Clean energy transition receives positive response, few opting out

The vast majority of Los Altos and Mountain View residents transitioned into Silicon Valley Clean Energy’s GreenStart program without lifting a finger.

That’s because the GreenStart electricity option, touted as 100 percent carbon-free and 50 percent from renewable energy sources, is the default program residents and businesses automatically enrolled in between April and July – unless they specifically opted out. It’s one of two programs offered by SVCE, a community-owned energy provider that buys electricity from clean energy sources and sells to customers. PG&E still delivers the electricity over existing utility lines and continues to handle maintenance, billing and customer service.

Most Santa Clara County cities, including Mountain View, Los Altos and Los Altos Hills, have signed on to SVCE.

According to SVCE officials, residents in the GreenStart program save 1 percent on their electricity bills while at the same time helping the environment. Those who want to be even more environmentally conscious can enroll in SVCE’s GreenPrime program, which draws 100 percent of its electricity from renewable energy sources and costs $3-$5 more per month.

Renewable energy comes from sources that can be replenished, such as solar and wind. Carbon-free sources – like hydroelectricity – do not emit carbon into the atmosphere.

Steve Attinger, environmental sustainability coordinator for the city of Mountain View, said a small minority of customers opted out of SVCE completely and remained with PG&E, which derives 33 percent of its electricity from renewable sources.

“The overwhelming reason for their opting out is simply because they were put in the program automatically,” Attinger said.

But according to Pamela Leonard, community outreach manager for SVCE said, the agency “had customers re-enroll after learning more about SVCE and our benefits.”

California’s Community Choice Aggregation law requires SVCE to be the default provider. The law allows cities and counties to buy their own electricity, which led to SVCE’s formation.

Smooth transition

Los Altos Councilwoman Jeannie Bruins, the city’s representative on the SVCE board, said the transition is going “very smoothly.”

“I’m most proud of our opt-out rate, which is extremely low,” she said.

Bruins said the agency had budgeted for opt-outs “in the double digits,” so the overall 2.02 percent opt-out rate, 5,013 of 248,000 SVCE accounts (as of Aug. 27), came as a pleasant surprise. Approximately 1 percent of all customers have upgraded to GreenPrime.

SVCE proponents had to overcome skepticism that the program could be both environmentally responsible and more affordable.

“One does not think of government as doing something cheaply,” Attinger said.

But response thus far has been “very positive,” he said. Even cities such as San Jose and Milpitas that did not buy in at the outset are reconsidering. San Jose is starting its own separate clean energy agency.

Good-faith government

According to Attinger, SVCE came about after residents expressed concern with PG&E’s monopoly and insisted on more renewable energy sources.

“This is a shining example of local government acting in the best interests of residential and commercial customers,” he said.

Attinger emphasized that SVCE proponents are not “anti-PG&E,” and that the utility company remains an important partner in energy delivery.

He added that customers enrolled in SVCE will continue to receive their bills from PG&E, with a line item on the first page showing SVCE charges.

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