AMP Powered by Hyperbole

 

The one renewable resource that Alameda Municipal Power (AMP) doesn’t get credit for is the never-ending stream of exaggerated claims about its green credentials. Look closer at its policies on solar power, selling off “extra” renewable power, local power generation and the health of our state’s rivers and streams as they relate to hydropower. You’ll find shortcomings that don’t match the rhetoric.

Last year, AMP changed its rate structure for rooftop solar to make it less favorable for owners of new installations. In May, the financial incentives were again reduced.

In contrast, with PG&E and other investor-owned utility territories, the old rate structure for new solar installations — called Net Energy Metering (NEM) — remains favorable. That’s because the state Public Utility Commission controls the solar rate structure for investor-owned utilities. But a loophole in the law allows municipal utilities like AMP to avoid following statewide goals on rooftop solar. The irony is that AMP is doing what PG&E wanted to do but couldn’t.

AMP justifies its actions by saying the old solar rate structure benefits a special class of ratepayers at the expense of all other ratepayers. Yet AMP has no problem giving a business $10,000 to design an energy-efficient building. This is a double standard. Favoring special classes of people and businesses to advance public policy goals, such as with taxes, discounts and preferential treatment, is a time-honored tool and should be used to advance renewable energy goals, not just efficiency programs or pet projects.

During the past five years, AMP sold off part of its renewable energy, raising over $25 million. The revenue was supposed to go for greenhouse gas-reduction programs, making the sale a benefit for the environment. The utility is using a large chunk or that money to replace existing meters with smart meters, even though there is no evidence that smart meters lead to a reduction in greenhouse gases. The benefits of the new meters are better management of the system, time-of-use pricing and reduction of personnel costs for meter readers. 

Twice this year, energy experts have recommended  that AMP and the Public Utilities Board consider creating localized power production. These facilities are known as distributed generation, in contrast to centralized high-capacity power plants. Producing power locally reduces transmission costs and improves local resiliency. 

But AMP refuses to even start a feasibility study for a mini-solar farm on top of Mt. Trashmore, the former city dump next to the Bay Farm Bridge that could potentially produce up to 4 megawatts of solar power. There is even room on this city-owned property for a power storage unit that would allow storing daytime solar power for nighttime use.

Instead of a 4 megawatt solar farm that could become part of the city-wide power mix, AMP is instead planning a token 1/4 megawatt “community solar” facility that will sell “shares” to customers. 

According to AMP Assistant General Manager for Energy Resources Planning Barry Leska, there is already too much solar generation in California. “AMP understands the importance of matching the new community solar installation to likely sales from the program, without oversizing the system and having to dump extra energy into an unfavorable grid market place,” he said.

“As you may be aware, during daytime hours there is an abundance of utility-scale solar generation on the grid, which is depressing market energy pricing during those times and causing curtailment of both renewable and non-renewable generation.

AMP does not get any of its power from solar farms through direct purchase contracts. AMP doesn’t want to buy solar even if it’s dirt cheap. AMP doesn’t want to produce solar power because it would have to sell it dirt cheap. If AMP took a new look at battery storage, solar might look more attractive. AMP’s review of energy-storage technology a few years ago said it didn’t make economic sense. But the technology is rapidly heading toward becoming mainstream. 

AMP likes to tout the energy it buys that is generated by burning landfill methane gas. But landfill gas is not renewable. It ends in a matter of decades. The sun does not. Without proactive local and regional participation, California will never get to 100 percent renewable power. AMP’s “pricing-first, environment-second” policy is not helping us get there.

When it comes to protecting wild and scenic rivers, AMP comes out on the wrong side of the environment. Last year, the Friends of the River asked the city council to sign on to a letter opposing the construction of a new dam on a wild and scenic stretch of the San Joaquin River and also raising the Shasta Dam. AMP wrote a letter to the City Council urging the Councilmembers not to sign the letter; the Council signed it anyway.

AMP’s “green” hyperbole is losing power.