How to Bring Affordable Green Energy to Your Neighborhood in 7 Steps (Phase 1)

Posted June 05, 2017

With or without help from the federal government, you have the power to bring affordable green energy to your neighborhood. As of April, 2017, Greenpower, in collaboration with others, successfully completed the first phase of this process, and we want to share with you the steps it took to win community support for a Community Choice Energy (CCE) Project across three counties.

First, what is a CCE Project and why should you want it in your neighborhood?

A CCE Project is a commitment, often across multiple jurisdictions, to pursue regionwide affordable energy through leveraging a new approach to aggregating and selling electricity. CCE empowers cities and counties to choose what type of energy they purchase and who they buy it from, allowing steep increases in renewable, or “green,” electricity usage. By buying your power directly from an energy producer, rather than through a middleman (such as PG&E), your community saves money and impacts climate change on a global level.

In fact, in the Monterey Bay Region where we implemented our CCE  Project, electricity use causes roughly half of the greenhouse gas emissions. CCE was identified as the number one local climate change action tool that would result in the highest reduction of emissions within just a few years of establishing the agency. This type of program can have global effects in a relatively short time-frame, so the more cities and counties that work together to implement it, the better.

Implementing CCE in your community does take time and effort, but we’ve successfully tested out the process through a project called Monterey Bay Community Power (MBCP). MBCP created a partnership or Joint Power Agency among jurisdictions across three counties (Monterey, Santa Cruz, and San Benito) in order to provide renewable energy to residents and businesses throughout the greater Monterey Bay Area. With the help of our partners, and by winning the support of residents, businesses, and lawmakers, we convinced local governments to commit to bringing affordable green energy through CCE to their communities.

"You can influence local governments to commit to Community Choice Energy by winning community support. "

A project like MBCP not only reduces carbon emissions but it can also lower energy costs for consumers. Surplus revenue stays in the community, stimulating private sector innovation, additional green energy projects, and workforce development.

Sound good?

Here are the basic steps to help you launch your own CCE  Project, from raising funds to winning the votes needed to bring CCE to your neighborhood and beyond.

Step 1: Gather a Group of Highly Motivated Go-Getters

As with any movement, CCE starts with a group of motivated organizers who are dedicated to the cause. It’s important to gather county and city partners from across your target region (we recommend staying within two to three counties) so that you have representation from each area.

Some CCE’s in California have begun with grassroots activism, and others have begun with inspired government officials. Whichever approach your region chooses, you will ultimately need to form a group of government, nonprofit, and/or business leaders who can provide leadership to your region in thinking through the possibilities for CCE. This group is usually called a Regional Project Development Advisory Committee or PDAC and will play a pivotal role in creating the CCE Joint Powers Agreement. The agreement outlines the governance structure, financial requirements, goals and guiding principles of your CCE Project. In Step 4, you will form a Joint Powers Agency to govern the project.  

See the full list of MBCP’s guiding principles here.

Step 2: Raise Funding

Next, you may wish to designate one county as the lead agency to raise funds and provide staffing for the project. Be prepared to raise upwards of $500,000 depending on the number and size of your involved counties.

This amount will cover the cost of a Technical Study. This study includes an analysis of the benefits and risks associated with CCE in your particular region, as well as a comparison between the rates and services provided by your area’s current energy provider and those of a CCE.  

Here in Santa Cruz, Monterey, and San Benito Counties, we were able to raise the needed finances from both private and state sources. Our community was awarded grants from the California Strategic Growth Council ($344,239), the World Wildlife Fund ($30,000), and the UC Santa Cruz Carbon Fund ($5,000). In addition to these gifts, Greenpower raised over $250,000 from private donors for public outreach and advocacy.

Greenpower volunteers educate local community members about the benefits of MBCP.

Step 3: Reach out to your community, in-person and online

As you’re exploring the feasibility of bringing CCE to your region, make sure to involve a variety of representatives from your community, including elected officials, county and city executive staff, and CCE experts from around the State. This will help you gather as much information as possible in the beginning stages and fully understand the risks and benefits of the program from a variety of perspectives.  

Public meetings, workshops, and study sessions are all examples of how to bring together these key players. Use these sessions to review and discuss the technical study with the consultants as well as options regarding governance, start-up financing, and formation.

Sand City held an MBCP study session during a city council meeting.

A project website is also an important component of reaching out to your community. Use your website as a public space to share all your findings from the feasibility study, to answer FAQs, provide important updates, and post upcoming meeting locations and times.

An active presence on social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram also provide an accessible space to share meeting times and important updates to as many people as possible.

