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Community Voices . . . with Daniel Harney: Silicon Valley nonprofit seeks to make clean energy available to all residents

Published in the April 26 – May 9, 2017 issue of Morgan Hill Life

By Daniel Harney

Daniel Harney

If someone presented you with the option to save money on your energy bill and supply your house with power from clean and renewable energy sources, you might ask, “what’s the catch?” It seems too good to be true — clean energy at lower costs, and an easy way to reduce your carbon footprint.

A year ago when I was appointed to the Gilroy City Council, this exact scenario was presented to the city of Gilroy by a small group of Santa Clara County cities who wanted to solve a regional problem, comply with state carbon reduction requirements (AB 32) and reduce the carbon footprint in Silicon Valley.

The idea is simple: disrupt the energy sector in Silicon Valley, which is controlled by PG&E. To do this, they would form a joint partnership, the Silicon Valley Clean Energy Authority, consolidate customer energy demand and begin buying power from carbon-free and renewable sources such as hydroelectric, solar and wind, and sell it to customers at a lower rate than PG&E.

It seems too good to be true, but it isn’t, and here is why. PG&E is a large, for-profit company. However, they are not allowed to make profits from the electric generation portion of their business. As with all utilities in California, PG&E is also required to meet a percentage of customer energy demand from renewable sources such as solar and wind.

Since this is the part of their business where they do not make a profit, PG&E has little incentive to reduce these supply costs and purchase a majority of their power from clean and renewable energy sources. On the other hand, SVCE is a community-owned agency managed by a board of directors, mostly elected city officials, who for the most part, volunteer their time, expertise and leadership. We have vested interests in reducing our carbon footprint, beyond mandates to comply with state law. We also know that a significant portion of our carbon footprint comes from the energy we consume.

As a startup, SVCE is nimble. We are a small organization with leaders who come from the energy sector and have a deep understanding of energy contracts and regulations, and are committed to improving the community in which we live. Any net revenue will be reinvested into securing more renewable energy sources or saved to stabilize rates when market prices are high. Our customers are part of Silicon Valley. They are residents and businesses who understand and care about climate change.

Because Silicon Valley is deemed the epicenter of technology and innovation, we have the ability to influence change with some of the most influential companies and thought leaders in the world. Gilroy’s participation in this initiative is extremely important and we have taken an important leadership role.

First, we committed to joining\SVCE and helped secure financing for the startup of the organization. Second, it provides our community the opportunity to reduce our carbon footprint and save money on our energy bills with very little effort. And third, it sends a strong message to the rest of Silicon Valley that Gilroy will be a leader when it comes to solving regional problems.

Daniel Harney was first appointed to the Gilroy City Council in 2016 and is now serving a remaining two-year term which expires in 2018. He sits on the SVCE Executive Board and serves as the vice chair for the board of directors. He is employed by eBay and is responsible for ensuring their global real estate portfolio complies with environmental, health and safety regulations.