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Letter: Marin Clean Energy vs PG&E

Robert Wenig of Buena Vista Avenue breaks down the details of his electric bill in an attempt to compare Marin Clean Energy and PG&E.

I was surprised this month when I opened my bill and saw that I was switched (perhaps slammed) into Marin Clean Energy.

Is this a good thing or a bad thing?

Discounting the “green” focus of Marin Clean Energy, will my electric bill be cheaper with Marin Clean Energy?

I have no clue – and trying to get accurate information from either Marin Clean Energy or PG&E is absolutely impossible.

My home has solar panels – approximately a 2500 Watt System.

I am on a time of day metering system, I believe that the tarrif is “E‐7”.

With PG&E, if I generate more power than I use – I sell the excess power back to PG&E.

Since the solar system does not operate at night, I buy power at night. Depending upon the day, during peak times, the solar system generates enough power for the house. As winter nears and the days grow shorter – the solar system becomes less useful.

With Marin Clean Energy – I am not sure if they buy back (i.e. credit) the excess power. PG&E suggests that I ask Marin Clean Energy about this – so surely something is up.

And then it gets even more confusing:

If you are a PG&E Customer, the rate structure looks like this: (For bundled service – includes electricity and distribution if I am reading this right)

Summer Peak Off-Peak Baseline Usage .31312 KW .07921 Tier 1 (above base) .33 .097 Tier 2 .48 .24

So, you ask Marin Clean Energy – what is their rate structure:

They say (for summer) – Peak is .30 (i.e. 30 cents), Off‐Peak is .05. No tiers, just a flat rate structure.

(In both cases, Peak is 12 PM – 6PM, Monday to Friday)

So, Marin Clean Energy is cheaper, right?

Not so fast – Marin Clean Energy just sells power. You have to pay PG&E for distribution. If you then look at the E‐7 rate sheet, and you see that for unbundled service, you pay .13 (13 cents) for distribution.

So, now Marin Clean Energy is more money for Baseline and Tier 1, and basically a break‐even for Tier 2.

Only if you get to Tier‐3 – will Marin Clean Energy Cost less (odd that the Green Provider rewards you for squandering energy).

So, how does the average homeowner make an informed decision?

I have spoken with Marin Clean Energy (888‐632‐3674).

I have spoken with normal PG&E( 800‐743‐5000), the Community Energy Side of PG&E (866‐743‐0335) and the Solar Side of PG&E (877‐743‐4112).

The call center at Marin Clean Energy is staffed by full trained reps who have expertise in politically correct double talk – i.e. you can never get a straight answer.

PG&E has more normal people who are not as gifted with words – however they can’t help me either.

What do I do?

Robert Wenig
181 Buena Vista Avenue

Let us know what you think of Robert's letter. And see what others had to say about Marin Clean Energy: Are You Happy with Marin Clean Energy So Far?

