by Whitney Allen
With an overwhelming majority of Americans in favor of seeing more energy from wind and solar, individuals and communities are often frustrated by a lack of renewable energy options from their available power company choices.
To allow their constituents greater purchasing power, several states have implemented Community Choice Aggregation (CCA) models of buying electricity. This model allows communities to pick from several utility companies in a competitive market to ensure that the energy goals of the customers are met, be they lower rates, local job creation, or increased supply from renewable sources.
What separates CCA agreements from the municipal utility model is that CCA’s generally take over the existing utility’s role as provider, while still relying on the previous infrastructure and maintenance of the existing investor owned utility (IOU), keeping costs down and relieving the burden that municipal agreements place on the communities. The agreements typically come in the form of either “opt-in” agreements, where individual energy consumers decide whether or not to participate in an alternative energy program, or “opt-out” agreements where citizens are enrolled in the program collectively as soon as legislation is passed, but are given several opportunities to choose not to participate.
CCA agreements can offer customers access to energy generated from renewable sources by unifying voices and giving them the collective power to ensure their goals are achieved. Of the six states that currently have CCA’s, four of them have green power initiatives, most with the option of receiving 100% power from renewable sources. The CCA’s allowed these communities to establish the priority of receiving clean, sustainable energy and work around the obstacles of existing IOU’s.
CCA’s also give energy consumers the ability to customize their plans to maximize the benefit to the community at large. Several programs, such as that in the town of Oak Park, IL, have managed to achieve the goal of electricity from 100% renewable sources while still providing a savings of 2 cents/kWh less than with the existing utility.
Officials from Oak Park said that, “when bids were received from half a dozen state-certified energy providers, the difference between a mix of traditional power generation sources and all-green alternatives was so small […] going with the renewable option was an easy choice.” Participants in the Oak Park CCA program are expected to save $4.5 million on their electricity bills over the next two years.
CCA’s also allow communities to prioritize energy from local renewables projects and assist in the development of new projects. For example, those served by Massachusetts’ Cape & Vineyard Electricity Cooperative have set the goal of no fewer than 20 local wind turbines contributing to their supply over the next 5-10 years, along with contracts for the development of 18.2MW of local solar projects. As the Institute for Local Self-Reliance states, CCA’s “[place] authority in the hands of those who will feel the impact of their decisions, making investment in renewable electricity much more likely.”
Legislation allowing the Community Choice Aggregation model has been passed in six states: California, Illinois, New Jersey, Massachusetts, Ohio, and Rhode Island. Because of the success of the programs in these states, talk of similar legislation has also begun in Utah, New York, and Colorado. Naysayers struck down CCA provisions in Pennsylvania on the grounds that “opt-out” rules did not provide customers with enough information and that decisions would be made without their consent, despite repeated assurances that “customers receive multiple notifications of opportunities to remain with their existing service and that the offering of CCA service must be approved by a public vote.”
The next big step for community choice could come from Chicago. The Windy City will be voting in November on whether or not to provide an “opt-out” community choice alternative to the current electricity provider, ComEd. Program advocates Chicago Clean Power Coalition say that customers could create a plan that invests in renewable energy, create local jobs, and save money for the more than 1.1 million potential customers eligible for the switch. The move could be a great one for a city with numerous green initiatives and could further Mayor Emanuel’s desire for Chicago to be the “greenest city in the world.”
Community choice aggregation is still a limited option. But it’s getting more interest from localities — and it has the potential to significantly expand access to clean energy among a broad swath of Americans.