Bioneers Recap Part I

Bioneers Recap Part I

I just got back from the 2014 Bioneers Conference in Marin County, California. The only thing more beautiful than the picturesque setting of the conference's location was the flow and exchange of ideas for how to curb Climate Change and shift our mode of thinking and behaviors to a more sustainable reality.  I had the opportunity to meet and speak with Naomi Klein throughout the conference and listen to her keynote presentation. Noami evoked the idea that solutions to climate change have to largely come from the bottom up, from frontline communities who have the most to lose from climate change events AND the most to gain from implementing a set of inclusive, grassroots intitiatives that can be realized by a broad range of earth citizens.

One session in particular that I attended was right on point with Naomi's paradigm. The session entitled, Public Power To Counteract Clmate Challenges and Corporate Control covered the concept of Community Choice Aggregation (CCA).  CCA is a system that allows communities to pool electricity demand and purchase power on behalf of residents, businesses and municipal facilities. Additionally, CCA's represent a new form of public utility that aggregate regional energy demand and negotiate with competitive suppliers and developers, rather than the traditional utility business model based on monopolizing energy supply. In short, a way for communities to have greater choice in how their energy is harnassed.

The session was led by Dawn Weisz, Executive Director of Marin Clean Energy (MCE). MCE was launched in 2010 and currently serves 125,000 customers in four Northern California jurisdictions.  By giving customers the option of leaving Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E) for their energy needs, MCE has reduced 131,000 pounds of greenhouse gas emissions and saved their customers $5.9 million in 2014 alone. While only 22% of PG&E's energy is from renewables, MCE offers customers a minimum of 50% renewables, going as high 100%. The best part is, even at 50% renewable, MCE's rates are lower than PG&E; and for those who wish to pay more for the 100% renewable or 100% local solar options, these rates are secured for 20 years.

As Ms. Weisz was enthusiastically breaking down MCE's triumphs, my inculsivity alarm went off as I thought, "It really sucks that this choice is only available to affluent communities like Marin County, what about frontiline and low-wealth/communities of color." It was at this moment that Ms. Weisz shattered my thought process when she announced that MCE has been working closely with the Richmond, CA community in an effort to include a social/environmental justice element to MCE. Richmond, CA, which is a majority African American community has long been overlooked while its citizens have been afflicted by a Chevron refinery and the placement of other pollutive facilities for years. Including this community as MCE customers created more than 1,300 jobs, fostered an ethic of inclusion and allowed Richmond to reap the same energy cost saving benefits as wealthier communities, while reducing emissions. MCE literally gave power to an Environmental Justice community.

This is exactly what Naomi was talking about. Similar efforts to MCE's will be necessary to curb Climate Change and allow us all to take part in the solution. I applaud MCE and look forward to corresponding with them so that their model can be replicated nationwide.