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Marin Clean Energy Data Analyst September 28, 2012 at 09:24 PM
hab3 - Net Energy Metering, With Marin Clean Energy, you have access to one of the best Net Energy Metering programs in California. That's because MCE pays premium rates (retail rate based on time-of-generation plus $0.01 per kilowatt-hour) for the excess electricity that you produce. Excess generation credits roll over month after month and are paid out on an annual basis if they are $100 or more. And, as our way of saying thanks, we'll give you a $4 bonus credit each month you generate excess energy. In most cases, our Net Energy Metering program structure increases the owner's yearly payouts, thus improving the economics of local solar energy. More information, and a full FAQ, is available here: https://marincleanenergy.info/net-energy-metering -Simon, Data Analyst at Marin Clean Energy
Rico September 28, 2012 at 11:53 PM
Thanks Jim, Like I said, those new bi-directional meters are brand new, and I need to know about how they work. I think that PG&E offering new transmitting net meters is a great improvement after the first generation SmartMeters went clunk. They used a powerline carrier instead of a radio SmartGrid, and they did not test them before installing 830,000 of them. They were inaccurate or did not work at all, and led to thousands of complaints about super high bills. So, PG&E quietly yanked them all out after wasting untold tens of millions of our ratepayer dollars on the untested first generation SmartMeters. Then PG&E cooked up a deal with Silver Springs to use a radio network for for their second generation meters, but the system did not work with bi-directional meters, so more improvement was needed. Now, they have the third generation SmartMeters that are advanced and can record current being generated by the customer. It took them a few years to get it right so they could automate most of the reads. Of course all of this technical stuff has nothing at all to do with MCE/MEA, all they are is brokers selling energy for Shell Oil for some people in Marin, they are not a utility. Might I make a suggestion about setting timers ? That is to set each timer at least 20 minutes before peak time begins and 20 minutes after peak time ends. And by the way, did you opt into MEA/MCE ?
Jim Phelps September 29, 2012 at 01:16 AM
Ricardo, yes I Opted Out of MEA / MCE. Too much green going into MEA people's checking accounts, too much reliance on RECs, too little Marin-based local renewable energy. The San Rafael airport is 0.002% of the total Shell contract. Window-dressing. MEA needs 300 similar “local” projects if going to deliver on original commitment. Check MEA’s budget. Many are feeding at the trough. $400K for communications?? $335K for legal. $1.2 million for staffing -- discount Weisz's $250k annual salary and you average about $100K for each person. Additionally, the two ex-Navigant guys are paid $560K, combined. Cut those expenses and cut electric prices so MEA "total cost" (rate + PG&E exit fee + franchise fee surcharge) is equal to or lower than PG&E for a couple of years, and I can justify MEA on basis of lower cost. But not now – presently costs are higher, and too much propaganda. Lots of gas-fired power that don't conform to original representations. Its Implementation Plan now deletes “potentially” from the sentence “MCE’s aggressive commitment to renewable generation may involve “potentially,” the purchase of RECs from the market.” Amazing these guys can look at themselves in the mirror.
Rico September 29, 2012 at 02:15 AM
Jim, I opted out of the SmartMeter program and MEA, actually I never opted in for either of these programs, as they will only increase my electric bills. One thing interesting is that the solar project at the San Rafael Airport has nothing at all to do with MEA. It was funded by a private bank back east. The labor was coordinated by a local Muir Beach electrical contractor, who hired 20 temporary laborers from CLP to slap up those panels. The only thing MEA has to do with the project is that they assured the private investors that they (the unsuspecting customers of MEA) would buy a small percentage of power from them, that's it. The MEA/MCE gang are just a bunch of Wall St. wheelers and dealers. What, only $400,000 for propaganda, is that per year ? At least the MEA doesn't charge their customers to pay for prime time ads on TV like PG&E did with their SmartMeter fiasco. That costed us hundreds of millions of dollars (oh, but some of that was paid for by the taxpayers with ARRA funds). Yep, no matter who pays for the propaganda, it costs us all a bundle, even if we don't want anything at all to do with what they are trying to market, we still pay.
M. Calwald September 29, 2012 at 03:35 PM
MEA is dirty energy. Like Shell Oil? MEA does because they buy from them! MEA=expensive dirty energy. The only green thing about it is the amount of "green" dollars Dawn Weize is getting with her lucrative salary...total benefits package + annual income approx $250,000 a year while outsourcing jobs. Nothing local about that!
Maria Escobar September 29, 2012 at 03:45 PM
