Sonoma Clean Power is a “community choice aggregation” government agency, so called because communities join together to aggregate their electricity purchases. PG&E delivers their electricity and sends out their bills.
The community choice aggregation (commonly called CCA in the industry) agencies were approved by the California legislature in 2002, as an alternative to monopoly and municipal utilities.
The first began in Marin County in 2010. Sonoma Clean Power was second in 2014, formed first to serve Sonoma County and then Mendocino County in 2017. Today 19 agencies are operating throughout the state and at least 12 may be forming, according to the Clean Power Exchange in Santa Rosa, which tracks the industry.
These agencies now control 40 percent of the electricity bought in PG&E’s territory, according to PG&E.
They believe local officials will do a better job of procuring clean, cheap electricity than the giant utilities and the California Public Utilities Commission that oversees those utilities.
In February they proposed to the commission that utilities “be removed entirely from the retail generation side of the business.”
To some, this is the triumph of consumers over powerful monopolies and corrupt regulators. To others, this is a concern. The major question that CCAs like Sonoma Clean Power face is whether all community choice agencies will be reliable, and in times of trouble, what obligation will they have to the grid?
The status of community choice agencies is challenged frequently at the state level, where they could be wiped out by the stroke of a regulatory pen, and in 2016 the agencies started CalCCA, a lobbying and research group based in Concord to represent them. Sonoma Clean Power CEO Geof Syphers is vice president of CalCCA.
The agencies are spawning a nationwide network of consultants, financiers, lawyers, data and customer managers and lobbyists that critics say are starting to look like just another giant industry. California is one of eight states that have approved these aggregation agencies.