Silicon Valley Clean Energy (SVCE), the region’s collaborative, city-driven energy provider, is providing a fossil-free alternative to PG&E’s rates. Milpitas, along with 12 other cities in the South Bay, joined SVCE in 2018 in the hopes of reducing customers’ electricity rates.
According to numbers presented by SVCE on Tuesday, 27,200 Milpitas households and businesses — including all city-owned buildings — received clean electricity from the collaborative in 2019. That, according to SVCE, resulted in a 19.8 percent reduction in annual greenhouse gas emissions over the past four years, and $5.3 million in electricity savings.
SVCE purchases its energy from wind, solar, and hydroelectric resources in the hopes of lowering carbon emissions, which are mandated to tick to zero by 2045. The collaborative is hoping to meet half of that goal by 2030.
PG&E still ultimately delivers the electricity to all homes, including those that signed up for SVCE. But SVCE steps in at the beginning of the process instead of PG&E, buying energy from the source and using PG&E’s infrastructure to distribute it to homes.
Buying directly from the source saves a bit of money, the net effect of which is passed down to residents, resulting in lower monthly bills.
“There are a lot of benefits in addition to saving money,” said Girish Balachandran, CEO of SVCE, who was onhand Tuesday to deliver the presentation. “It’s also new kinds of jobs and improvement of public health.”
Both customers and city officials across the county have become increasingly fed up with PG&E’s service in the wake of the company’s Public Safety Power Shutoff (PSPS) in 2019, wherein the company voluntarily turned off power to thousands of customers due to safety concerns. PG&E has also come under fire for failing to update its aging power grid while C-level employees tried to give themselves multi-million-dollar raises. PG&E was also partly to blame for ravaging wildfires that engulfed the northern part of the state last October.
Things between the Oakland-based power giant and city officials got so bad that San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo proposed a breakup between the company and San Jose’s energy grid last fall. On Monday, State Senator Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco) introduced his own plan for a public takeover of PG&E, just a day before a California judge approved PG&E’s multi-billion dollar bankruptcy escape plan.
Wiener’s proposal garnered opposition from IBEW Local 1245, a union that represents 12,000 PG&E employees. The union feared a government takeover would threaten their jobs and pensions.
At Tuesday’s Milpitas City Council meeting, there was some support from Milpitas residents for a private co-op takeover of the region’s energy, similar to Liccardo’s proposed plan. But there wasn’t a clear consensus as to whether Liccardo’s plan or Wiener’s plan was more favorable.
“I grew up in Saskatchewan, where co-ops are the norm,” said resident Allyson McDonald. A former Canadian, McDonald claimed the co-op model, used by many Canadian municipalities, encourages more efficient operations. “They’re sort of an intermediary way between large corporations and very small local ones.”
Councilmember Anthony Phan, however, was cautious of a full public takeover, fearing enormous amounts of red tape. Phan suggested that a regulated private energy company would fare better for residents…
“Yes, we should hold PG&E accountable,” said Phan. “But we’re in over our heads if we think government can have the capacity and bandwidth to do this in a manner that is less expensive to taxpayers and more efficient to the environment.”
SVCE did admit that a public power takeover would result in a “slower” product, and would take time to implement — an estimated five years if the state were to sign Wiener’s bill into law — but posited that any plan would come with “baggage,” and a public-run model would bring the benefit of putting service over profits.
“These aren’t simple choices,” said Balachandran.
He added, “This public power model, it’s never been done before. There’s nothing as big as this in this country. But California is the biggest state in the nation, and it’s done some very big things.”
Also included in SVCE’s presentation on Tuesday were plans for all-electric homes, complete with infrastructure for an EV charger, solar panels, and the elimination of natural gas stoves plus expanded EV infrastructure across the city. Milpitas has already bought into part of those regulations, adopting greener construction codes at a December, 2019, meeting. Tuesday’s presentation served as only an update on SVCE’s work in Milpitas, with no official action taken.