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Windmills On Ring Mountain? Corte Madera Votes To Go Greener

Town Council votes 4-1 to become the county's final municipality to join the Marin Energy Authority.

Corte Madera residents seem willing to put their green into action.

Corte Madera Town Council members listened to a symphony by residents praising Marin Energy Authority and urging the City to take advantage of an amnesty period to join the MEA.

Council members voted 4-1 late Tuesday night to join the MEA, eliciting applause from a weary crowd of supporters. Corte Madera is the last municipality within Marin County to join the MEA. Larkspur voted in October to join the energy provider.

"There's really no harm in going forward with this and we're giving people a choce," Vice-Mayor Bob Ravasio said before casting his vote. "And obviously people wanted a choice."

Corte Madera chose not to join the MEA two years ago during the initial enrollment push. Looking back on the MEA's operations during the past two years, the Town Council seemed to have more confidence in the joint powers authority.

Corte Madera and Larkspur took advantage of an amnesty period offered by MEA during which they can avoid $20,000-$40,000 in initial fees and costs. MEA is expanding its energy supply, making it easier to add new clients now rather than later, so it made sense for the joint powers authority to offer the amnesty period, according to MEA executive officer Dawn Wiesz.

The agency serves about 9,000 customers and hopes to increase the base to 70,000 rate payers in its second phase of operations next year, according to Wiesz.

Currently, 26.5 percent of the electricity that the Marin Energy Authority supplies to its customers comes from renewable sources, while PG&E estimated that approximately 16 percent of its electricity came from renewable sources in 2010.

Wiesz's presentation to the Town Council suggested that Corte Madera could receive new solar installations and electric vehicle charging stations as the MEA seeks to expand its green-energy impact. Weisz did not propose building any windmills in Corte Madera, although some of the residents in attendance pondered the idea as they left the meeting.

The lone voice on the council against joining the MEA was the outspoken Michael Lappert.

"I'll vote against it, just because I can," Lappert joked, although he listed some plausible arguments for not joining the MEA.

"We're spending the people's money here. … Risk-taking is not a good thing," Lappert said. "If the government is doing something, it is doing it highly inefficiently. That's just the nature of government. I'm looking at the staff sheet and it's already got a half million dollars in payroll. A half a million dollars in payroll. You think that's a big amount? Just wait and see what it looks like in 10 years."

After one resident reminded the council members that "It's election time," Lappert joked that MEA supporters might not want to vote for him in two years when he's up for re-election.

Mayor Alexandra Cock and Ravasio, both on the ballot in next week's election, meanwhile, looked at each other to a ominous chorus of "oohs."

That warning, said primarily in jest, had little effect on the vote. Cock and Ravasio seemed satisfied that the risk to the townspeople is minimal. There remained concerns, however, over whether or not it would be clear to residents that they have a choice between Marin Clean Energy and PG&E.

Residents will be automatically enrolled into the MEA's default program, unless they choose to opt out and stay with PG&E.

Even if residents do ally themselves with Marin Clean Energy, they would still get their bills from PG&E, which controls the energy transmission and distribution lines.