I tried contacting MEA after they enrolled me into their program. I didn't want it. It costs more and sells what I finally understand is a green energy scam, aka "RECs." I appreciate that MEA tries to be friendly and all of that, but it chimes hollow. They had me on the phone and talked in circular political babble. The reality is MEA = oil and high costs (don't be fooled when they talk about their "prices") that include extras such as PG&E's continued exit cost. They downplay all of that.
Jim Phelps September 29, 2012 at 06:40 PM
Ricardo, San Rafael airport solar is not MEA, but MEA advertises like it is, so, you’re on track. MEA buys all output from the airport. But it doesn’t make a dent in displacing the 1 million megawatt hours per year that Shell sells to MEA. Airport is less than half of 1% of Shell’s total energy. MEA says it might do another similar sized project in Marin – look for lots of IJ hype. MEA recently revised its Implementation Plan to reflect an 18% decrease in its local solar capacity commitment -- very sad how Marin is misled.
Jim Phelps September 29, 2012 at 06:45 PM
Forgot to note that "MEA's airport project" uses Trina solar panels. These are Chinese. They're on U.S. Department of Commerce anti-trade list (below cost -- dumping). Why isn't MEA supporting U.S. manufacturers?
Nancy Honsa October 04, 2012 at 02:33 AM
My PG & E bill has gone up 100$ a month since I did NOT opt out of MEA. I have talked with PG & E and MEA and am absolutely no clearer about the reason. Further more I will be penalized by opting out at this point. I am so upset and feel that I can not get a straight answer from either one of them.
Pete Adams October 06, 2012 at 12:39 AM
Nancy, the "generation" portion of your bill increased because MEA generation (+ PG&E Exit Fee + other costs MEA once promised to pay on your behalf but no longer does) is more expensive than PG&E. PG&E is under the CPUC's thumb and is in a no-win situation if they say anything negative (honest) about MEA.
Rico October 06, 2012 at 02:29 AM
Nancy, The reason that you will never get a straight answer is because MEA does not want anyone to question their markup fees. They figure that most people who got "opted into" MEA don't give a hoot about how much their electricity bill is. They probably don't even look at their bills, and hire an "organizer" to pay the bills. Your increase of $100 would not be not be a drop in the bucket to the "new money" people of Marin. It would not even be noticed, and most people don't even know that the MEA was "created" and also they don't even know what kind of electrical meter that they have. They simply "don't even care" ! Whether someone has a new advanced TOU SmartMeter for solar or just a regular SimpleSmartMeter that most people have, there is no way around it, your rates will go up, it's a given. I recommend that the best thing any electric customer in Marin who really cares about their electric rates pay the one time fees to opt out of the AMR SmartMeters and the MEA. Consider this in your case Nancy, if your bill increases $100 per month for 12 months with MEA, that is $1,200 per year. I don't know what the opt out fee for MEA is because I never opted in, but, when when you amortize the savings from dumping MEA, you will save AT LEAST $6,000 on markup fees in 5 years ! And the $75 opt out fee for a SmartMeter will also save you money. Right now, the peak time pricing is only voluntary for people that have had SmartMeters , but wait a year, it will be mandatory.
Pete Adams October 07, 2012 at 01:00 AM
If you Opt Out of PG&E SmartMeter (AMR, Automatic Meter Read) you'll pay an Opt Out fee of about $75, plus $10 per month for the manual meter read.
Pete Adams October 07, 2012 at 01:04 AM
Marin IJ letter on MEA antics: How many Marin residents have been slammed into the Marin Clean Energy program? The agency claims it spent me a letter that I never received. They said there would be no termination fee for a program I never signed up for. Then they robbed me when they would not reverse the charges for the current bill. Slammed and robbed by a group that is disguised as providing clean energy. Sign me up for the class action suit. Mark Stevens, Larkspur http://www.marinij.com/opinion/ci_21710510/marin-readers-forum-oct-6
Rico October 07, 2012 at 01:27 AM
Yes indeed, the SmartMeter opt out fee is a $75 one time charge. But, I never opted into the SmartMeter program and never had a SmartMeter slapped on my house, I read my meter and post on the street, have been for many years. But, PG&E still charged me the $75, which I agreed to pay (reluctantly). Since PG&E never had access to my meter before, they don't charge me the $10 monthly fee (why , I don't know, but I'm not going to argue with PG&E about that). Since I have a shop, design studio and office at my house, not having a SmartMeter will save me thousands of dollars per year by not having to pay for electricity during what the call "peak time" during the day when I work. No, I can't work off hours to save using energy, I work when I want to, I call the shots "round here". The new deal with the SmartMeters is, they will in the future start a program that will be a test for two years with peak pricing. If it does not reduce energy consumption for the majority of PG&E customers, the peak pricing plan must be scrapped ! I can tell everyone right now that that plan is a farce, it won't save any energy at all. But that was the big sales pitch to justify the whole SmartMeter program, that it would force people not to use electricity during peak times because it would be too expensive to do so. Anyone who has half a brain can see through this hype, it's a sham, just like the MEA/MCE is.
