7 On Your Side

Marin County residents notified of power company switch

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

About 80,000 Marin County residents are being notified they're being automatically switched to a new power company concerned, consumers went to 7 On Your Side and asked him to investigate.

Some consumers are really ticked off. They feel like someone, somewhere went behind their backs, and they want answers. Well, here they are.

A new public agency is set up to provide more clean energy. However, Marin customers were enrolled without individual consent and it upset many residents. They asked seven on your side to investigate.

"We were just opted into it without notification," said Jason Fong of San Rafael.

Fong was outraged when he received a notice in the mail. It said his electric service was being switched automatically to a new power company he'd never heard of.

"I have been so used to PG&E my whole life and now this other company is coming in. What's going to happen?" asked Fong.

He isn't the only one to receive the notice. Everyone in Marin County will get one and unless they opt out quickly, on July 1, 2012 a nonprofit called Marin Clean Energy will take as their power supplier.

"Now I have to go through this process and craziness and it made me frustrated," said Fong.

More than a few Marin residents complained to me, wondering why no one asked before switching them over.

"What's happening now is customers are getting another choice besides PG&E," said Dawn Weisz, the CEO of Marin Clean Energy.

Weisz says it's a public agency created by the county and its 11 cities. The goal is to use more green energy -- wind, solar and hydro while keeping prices down.

"We're a not-for-profit organization and the funds go right back in to keeping rates as low as we can," said Weisz.

Although the new agency will buy the power, PG&E will still distribute it. Back in 2002 the legislature created a new law allowing these types of government energy programs. Marin Clean Energy is the first to set up and now San Francisco is developing its own, and the city of Richmond may join Marin's.

"Somebody could say, 'Oh, you're saving the planet right now,' but am I really?" asked Fong.

Marin Clean Energy must prove to the California Public Utilities Commission that indeed at least half of its energy comes from renewable sources, or it's violated its PUC certification.

Fong is also concerned with cost. The agency's notice said nothing about prices.

"What we had to do in the letter was make the letter as simple, clear, and as easy to understand as we could and not bombard people with too much information," said Weisz.

They didn't include in the letter information like how this is going to cost consumers more.

Marin Clean Energy charges slightly less than PG&E will charge come July, if PG&E rate hikes go through as expected. However, PG&E charges an "exit fee" to departing customers. So, residents will pay an average of $2.50 more per month if they go with Marin Clean Energy.

PG&E says it supports the change because it doesn't profit from generating power, but from its delivery. And PG&E said those exit fees are to reimburse PG&E for electricity it has already purchased to serve Marin customers. Eventually that fee will be phased out.

Marin Clean Energy says the opt out rule is required by the state, that it has no choice. About 20 percent of Marin customers are expected to opt out. If you are enrolled you still have 60 days to opt out for free, after that, it will cost you $5. This is coming to a utility near you.

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Tags:
PG&E, energy, marin county, 7 on your side, michael finney
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