Peninsula Clean Energy board concerned over message more nuclear power sends to public
“I don’t like the idea of the nuclear on our label because it does kind of feel like a vote for it,” PCE Board Member Jeff Aalfs, said.
Peninsula Clean Energy has accepted hydropower allocation credits but rejected similar ones for nuclear power from PG&E after the board expressed concern about associating with the controversial energy source but, in doing so, it will lose out of potential savings up to $10 million through 2023.
Allocations are offsetting credits given out by Pacific Gas and Electric because of the environmental benefits of hydro and nuclear powers emitting fewer greenhouse gases. Peninsula Clean Energy, or PCE, will use the hydro allocation credits to offset greenhouse gas emissions associated with system power in 2021, with plans to continue through 2023. PG&E holds the option to continue offering the credits in 2022 and 2023.
PG&E produces these allocations on its state grid from its energy resources, and PCE customers pay for them through their regulatory fee. PG&E offers these allocations because, without them, PCE and other community choice aggregation programs would have to get the allocations from a different source, leading to double-procuring for its customers and increasing costs for PCE, staff said. PCE said the board’s decision to accept hydro and reject nuclear allocations would not affect what customers pay for their power or its customers’ discounts.
PCE board members rejected nuclear allocations because it was wary of being associated with that type of energy. It was also concerned about the public’s negative perception and reception if PCE put nuclear on its power content label. If PCE had accepted the nuclear allocation, it would be required to show the allocation on its annual power content label, potentially damaging trust with customers who don’t want to use or be associated with nuclear energy.
Board members said the issue was financial versus perception due to the negative stereotypes of nuclear power. PCE would have saved around $1.2 million in 2021 if it took nuclear allocation credit but would have likely received customer complaints. A PCE poll of customers found a substantial number would look for another power company or contact an elected official because of the issue if PCE took the nuclear credits. PCE said accepting or rejecting the allocation does not affect power plants’ operations or change customer’s energy delivery.
PCE Board Member Catherine Mahanpour, also the mayor of Foster City, thinks the perception problem of nuclear power was too much of an issue. She voted against accepting nuclear allocation.
“It is a perception issue, and my problem is, people are only saying we are getting the attributes instead of the power. Try explaining that to a layperson who has not been involved in PCE for years because they won’t understand that. They will see the word nuclear, and if they don’t like nuclear power, they’re not going to be happy about it,” Mahanpour said.
PCE Board Member Jeff Aalfs, also the mayor of Portola Valley, said PCE could have added nuclear allocation to its power content label in exchange for a savings of between $1 million to $10 million. However, he felt the decision would not have been in the best interest of PCE. He voted against accepting nuclear allocation.
“I don’t like the idea of the nuclear on our label because it does kind of feel like a vote for it,” Aalfs said.
The PCE board remained evenly split over the issue throughout its discussion. While some were against being associated with nuclear, others felt it would be in the best interest of the environment and PCE financially.
Dave Pine, a PCE board member and San Mateo County supervisor who pushed for the agency’s formation, said those against PCE associating with nuclear would be against taking the nuclear allocations, while those more comfortable with nuclear would vote for nuclear allocations. Pine said his number one priority was to reduce carbon emission, so he was more open to nuclear than others. He voted to accept the nuclear allocations.
“It’s very hard to quantify the perception issue. It’s my judgment that it would not be materially harmful to the business,” Pine said.
PG&E uses one nuclear power plant, Diablo Canyon in San Luis Obispo County, but it is scheduled to be shut down in 2025.
PCE is a San Mateo County energy provider that gives PG&E customers in the county the chance to have their electricity supplied from clean, renewable sources at lower rates for no additional charge. It buys the clean energy from PG&E, but PG&E still supplies the energy and controls the utility infrastructure. PCE started in 2016 after all 20 cities and towns voted to form the joint powers agency. Customers in the county were automatically enrolled and were given time to opt out and stay with PG&E if they wanted. PCN said its goal is to provide businesses and individuals with more control over the electricity supply.
The decision to not accept nuclear allocations was one of three options the board considered at its Nov. 19 meeting. Option one rejected nuclear allocation credits, while options two and three accepted them. Option one did not pass the first time after a 10-10 vote. The PCE board passed it on the second try, 11-9, after a motion to approve option two and option three didn’t get enough votes. The board also had a weighted vote after voting and passing option one the second time. A weighted vote takes into account the population size of each board member’s city to ensure cities with small populations don’t have an unfair advantage over cities with large populations. The weighted vote also passed option one.
A Citizens Advisory Committee voted 7-3 earlier in November to reject nuclear allocation and accept hydro allocation. The Citizens Advisory Committee was concerned about the optics of using and showing nuclear power on its label. It felt nuclear power did not keep with PCE organizational values.