Residents React to Pioneer Community Energy

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By Jerry Henry on December 20, 2017.

Social media is exploding with information and misinformation about Pioneer Community Energy. Placer County and the cities of Auburn, Colfax, Lincoln, Loomis, and Rocklin have partnered to provide a Community Choice Aggregation program with more stable rates and lower-cost electricity to the residents and businesses within their jurisdictions. Community Choice Aggregation is a program that allows cities and counties to buy and/or generate electricity for residents and businesses within their areas. Many local residents are concerned that the devil may be in the details.

Pioneer Community Energy is administered by a board comprised of elected representatives from the various local communities who are participating. Placer County Treasurer-Tax Collector, Jenine Windeshausen, is serving as the Executive Director of Pioneer Community Energy.

KAHI News reached out the Chairperson of the Pioneer Community Energy Governing Board, Jennifer Montgomery, and Executive Director of Pioneer Community Energy, Jenine Windeshausen, for clarification on Pioneer Community Energy, the mPOWER Program, and rates and taxes associated with these programs.

The tasks associated with Pioneer Community Energy are considered ‘other duties as assigned’ and Windeshausen, Montgomery, and the Pioneer board members are not compensated separately for this project.

Placer County posted a press release on their website on December 7th in which Supervisor Jennifer Montgomery, chair of the Pioneer Community Energy Governing Board, said “Instead of being beholden to a statewide entity subject to the whims of its stockholders, the Pioneer Board establishes local control over electricity rates and will be able to design programs that meet the needs of the residents and businesses in Placer County. With local control, we can provide lower and more stable rates and do more to meet the local goals and priorities of our communities.”

According to Windeshausen, Pioneer is not supported by taxes. Pioneer is solely supported by the rates it charges customers for the energy they use. Pioneer can provide energy at a lower cost than PG&E because they do not pay income taxes, and they do not make shareholder distributions of profits.

However, some social media comments have become downright nasty on this subject as residents have confused two programs now operated by Pioneer. In addition to the Community Choice Aggregation program that provides electricity to business and home, Pioneer has taken over the mPOWER program which Placer County has operated for the past seven years. The mPOWER program has provided financing to over 2,000 property owners in Placer County for energy efficiency and solar installation on a completely volunteer basis. The financing of the mPOWER program is repaid on the owner’s property tax bill.

Windeshausen told KAHI News that “While both programs are now operated by Pioneer, they have completely separate budgets and property taxes cannot go to support Pioneer customer electricity rates.”

On December 11, 2017, the Pioneer Community Energy Board voted to set electricity rates at 3% below PG&E’s rates, and to compensate solar customers at $0.03 per kilowatt hour for surplus generation which is slightly more than PG&E’s current solar generation rate. The Pioneer Board adopted the rates after a public hearing, in which the public was invited to comment. In accordance with the Brown Act, a notice of the public hearing was published 11 days before the public hearing and again 4 days before the public hearing in the Auburn Journal, Lincoln News Messenger, Loomis News, and the Placer Herald. It was also published once 11 days before the public hearing in the Colfax Record and the Roseville Press Tribune.

Power procurement for Pioneer is currently being handled by Northern California Power Agency who purchases power on the same open market that other power companies use. Administration of the Pioneer Community Energy program is currently outsourced to a company called CalPine who does the data management and staffs the call center. These companies are paid by Pioneer Community Energy from the rates paid by their customers.

According to Windeshausen, Pioneer will soon hire a staff to administer the program locally. Job descriptions and salaries have been approved by the Pioneer Community Energy Governing Board and recruitment will begin in January. These new staff members will not be county employees but rather employees of Pioneer Community Energy.

According to the county’s website “enrollment starts in February 2018, and will be automatic, to ensure fair and equal access to the benefits of Pioneer electricity rates and programs for all ratepayers. All residents and businesses in the service territory have the choice to continue receiving the benefits of Pioneer Community Energy or to remain with PG&E.” If a resident does not want to participate in the new Pioneer Community Energy program, and would rather remain a customer of PG&E, they are required to opt out of Pioneer by calling 1 (844) 937-4766 with their PG&E account number. If a resident initially stays with Pioneer and later decides to opt out, PG&E may charge a nominal connection fee and lock a customer in for one year. In contrast, Pioneer has no plans to charge a fee if a PG&E customer wants to move over to Pioneer in the future.

For more information on this subject the county’s website directs readers to call 1-844-YES-PIONEER (1-844-937-4766), toll-free or visit www.pioneercommunityenergy.ca.gov.

KAHI will continue to report on this subject as more information is gathered.

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