johnyaya December 03, 2012 at 04:34 AM
MEA has nothing to do with oil and you don't know what you are talking about. So give it a rest.
SadTamValley Resident December 03, 2012 at 06:14 AM
Wow. You are a piece of work. And so are your college kids! It sounds like they come home for two weeks for the holidays and somehow use enough lights to use up all of your electricity for the whole year. That's just at night of course. And they use so much heat that your natural gas furnace can't even work! You do realize that very simple statistics make your whole argument hear ridiculous. In order for the weighted average to make MCE more expensive, around 60% of one's electricity usage for the entire year would have to occur just at night in the months between November and April. This is HIGHLY unlikely regardless of "lights" (I assume you mean of the xmas variety). And also, everyone should realize that your adjusted rates here are due to increases that PG&E is billing and adding to profits, MEA is taking LESS for electricity generation. In fact the combined rate is 8% lower than PG&E. And that is for your E7 schedule. For a more normal E1 schedule, it is even more in favor of MCE. On my $140 energy bill this month, my generation rate was LESS for MCE than for PG&E even without tiering. Those PG&E profit "exit fees" you have added in added up to an additional $1.40. That's right. $1.40. You must have NOTHING to do in your life if you get so wound up over $1.40. I feel sorry for you.
SadTamValley Resident December 03, 2012 at 06:18 AM
Everyone wants "clean" energy, but as these silly posts show, no one wants to pay the cost of a latte more for it. Yes, MCE has contracted with Shell in order to secure 50% renewable energy at LESS cost than PG&E secures 20% renewable energy. The electricical generation rates MCE offers are LESS than PG&E's. Period. MCE costs 5% more because of PG&E that CHARGES MCE customers more! As long as the energy is renewable, why do you care if it is from Shell? Do you really think PG&E gets its energy from clean little green ferries? Shell is a large energy conglomerate and their service was one of the few that can provide the energy profile that MCE needs.
SadTamValley Resident December 03, 2012 at 06:18 AM
There is no oil in MCE's energy mix. It is 50% renewable. The rest comes from natural gas.
SadTamValley Resident December 03, 2012 at 06:23 AM
MEA's combined rates on electricity (they don't provide gas) are 3.8% more than PG&E's combined rates. And effectively it is even less of a difference since PG&E has a lot of non-use based charges. For a customer with $150 energy bill (heating/hot water/ electricity) this means about $1.50 extra a month. The energy mix is 50% renewable (and 50% gas) versus PG&E's 20%. The CEO of MCE makes a lot less than the $10 Million than PG&E's CEO does. There is no "outsourcing" of jobs. "Outsourced" to where, do you think MCE's energy comes from China? The only impact MCE has on jobs is that the jobs associated with customer service and procuring energy for Marin are now in Marin instead of at PG&E headquarters. All the hardworking transmission and distribution employees at PG&E are still employed regardless of your service provider.
SadTamValley Resident December 03, 2012 at 06:27 AM
So if it isn't MEA then why are you knocking them for it? You are such a neo-con slippery eel. MEA's Feed In Tarrif program is what makes the San Rafael Airport project possible. It is one of the few ones in our country, although it has been very successful in other countries. Try googling it. As such, MEA can't control how much solar is in Marin. They would be crazy (and perhaps with decoupling illegal) to built their own solar generation assets. What they do do is offer the FIT program that pays attractive rates. It is a bit of a balancing act, and paying attractive rates to incent local developers to build here, means higher rates for ratepayers than if they buy Power Purchase Agreements from solar producers in the central valley and other places with more sun and less regulations/costs. In a sane person's perspective, the MEA program certainly can take some credit for the San Rafael project, as it's policies have made it possible. But the revision to decrease solar commitment is to keep costs inline. Which jokers who won't pay $1.50 a month more for electricity should understand.
SadTamValley Resident December 03, 2012 at 06:29 AM
Once again, you say it isn't their project above, but now here it is. However, it isn't. They only provide the purchase plan to incent developers. They do NOT control what solar panels are used. In fact, when a Toronto utility tried to do this, they were sued by the WTO. Regardless, it is up to the developers to determine what panels to use.
