The city of Stockton, which has long depended on Pacific Gas & Electric as its main energy utility company, will soon change its central electrical power source.
Stockton City Council unanimously passed a resolution and accompanying city ordinance earlier this month to join the public power agency East Bay Community Energy, a community choice aggregation program that allows local governments to procure electricity from alternative suppliers on behalf of residents, businesses and their municipal accounts without needing new infrastructure.
But officials say the only differences Stocktonians will likely notice are a less expensive energy bill and possibly reduced air pollution.
Grant Kirkpatrick, a program manager with the Stockton city manager’s office who primarily oversees the city’s environmental and sustainability portfolio, explained to City Council at its meeting last week “the simplest explanation of the program” is that any public jurisdiction in California can aggregate the electrical use of all its customers.
“And rather than default to an incumbent utility, in our case PG&E, they can make a proactive decision where they want to source power from,” Kirkpatrick said.
The move, which is a culmination of about three years worth of work and research, will result in a 1% discount in energy rates for consumers who opt into the program, according to agenda documents and city officials.
“(That) may not sound like a lot, but in aggregate that would have saved Stockton residents and businesses $1.5 million last year in energy bills alone,” Kirkpatrick said. “And that’s not accounting for the significant inflation that we’ve seen recently in PG&E increasing its prices even more.”
The city’s energy customers will also continue to pay their electricity bills through PG&E as they always have, as well as continue to receive power through the energy giant’s already-in-place infrastructure.
“There’s a fee associated for every customer of a (community choice aggregation program) that goes to the incumbent utility so that they have the funds to continue to maintain the infrastructure that we’re using,” Kirkpatrick said. “And then at the end of all, we get the benefit of, a, sourcing cleaner energy and, b, all the other sort of decisions that come along with it.”
Stockton is just one of nearly two dozen cities and unincorporated areas — including Tracy and Livermore — in the Central Valley and Bay Area that have joined the East Bay Community Energy agency since its inception in Alameda County in 2018.
Tracy Councilmember Dan Arriola, who is currently the only representative on the EBCE board representing a San Joaquin County city, told Stockton councilmembers during public comment that joining the public energy agency was a chance to let their constituents choose what is best for them. Arriola said he hoped Stockton would follow his city’s lead.
“What we are doing is giving people a choice,” Arriola said, whether that be residents choosing to lower their energies bills or for those looking to be more environmentally conscious. “What you are doing is providing more power to our people, more power to our communities.”
Stockton City Councilmember Christina Fugazi also highlighted that the program — which will likely be fully functional in Stockton in the beginning of 2024 following state approval, according to city and EBCE officials — is not mandatory.
Although all Stocktonians will be automatically enrolled in the new electricity service, anyone can opt out, according to agenda documents.
“But, quite frankly, I can’t see why you wouldn’t, because it benefits our community in more ways than one,” Fugazi said.
According to its website, EBCE sources its energy from a variety of sources, including wind, solar and hydro, with a goal of providing “100% carbon-free electricity to all customers by 2030” and says cities receive at least 42.3% of their power from renewable energy sources.
Kirkpatrick says those numbers already surpass state standards.
California mandates that at least 27% of an electricity retail seller’s energy load must currently come from renewable sources and be at 60% by 2030.
“They (community choice aggregation programs) have a much more significant percentage of electricity already coming from renewable sources, because they have that freedom to choose where they want to get power from,” Kirkpatrick said.
Because Stockton chose a joint public agency instead of going solo to create its own community choice aggregation program, Kirkpatrick said there’s currently no membership fees or startup costs in joining the community energy agency and the city’s general fund and assets will be largely protected from overall risk.
The community energy agency also appears to operate similarly to any other public agency, according to its website and City Council agenda documents. Stockton will have a representative on the agency’s board of directors and the board holds open, publicly-accessible meetings each month.
In addition to rate reduction, Kirkpatrick cited other myriad benefits of joining the program, such as being able to fund installing more solar and battery storage systems that would help avoid rolling blackouts when the electrical grid fails and reducing air pollution by utilizing more electric transportation options. It also creates more local control over the city’s energy, he said.
Public comment on the utility change was unanimously in favor.
Matt Holmes, environmental justice director for Little Manilla Rising in Stockton, said that this is the kind of action he’d like to see more of from City Council.
“Frankly, a thief has been robbing us here for decades. PG&E’s never done nothing for this town. They don’t care anything about this town,” Holmes said. “East Bay Community Electric’s gonna have to listen to us.”