Reuven November 03, 2011 at 03:36 PM
The CM Town Council could have used the opportunity and require to change the opt-out clause to a more democratic opt-in. It's a shame they didn't do so.
Lee Lull November 03, 2011 at 04:42 PM
The opt out clause is a State requirement...neither towns, MEA nor PG&E have sway over it.
Leslie Alden November 03, 2011 at 04:59 PM
The headline “Windmills on Ring Mountain?” is misleading and does a disservice to your readers. It is false and alarmist. If people read no further they are likely to jump to very wrong conclusions. There will never be windmills on Ring Mountain, first and foremost because it is protected open space, but also because, like 99.9% of Marin, there is not enough wind to generate energy, and finally because it would never get past any planning commission. You quote Michael Lappert as if what he said is worth repeating. He gets laughs for his comments but he is not funny. Public service is an honor and a privilege. His comments about government are a slap to anyone who steps forward to serve, whether in an elected or a staff position. Mr. Lappert was checking messages on his phone during the entire meeting while his colleagues had the courtesy to pay close attention to what was presented. The quote that “We are spending the people’s money” is utterly false. There is NO risk to the town or the taxpayer. Whether you get your power from PG&E or MEA, you pay your bill as a customer and a ratepayer, not as a taxpayer. We are facing unprecedented climate change and sea-level rise, which will affect the 50% of Corte Madera that is in the flood plane, probably in our lifetime but certainly in our children’s. MEA allows us to dramatically reduce greenhouse gas emissions, doing our part to stem the tide, something the private sector has not been willing to do.
Lee Lull November 03, 2011 at 05:07 PM
I was frankly shocked by Mr. Lappert's idiocratic behavoir. Given that he finds government so odious ...one must ponder why he is on the council. In fact his demeanor toward the whole decision making process seemed to be one of disdain combined with adolescent clowning: he studiously, (and hubristically?) deigned to even watch the presentations.
Glenda Corning November 03, 2011 at 10:56 PM
I think this is a very wise move for our community. We must continue to move toward a more sustainable lifestyle. There is no perfect single solution. Success will be based on a series of actions that magnify the effect of the others.
Linda Malatesta November 03, 2011 at 10:57 PM
I agree with Michael Lappert. Our county government does not belong in the energy supply business. When MEA fails, the taxpayer will be left holding the bag. MEA has signed a long-term (I believe 25 year) contract with a French power supply company. I can't believe anyone is naive enough to believe that same government officials who couldn't figure out their computer system can actually run a power supply company. If MEA was truly confident in their success, they wouldn't need to rely on the opt out law but would let people sign up for their product. I can't wait to opt out of this fiasco.
Leslie Alden November 04, 2011 at 06:40 AM
Hi, Linda - just to clarify: the taxpayers will NOT be left holding the bag. That is just flat out wrong and erroneous, a holdover from PG&E's 2010 war on this competitor. This is not a "County of Marin" agency, it is a stand-alone non-profit that procures electrical energy for its customers. That is all. It is overseen by representatives from each member jurisdiction who meet in public with absolute transparency and make policy decisions. If MEA were to fail, the agency alone is liable and there are numerous 'firewalls' by law and by contract that insulate each and every member. That is the foundational legislation behind all Joint Powers Agencies - JPAs are set up just so that the members are protected. And as to government running a power supply company, 25% of all Californians receive their power from municipal power companies, from the large to the small: from Los Angeles Water and Power to Healdsburg to Sacramento to Palo Alto....and they deliver power at cheaper prices than the investor-owned utilities.
Leslie Alden November 04, 2011 at 06:55 AM
And...MEA's power purchase contracts have locked in very low rates over long terms, ensuring predictable price stability, as opposed to PG&E's historical 3% annual increase. Fossil fuels are not going to decrease in cost over time. BTW, PG&E has requested a 10% rate increase from the CPUC, effective in January. And again re: the opt-out issue: the enabling legislation, AB117, proscribes the enrollment process. MEA has no control over that, and neither does the CPUC. It was written as law as an opt-out process, not opt-in, and yes: it was written that way because people hardly ever ACT...since this has gotten so much press and is controversial to some, those that want to stay with PG&E are certainly aware of that option, and opting out is a simple process. The rest have the choice, as well, and can choose MEA's default "Light Green" product that is almost twice the percentage of renewable power as PG&E's mix, or the "Deep Green" product that MEA offers, which will procure 100% renewable energy on behalf of those customers. It's not a bad thing to have choices, including the choice to stay with PG&E, if that is what you want to do.
Linda Malatesta November 04, 2011 at 06:09 PM
Hi Leslie, thank you for the information. Still not drinking the MEA kool-aid but respect that it is your job to promote MEA. Also, I dislike that fact that public agencies (MMWD) who decide to join MEA will pass their higher costs on to their customers via rate increases. Hopefully, MEA will inform the residents of Corte Madera in a clear and concise manner of their need to opt-out.
Glenda Corning November 05, 2011 at 05:06 AM
Oh good gracious... we are all going to have to make some sacrifices to help our species survive global warming. This is a good program and it will grow stronger with public support.

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