquin Irrigation District (SSJID) in the greater Manteca/Ripon/Escalon area are doing the same. In June, after 15 years of fighting for local control, the Mayors of Manteca, Ripon, and Escalon authored a letter asking for support from Governor Newsom. Governor Newsom’s appointed Energy Strike Force wrote in its April 12, 2019 report, “After years of mismanagement and safety failures, no options can be taken off the table to reform PG&E, including municipalization of all or a portion of PG&E’s operations…” The PG&E bankruptcy affords an ideal opportunity to determine whether a “public power” electric service approach might provide greater control, benefits and safeguards to our communities.
“Exploring the feasibility of this option is the responsible thing to do for our customers,” said VCE Board Chair and Woodland City Council Member Tom Stallard. “And the timing of this opportunity is unique. If we find a practical path forward, transferring PG&E’s poles and lines could mean a safer electricity system and benefits for both customers and the environment—it could bring a real sea change in local power provision.”
While the cost and responsibility of operating and upgrading electrical distribution lines is significant, there are many proven examples showing it is practical for public ownership of power facilities. There are currently 54 public power utilities in California serving almost a third of Californians. VCE will evaluate the benefits and risks of public ownership, as well as possible governance options.
Lucas Frerichs, VCE Board member and Davis City Council member stated, “although the structures of various public power utilities may differ, their objectives are always the same: achieving greater control over system safety, investment in equipment upgrades, transparent public governance, and rate stability to benefit all power consumers.”
VCE currently provides over 90% of the electrical generation needs in Woodland, Davis, and unincorporated Yolo County. But customers must still pay PG&E for the distribution of that power to their homes and businesses. Having full control over both electricity distribution and generation could help achieve VCE’s stated goals of providing cost-competitive clean energy, product choice, increased energy efficiency and price stability.
VCE’s exploratory process will weigh costs and benefits of public power and assess risks which may be associated with ownership of the local distribution system. It is possible to reduce and better control risk by removing the private profit motive and using profits otherwise distributed to PG&E shareholders for reinvestment in the safety of local electric power. Regular updates on VCE’s feasibility study will be provided at VCE’s Board meetings where the Board encourages public input.