Last but not least, make sure to start an email list early. Gather emails at your meetings and workshops and add a signup form to your website and Facebook page. The idea is to make it as easy as possible for supporters to stay in touch.  

Once you’ve raised funding and started educating key players in the project, it’s time to garner more support for your CCE Joint Powers Agency.

Step 4: Form a CCE Joint Powers Agency in your region

The CCE Joint Powers Agency is a powerful catalyst for distributing green energy throughout a large region. A Joint Powers Agency allows multiple jurisdictions to join together in a common project, and for CCE the more jurisdictions to join your agency, the better. Interested counties and cities should put together a committee of executive staff, tasked with developing a formation proposal for the consideration of the Board of Supervisors or City Councils for each potential member jurisdiction.

Together, these committees will define a governance structure that all participating members will eventually need to agree upon. This governance structure will become a rough blueprint for the Joint Powers Agreement which defines how the Joint Powers Agency will govern and manage your CCE Project.

View MBCP’s Joint Power Agency structure here.

Once your Project Development and Advisory Committee has created a proposed Joint Powers Agreement, you can start the process of public education and mobilization. The end goal is to get the agreement approved by your elected officials.

Environmental activists advocating for MBCP in their county.

Step 5: Develop a region-wide outreach communications program

Now that you have representatives from each county and city actively creating a Joint Power Agreement for your region, it’s time to gather signatures and talk to as many community members as possible. We found that the best place to start is with influential community groups such as people of faith, schools, and activist coalitions or local nonprofits.

Greenpower focused on Catholic Churches throughout the Monterey Bay region, building on the call to action put forth in Pope Francis’s Laudato Sí. We spoke to over a dozen congregations over the course of six months, inspiring support and excitement for green energy within those communities.

"As the common gathering place for many neighborhoods, schools and churches are an ideal environment to engage with community members."

Schools are powerful potential allies because, like churches, they often tie together a community and act as a common gathering place for the neighborhood. Local activist groups can also help out by calling upon their wide network of volunteers and donors to spread the word and bolster support.

See a full list of our partners here.

Try to gather as many petition signatures as possible while building up to the vote. You want to show city officials that you have widespread support so they can clearly see the benefit of a ‘yes’ vote.

Greenpower volunteers gathering petitions to bring CCE to the Monterey Bay Region!

Step 6: Meet with city and county officials

Your city and county officials, of course, play a crucial role in making CCE a reality in your region. If you want to get their attention, emails and phone calls may not be enough.

Hold public forums with city officials so you can meet them face to face. Take the time to meet with members of the city council or board of supervisors one-on-one if they’re unable to attend the forum. Showing up in person to explain the environmental and economic benefits of CCE makes a lasting impact and demonstrates its importance to your community.

During these meetings, remember that your main goal is to gauge support for your Joint Powers Agreement. You’re determining whether most council members would vote for CCE, whether they need more information, or if they are firmly opposed.  

After gathering feedback, amend the agreement as necessary. Prepare a final version that you plan to put forward for a vote by your local City Council and County Boards.

Step 7: VOTE!

You finally have a completed Joint Powers Agreement that lays out the governance structure of your CCE Joint Powers Agency. It’s time to bring the agreement to your City Council and County Boards for a vote.

Keep gathering needed petition signatures in support of CCE until the votes are cast—remember the more signatures you have, the more likely the vote will pass!

On the day of voting, pack the room with people, including credible figures who will speak in support of CCE, helping to pass the resolution and bring renewable energy to your region.

Get ready for Phase 2 ...

If all your hard work pans out, all counties and cities within your region will have voted yes for your CCE Project. Congratulations! Now it’s time to create a regional CCE governing board in preparation for Phase 2.

The elected body for each city or county participating in your CCE will need to choose one of its members to populate your Policy Board, unless jurisdictions are grouped and each group is represented by a single seat. If there are groups, then each one will need to select one elected official from amongst its governing bodies to fill the seat. Our MBCP Policy Board consists of 11 elected officials who collectively represent 19 jurisdictions, although this number could change. These appointees will make major policy decisions, including setting electricity rates, choosing the percentage of energy that comes from renewable sources, and capital investments.

MBCP has a second group of leaders called the Operations Board. This type of group often consists of one staff member (e.g. a city manager) from each jurisdiction and meets more often than the Policy Board. Its main purpose is to make decisions about the day-to-day operation of the program. Your community will also need to appoint a CEO for your CCE Project and have him or her start the process of hiring staff. Once this is complete, Phase 2 officially begins!

We will share Phase 2 of this process in a future blog post, so stay tuned!

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