Background: Under Kate Sears’ leadership as Chair and Vice-Chair of the Board, the bulk of Marin Clean Energy’s “clean” energy is unbundled renewable energy certificates (RECs). As discussed in Part 1, these low-cost financial instruments are akin to MCE paying to say it is clean without actually buying and delivering the associated clean energy.
The chart on page 1 of the attached PDF illustrates how inexpensive RECs dominate MCE’s “clean” energy sources.
MCE was using more unbundled RECs than allowed under California’s Renewable Portfolio Standard, and then applying all of them to its carbon accounting. It did this while PG&E and Sonoma Clean Power, MCE’s sister community choice aggregator, where abiding by California Air Resource Board rules and not using unbundled RECs to manipulate their carbon emission accounting.
Further, the RECs that MCE purchased in 2013 to doctor its carbon emission rate in different years were not even RECs (renewable energy certificates) as MCE claimed and as defined under the RPS. These "RECs" were sourced by what former MCE Chair, Charles McGlashan, called “habitat killers.” If desired, McGlashan's entire quote may be read, and is included under “Problem #4” here (go to bottom of sixth page).
As far as Sears and MCE were concerned, none of it mattered. RECs are a cash cow.
MCE on Sacramento's radar
Assembly Member Phil Ting (D-San Francisco) introduced AB 1110 in 2015 to ensure that all power companies, including MCE, reported all greenhouse gas emissions associated with their electricity purchases using a uniform statewide standard.
The bill would address truth-in-advertising issues and reveal MCE's false numbers presented to the public in its annual MCE-PG&E comparative mailers. AB1110 would force MCE to show that the truth was far from what Kate Sears said in her Op/Ed in 2013 when she and fellow MCE Board member Ford Greene wrote that the MCE comparative mailers helped consumers make an "informed energy choice".
But transparency hit a roadblock.
After public pressure, MCE had declared it would "do away" with unbundled RECs by the end of 2015 (go to elapsed time 55:47 in video), dovetailing with Sacramento's efforts. But now, more than half-way through 2015, MCE urged Senate Committee members to delay implementing the bill until 2020 -- MCE said it needed to "phase out" its use of RECs – and if legislators wouldn't make that concession, MCE urged a “no” vote.
But MCE’s records showed that it had no REC purchase-agreements to phase-out.
The planning document did reveal that MCE intended to use 1.4 million unbundled RECs until 2020, enough to hide more than 1.4 billion pounds of carbon in fossil energy it could resell as “clean."
MCE's 1% P.R. Campaign
In order to shift public attention, MCE issued press releases that focused on MCE’s local solar, more than 13 megawatts. The Marin IJ reported that Richmond would host a solar plant large enough to power 3,000 Richmond homes, but failed to note that MCE didn’t have the funds to construct the 10.5 megawatt facility.
The press reported on a solar farm that would be located at Cooley Quarry, in the hills outside Novato. (Update: As of February 2017, Cooley Quarry is 1/6 complete and construction is inactive. MCE's lone "Local Sol" project in Marin is now more than 2 years behind schedule).
Additionally, contractors were slated to break ground on a solar farm at the Buck Center -- this part of the "Cottonwood" project was years behind schedule and part of MCE’s $191 million contract with French nuclear giant Électricité de France. This French project is now active, and Marin money goes to Paris.
The media and MCE also praised the San Rafael Airport solar project, but did not report that it included Chinese solar panels that undercut domestic solar companies and violated the U.S. Department of Commerce anti-competitive dumping laws.
From appearances it looked as though MCE could light all of Marin just by using the sun.
But the press releases neglected to mention that if the solar farms were fully built they would cover only about 1% of MCE's total electric load, insignificant when compared to the environmental impacts of the fossil power behind its unbundled REC portfolio (and it's firm-and-shape REC portfolio).
Coal and nuclear "clean" energy
While MCE’s public relations appeared to be improving, it submitted its annual clean energy report to the state utility commission seven months ago. Included in the report was an inventory of MCE’s e-Tags, a type of receipt, identifying the sources of clean energy that were tied to MCE’s firm-and-shape RECs, cousins of unbundled RECs.
The report’s fine-print detailed that much of MCE’s “clean” energy was actually coal-fired power imported into California on behalf of MCE from the biggest polluters in the country.
All of the coal plants are on the EPA’s hit list, and are pictured in the attached (PDF).
Didn't MCE reject coal?
Kate Sears directed MCE CEO, Dawn Weisz to respond to the letter from this author that asked about the coal and nuclear power. Weisz’s letter included circular explanations, non-sequitur accusations, and a promise that MCE and Shell would request that regulators not require MCE to include e-Tags in future reports.
Removing e-Tags from public reports would eliminate a vital layer of transparency, making it nearly impossible to identify MCE’s coal-fired and nuclear "clean" energy.
Weisz was consistent with Shell’s energy traders who are now on record at the California Public Utilities Commission as saying “we're not in the honesty game, are we?”
The core questions on everyone’s mind remain:
-– Why is MCE engaging in any energy procurements that include importing trainloads of coal-fired power, or any fossil power, into California and then selling that energy to Marin as “clean”?
-- Who is responsible for MCE becoming a junior version of Shell and using the oil giant as a partner to shield MCE from future public scrutiny?
To date, Kate Sears hasn't provided satisfactory answers.
Please click on the attached PDF to see MCE's clean energy portfolio.
In the final part of this series we review MCE’s and Kate Sears’ relationship with Shell Oil.
Author bio and background:
Jim Phelps has served the power, petrochemical, and geothermal industries for nearly 35 years as a power contractor and utility rate analyst. He is not now, nor has he ever been, employed by PG&E. He sued PG&E (and won) for breach of contract issues at one of their power plants. He has not received any money from PG&E for his work tracking Marin Clean Energy’s activities. He has also completed consulting and thermal performance test work for Shell Oil at one of its Gulf Coast refineries.
Mr. Phelps operates one of Marin's largest residential solar electric systems at his home in Novato. Several years ago he initiated contact with PG&E about its carbon emission practices and about MCE’s emission practices. He also requested clarification from MCE about several business conduct issues, however, MCE declined to provide help. To this time, MCE’s only input about its business is to respond to Public Records Act requests identifying the costs for copies of public documents.