Monterey Bay Community Power: Finding Climate Activists in Unlikely Places

Posted March 20, 2017

Feeling empowered to fight climate change, especially in the face of a fossil fuel-hungry Trump administration, may seem like a daunting task. Is there anything significant we can do as ordinary citizens to lower our carbon emissions and help reverse the effects of climate change? The answer is a resounding ‘YES.’ Community Choice Energy (CCE) programs like Monterey Bay Community Power (MBCP) provide communities with the tools to take climate change action into their own hands.

Making a global difference with local actions

MBCP—a unique CCE because its unprecedented scope includes a partnership between jurisdictions across three counties—will provide renewable energy to residents and businesses throughout the greater Monterey Bay area. CCE gives cities and counties the power to provide renewable energy while potentially reducing consumers’ energy bills, and returning the savings back to local communities. With an emphasis on locally-produced energy, CCE programs can also create steady jobs in the clean energy sector for participating jurisdictions. When local communities gain the power to buy directly from the energy producers of their choice, they can reduce costs and keep the savings home to help fund renewable energy projects, create green jobs, and invigorate the economy.

This accessible approach to reducing our reliance on fossil fuels and removing barriers to powering cities with renewable energy could have global impacts. In its first year, MBCP could reduce carbon emissions in the Monterey Bay area by an estimated 80,027,706 pounds—but only if the region’s diverse communities stand together and support the project.

"MBCP has the potential to reduce the region’s carbon emissions by 80,027,706 pounds in its first year. "

MBCP got its start in 2013 as a collaborative partnership among local governments (currently 21 and counting) throughout Monterey, San Benito, and Santa Cruz counties. MBCP ambassadors, like Greenpower, are working tirelessly to educate all districts in the region about the environmental (and economic) benefits of CCE, providing entire communities with the opportunity to take a stand against climate change while embracing a clean energy future.

Clean Energy for the Masses

An inclusive and accessible program, MBCP makes a clean energy future possible for all communities, regardless of economic status. Research shows that through CCE, MBCP can deliver rate parity with PG&E while also stimulating local economies. All PG&E programs that support low-income electricity customers stay in place with MBCP.

This is great news for agricultural communities, where the average income rarely exceeds the federal poverty level. Farmworkers are acutely aware of climate change as its effects directly impact their livelihood. People in these communities are primed to become some of our most effective climate activists when given a viable way to make the transition to clean energy. 

While agricultural communities may lack the investment capital for typically expensive green energy infrastructure like wind and solar, a cooperative regional model like MBCP can help them thrive. One of Greenpower’s roles in MBCP is to show these agricultural workers and their families how CCE can help them make the transition in a way that benefits everyone in their community. MBCP protects the future of our vital agricultural sectors through carbon reduction, decreases the local residents’ monthly electricity bills, creates new jobs, and invests energy savings back into the local economy.

Starting a grassroots movement in Greenfield

In the city of Greenfield, a predominantly Latino (over 90%) community in Monterey County with an average per capita income of $9,226, Greenpower identified an agricultural community poised for the clean energy transition. We knew that if we could mobilize Greenfield’s 16,000 residents to support renewable energy, it would set an example for other Salinas Valley communities.

Appealing to people of faith is a key component of Greenpower’s approach to mobilizing a diverse coalition of people to fight against climate change. Pope Francis's recent call to Catholics to "care for our common home" was motivated out of his dual concern for the wellbeing of the planet, and of the poor. Because faith is an integral part of the fabric of community in Greenfield, in the summer of 2016 we formed an alliance with the town’s large Catholic church, Holy Trinity. The parish priest, Father Enrique Herrera, invited us to make announcements about the importance of climate action after masses, and we collected signatures on a letter of support for MBCP from several hundred parishioners. Next, we forged an alliance with the local English as a Second Language (ESL) school and educated fifty students about the importance of Community Choice Energy for their town and the environment. Lastly, we recruited individual environmental activists from Greenfield to make presentations before the city council.

"The Greenfield community joined together and made their voices heard. "

Once the people of Greenfield decided that they wanted MBCP in their community, they made their voices heard to local officials. On October 25th, 2016, over two dozen Greenfield residents showed up at a city council meeting to express their support for the adoption of MBCP.

Among those who spoke to the council were Alejandra Ponce, the Salinas Valley Hartnell College Student Body representative and leader of the student Sustainability Club; Michael Tidwell, a Greenfield solar expert and business owner; and Maria Corralejo, a long-time local homeowner and environmental activist. When those present at the city council meeting were asked to show their support for MBCP by raising their hands, nearly the entire room responded enthusiastically. After this outpouring of community support, the city council of Greenfield voted unanimously to adopt a resolution of intent to join Monterey Bay Community Power .

Greenfield is just one inspiring example of grassroots organizing's efficacy in bringing Community Choice Energy to local communities throughout California. The town's commitment to renewable energy has proved a successful model helping us inspire many other communities to follow suit.

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