The Marin Post

The Voice of the Community

Blog Post < Previous | Next >

Is Marin Clean Energy's "success" due to a dislike of PG&E?

Several years ago Marin Clean Energy (MCE) launched into business and automatically enrolled every Marin consumer into its program amid promises to dramatically reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions compared to those of PG&E. Marin would be ground-zero in the fight against climate change.

MCE was helped by PG&E’s failed Proposition 16 campaign -- its anti-Community Choice Aggregation power grab -- and the San Bruno fire. For many people MCE deserved a status beyond reproach merely because it was not PG&E.

But a critical question about MCE’s future and our sensibility of global warming remains: How much of our support for MCE is about our dislike of PG&E?

It’s an important question because it reveals our overall sensibility and priority about climate change.

MCE is now in the crosshairs of Sacramento. AB1110, the truth-in-advertising energy bill that remains under active consideration in the legislature, was written to eliminate MCE-type green-washing and resultant increases in global warming.

Green-washing is the practice of relabeling fossil power and selling it as green energy.

Since inception, MCE has misrepresented its carbon emissions to consumers. MCE board members Kathrin Sears and Sloan Bailey noted in an August 2015 Marin Voice Op/Ed (Marin Independent Journal) that MCE has reduced GHGs by 60,000 tons.

However, in accordance with AB1110, MCE has actually increased emissions 310,000 tons compared to PG&E, based upon the same energy volume.

Sears and Bailey write that several municipalities recently joined MCE. It’s a growing concern because as MCE expands, so does its green-washing and the resultant increase in carbon emissions as consumers are switched into MCE's program.

PG&E’s more expensive “generation” is about 50% cleaner than MCE’s. Ironically, after MCE launched into business it claimed its then-higher prices were justified because its energy was reportedly cleaner.

When discussing its energy content, MCE cites its anti-nuclear policy and PG&E’s reliance upon Diablo Canyon, while claiming nuclear is not clean energy. MCE neglects to mention its inclusion of nuclear power’s zero emissions in its own carbon-free accounting.

MCE’s strength resides in its marketing and press releases. Few consumers know that by 2017, when MCE’s contract with Shell expires, MCE will have exported nearly one-half billion dollars to the oil giant. Rather, MCE touts its local solar.

Consumers are left with the impression that MCE’s solar fleet will soon power much of Marin. However, those resources would produce 1% of MCE’s energy, assuming they are constructed.

After AB1110 was introduced MCE lobbied for its delayed implementation until 2020. This, after MCE committed to stop green-washing at the end of this year. By 2020 MCE plans to green-wash another 1 million tons of emissions. That’s the same global warming as if all Marin homes were powered by pure fossil fuel for two solid years.

Green-washing may keep MCE’s prices down and its profits up, but consumers were promised true clean power -- delivered to their homes -- not dirty-energy shell games that the Sierra Club calls “deceptive marketing.”

How did MCE get so far off course?

The promise of our community choice aggregation was co-opted by a select few.

Correcting MCE’s version of “clean” energy requires that MCE’s board sever ties with the people who designed Marin’s green-washing – MCE’s senior staff and their architect consultants, Pacific Energy Advisors.

Until MCE makes management changes, you can exercise your power in two ways: You can opt out by visiting or calling MCE at 1-(888) 632-3674. And you can vote out of office the municipal representatives who sit on MCE’s board -- all of them have ignored continued demands to stop misleading the public. *

It’s your choice: Reduce GHGs or knowingly accept more of the same from MCE -- Shell Oil, green-washing and increases in global warming -- unchecked over the next many years because of lingering anti-PG&E sentiments.

Jim Phelps is a power contractor. He voluntarily tracks clean energy companies. He has sued PG&E (and won), and he operates one of Marin’s largest solar electric systems at his home in Novato.

* MCE Board:

Kathrin Sears (Chair) -- County of Marin

Tom Butt (Vice Chair) -- City of Richmond

Bob McCaskill -- City of Belvedere

Alan Schwartzman -- City of Benicia

Sloan C. Bailey -- Town of Corte Madera

Greg Lyman -- City of El Cerrito

Barbara Coler -- Town of Fairfax

Kevin Haroff -- City of Larkspur

Garry Lion -- City of Mill Valley

Brad Wagenknecht -- County of Napa

Denise Athas -- City of Novato

Carla Small -- Town of Ross

Ford Greene -- Town of San Anselmo

Genoveva Calloway -- City of San Pablo

Andrew McCullough -- City of San Rafael

Ray Withy -- City of Sausalito

Emmett O'Donnell -- Town of Tiburon


MCE, clean energy, renewable, green, solar, wind, global warming, climate change, PG&E, Sierra Club