A large-scale study intended to pave the way for the potential creation of a Contra Costa County energy program was given the green light by county supervisors last month.
The study, which was chosen over two other options during the March 15 Board of Supervisors meeting, may cost up to $400,000 to complete over the course of 10 months.
The study will examine costs and other aspects of implementing community choice aggregation in the county, based on a 2002 state law allowing cities and counties to aggregate consumer electricity demand.
Such a program could allow the county to create a joint powers authority to compete with PG&E as retailers of electricity, which county officials hope will bring lower costs and extra access to clean energy.
Supervisors unanimously chose to embark on a lengthy study -- over a smaller-scale, less expensive study -- that will be used to weigh the benefits of different options for community choice aggregation.
Another option rejected by supervisors was to not do a study and immediately join Marin Clean Energy, which was the first community choice aggregation entity to be created in the state in 2010.
Some of the county's cities -- Richmond, El Cerrito and San Pablo -- have already joined Marin Clean Energy, alongside Benicia and unincorporated Napa County.
The two other current Bay Area entities are Sonoma Clean Power, which began offering its services in 2014 to Sonoma County residents, and CleanPowerSF, a San Francisco program that is expected to begin its first enrollment period in May.
These entities are supported through revenues and are not taxpayer subsidized, county officials said.
Supervisor Karen Mitchoff did express concern about the governance structure of Marin Clean Energy if the county should choose to join, saying "the interests could be too far-flung."
County staff replied that conversations about a name change and other governance modifications are already occurring since Marin Clean Energy has outgrown Marin County.
The county joining Marin Clean Energy wasn't ruled out, but its upcoming study will be exploring other options as well, such as forming its own entity.
Officials with Alameda County, which is already exploring its own options for forming one of these entities, also made a formal request to pursue options for a combined program, according to Supervisor Candace Andersen. This will be explored in the study as well.
With any of the options for community choice aggregation, customers have to choose to opt out of the program -- otherwise they are automatically enrolled, county officials said.
And though these entities do offer choices for 100% renewable energy, the costs can be higher than equivalent options through PG&E in some cases, according to county officials.
An analysis of potential rates will be part of the study the county is proceeding with, which all 16 of the county's participating cities agreed to individually.
The cost of conducting the $400,000 study will be shared with those cities, though the total amount is yet to be determined, county officials said.
Supervisors such as Mary Piepho expressed support for the prospect of bringing community choice aggregation to Contra Costa County.
"(This brings) significant economic opportunities in the east county," she said, citing clean energy projects in the district she represents.
But Piepho equally put emphasis on the need to "do due diligence" before any path is taken.
"This is an important decision that could affect residents for decades if not centuries," she said.