Valley Clean Energy representatives talk plan options for Winters residents

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Representatives from Valley Clean Energy gave an informational presentation about energy plan options for Winters residents Dec. 9, roughly one month before residents will automatically be enrolled in the VCE green energy program.

The mission of VCE is to provide “clean electricity, product choice, and greenhouse gas emission reductions — all within local control at competitive prices,” according to the presentation. VCE will begin producing electricity for Winters in January 2021, using the Pacific Gas and Electric Company power grid to deliver two levels of clean  energy service. 

Come January, all non-solar PG&E customers in Winters will have their energy plan shifted to the VCE Standard Green Plan, which features matched pricing to PG&E and uses about 45 percent renewable energy and 75 percent carbon free energy. The roughly 30 percent difference between renewable and carbon free energy comes from hydroelectric power, which is considered not renewable by the state.

Residents can also choose to opt out at any time and stay with PG&E, which is an option required by law. PG&E offers about 30 percent renewable energy. Rebecca Boyles, Director of Customer Care and Marketing for VCE, said anyone who wishes to opt out can call or email VCE, or take a few minutes to fill out an online form. 

Residents who wish to use entirely renewable energy can upgrade to the VCE UltraGreen plan by paying an extra 1.5 cents per kilowatt hour. To demonstrate the difference in cost, Boyles presented a sample rate comparison at the meeting, based on typical usage of a residential customer in their service area — currently including Woodland, Davis and unincorporated Yolo County. At a monthly rate of $129.76, the VCE Standard Green plan and PG&E equal each other in the comparison; the UltraGreen plan, under the same conditions, levels out at a monthly rate of $137.98. 

Mitch Sears, interim manager of VCE, said at the meeting that VCE currently serves about 65,000 accounts, which he said represents slightly over 100,000 people in its coverage area. Winters will add about 2,500 additional accounts, about a 5% increase to the total, he said, and that’s factoring in people who opt out. Sears said over 90 percent of VCE customers have chosen to stay with a VCE plan, in large part because of the value VCE provides to local communities. 

“We offer a higher renewable content for our customers at the same price as PG&E,” Sears said. “Sometimes there’s some confusion over some of the bill information. Some folks don’t believe or don’t quite understand how the different fees work. But overall we match PG&E’s rates, that’s the policy our board has put into place and we work hard to deliver on both cost competitiveness as well as being greener than PG&E.”

Boyles said a new line item for VCE will appear on energy bills, but that’s a replacement charge and doesn’t mean residents are paying extra. 

“All that really changes from the customer’s side is you’ll see a different line item on your bill,” Boyles said. 

Only one question was asked at the meeting: whether VCE will follow PG&E’s practice of cutting off power in high fire risk zones, such as Winters. Boyles said VCE has no control over that because they’re using PG&E infrastructure, but they do try to help notify residents if their power is going to be shut off. 

Sears said VCE is looking to potentially partner with PG&E to identify weak links in the power grid and also for opportunities to install energy solutions that could mitigate the problem, such as linking rooftop solar power to battery storage and microgrids that could prevent the shutoff of a community. 

“Microgrids are complicated and perhaps, in many cases, not cost effective, but they can be effective in helping protect critical infrastructure,” Sears said. “So, for example, medical facilities in hospitals and police and fire stations, things of that nature that might be really important to communities if they do suffer power safety shutoffs. Again, we’re not directly involved in that, but we are looking for opportunities, and being a local voice, and working with PG&E to try to advance some of these issues.”

Winters City Council member Jesse Loren, who sits on the Valley Clean Energy Board of Directors along with Mayor Wade Cowan, said at the meeting she’s excited to have the option coming to Winters. Loren specifically praised the local control offered by the board, which consists of two representatives from each city covered by VCE, and two representatives from Yolo County.

“It’s going to benefit Winters, we’re going to have our own local control on where our energy comes from,” Loren said.

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