SadTamValley Resident December 03, 2012 at 06:37 AM
What part of your bill went up? If it was your heating/hot water, gas... nothing to do with MEA. If it was Transmission... nothing to do with MEA. If it was distribution.... nothing.... On a $150 energy bill, about $25 of it would typically have any connection to MEA at all. Assuming that you are on a normal residential plan (E1) your combined entire rate on electricity used as a PG&E customer would be $.185/kWh and as an MCE customer it would be $.192/kWh. Yes, that is an increase of 3.5%. Is that because of the "crooks" at MCE? No, actually, the rate that MCE charges is less than PG&E. The difference is that PG&E because of regulation they influenced is allowed to chage MCE customers more for being MCE customers. And the total costs? For a $150 energy bill (most of which is natural gas and fixed charges) it amoutns to maybe $1.50 a month. So NO, your bil did NOT go up $100 because of MCE. Check your bill. The only line item that MCE gets paid on is "third party electricity generation." Their rate is actually less than PG&E's. The two line items that PG&E gets to charge MCE customers are "Power Charge Indifference Adjustment" and "Franchise Fee Surcharge." But these add up to almost nothing unless you are using an unbelievable amount of power. For your bill to go up $100 from MCE on a E1/R1 conversion you would have to have $2500 of rate based electricity charges.
SadTamValley Resident December 03, 2012 at 06:38 AM
This is false. See above.
SadTamValley Resident December 03, 2012 at 06:41 AM
Oooooooh, sign me up for the class action lawsuit too! I just love to sue everyone as much as possible. Especially when it costs nothing to opt out before 60 days and $5 to opt out after. I will be waiting on pins and needles in my million dollar larkspur home for my $5 so that I can go buy a box of cereal. You have been so WRONGED! How can you stand it?
SadTamValley Resident December 03, 2012 at 06:42 AM
Why are you droning on about PG&E's smart meter plan? This is an MCE discussion
SadTamValley Resident December 03, 2012 at 06:48 AM
The real deal is this. Out of a typical $150 energy bill, only about $25 of it has anything at all to do with MCE. Gas, transmission, distribution, new generation, nuclear commissioning, blah blah blah you have to pay PG&E no matter what. When you add up cheaper MCE electricity generation and the bogus PG&E exit fees that they levy on MCE customers, MCE customers pay 5-10% more for generation. But that is only for the generation which accounts for only a small portion of your bill. It all depends on how much gas vs. electricity you use, but on a typical Marin bill (without air conditioning) you are talking about 1-3% more. On my last $150 energy bill it was $1.50. For that $1.50 you get 50% renewable energy (as opposed to 20%), better customer service, a team that really does care (I have met some of these folks at alternative energy conferences), and a utility that tries to implement innovative Feed In Tarrif and Net Metering distributed (as in local) renewalbe energy policies. If you are wound up about paying $1.50 more for a month you should go back to your teabagging website and write some posts about how evil Sesame Street is instead of misleading people on this topic
Matt Test December 03, 2012 at 07:02 PM
Citizentoo December 05, 2012 at 11:17 PM
Maybe I am not reading this correctly, but it seems that under this contract revision Shell will stop providing energy and a/s as of the third revision date. That is June 2, 2013. So doesn't that mean that MEA will be responsible itself for these primary load responsibilities almost 2 years sooner than under the original contract with Shell? My main concern is whether MEA can post the collateral for that volume. It is hardly a credit-worthy entity. MEA has been leaning on Shells credit status thus far--it will not have the ability to do that going forward. If Syria, Iran or the rest of the mid-east goes up in flames will MEA be able to stay in the market as cash collateral calls start?
Jim Phelps December 24, 2012 at 05:46 PM
TamValley Resident confuses MEA's "rates" with total cost. Consumers pay MEA (Marin Clean Energy) rate + on-going monthly exit fees levied by PG&E. MEA promised to pay these fees, then broke that commitment after 9 months. MEA's initial pledge was "meet or beat" PG&E prices. That commitment included its costs for paying everyones on-going monthly exit fees. Much of MEA's energy is not green and emits greenhouse gases. "Renewable" is a generalized term used by state bureaucrats who often fail to properly apply technical shortcomings. Last year the CEC correctly suspended pipeline biomethane from its Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS). Meanwhile, MEA includes biomethane (biogas) in the "clean" energy it procures from Shell.
Jim Phelps December 24, 2012 at 05:56 PM
The generalization holds true. It was illustrative for E-7. The bulk of your power purchases are winter, at night. Especially if you live in Tam Valley, as I used to, due to heater load attributable to fog. The "adjusted rates" to which you refer reflect commitments made by MEA.


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