Pittsburg Voice is pleased to bring you this public service announcement:
Opt-Out of the MCE Electricity scam before it’s too late.
Call: 1 (888) 632-3674 (make sure you have your PG&E Account Number rready)
But we’re getting ahead of ourselves… Let’s back up a bit.
By now, all Pittsburg residents who receive a monthly electricity bill should have received an otherwise unimpressive white envelope that, to most eyes, appears to be junk mail. Within this envelope is a letter that informs you:
- MCE is a great not-for-profit company that is not beholden to stock-holders like PG&E.
- Starting with your April, 2018 PG&E bill, you will be automatically switched to a different, much “greener” energy provider, MCE; a not-for-profit “alternative.”
- You have 60 days to opt-out of this arrangement, or you will pay a fee to opt out.
- You will save a little bit of money every month and be “greener” by switching to their service.
Sounds too good to be true, doesn’t it? Cheaper electricity and being “greener” without even trying? Indeed, the letter goes on to unequivocally state that by signing up with MCE’s “Deep Green 100% Renewable” service level, “All your electricity is pollution-free.”
Well, Pittsburgers… this story is indeed too good to be true.
Your good friends at Pittsburg Voice have been busy researching the claims that MCE made in their proposal to Contra Costa County, the City of Pittsburg, and the City Council. Not surprisingly, we found a lot of interesting information that may cause you to think twice about letting MCE “slam” your electricity provider choice without your permission.
For starters, let’s clarify the claims in the letters (and subsequent post-cards) you will receive from MCE and Contra Costa County:
- MCE is a pseudo-government organization and, like all government agencies, is not-for profit. IT IS NOT A NON-PROFIT, it is an extension of our government. In fact, Contra Costa and Pittsburg politicians sit on MCE’s Board of Directors.
- Starting with your April, 2018 PG&E bill, you will be AUTOMATICALLY SWITCHED TO MCE, A NON-ELECTRICITY GENERATING COMPANY, WITHOUT YOUR CONSENT, if you don’t tell MCE you want to opt-out.
- You have up to 60 days (until June, 2018) after your first MCE bill to OPT-OUT AND SWITCH BACK TO PG&E at no charge, (PG&E is the company that takes care of getting your electricity to your home and makes sure your electricity is safe and repairs things when they break.)
- If you don’t opt-out within 60 days, you will have to pay a fee to switch back to PG&E.
- Initially, you may save a couple of bucks a month on your power bill… BUT there are no guarantees of future reduced electricity bills. In fact, unlike PG&E, MCE’s prices are not controlled by the State of California PUC and can be changed at the whim of our local government. THE SAME LOCAL GOVERNMENT THAT HAS APPROVED RAISING THE COSTS FOR ALL THE OTHER UTILITIES IN PITTSBURG, including your garbage, water, sewer and also our local sales tax.
- MCE DOES NOT GENERATE ANY OF ITS OWN POWER, although it has begun partnering with some very small solar farms in order to imply that it does. MCE “buys” power from regular power generating companies and other sources and “sells” it to you. In other words, it pushes some papers, signs some agreements and makes quite a profit off YOU, the residents who did not choose to use its service in the first place.
And what may be worse, despite the fact that MCE is telling you that you will receive “green power” at your home or business, you will still receive the EXACT SAME ELECTRICITY YOU ALWAYS HAVE. And it will be the exact same power that all your neighbors who opt-out receive. In every case, whether you stay with MCE or opt-out, you will receive the exact same percentage of “green” energy as everyone else in Pittsburg.
That’s a lot of information about what MCE isn’t. But what exactly IS it?
MCE is what’s quaintly known as a Community Choice Aggregator (CCA). This means that some random people got together to figure out how to make some money, and decided that if they could convince the State of California, they could take a piece of the electricity pie from PG&E by doing almost NO WORK AT ALL.
Yes, you read that right: CCA’s (including MCE) have inserted themselves into the revenue stream of PG&E and are taking a piece of the pie that PG&E uses to pay their employees, maintain the power lines, generate power, manage the electric grid, and keep you and your family safe from electricity throughout Northern California. In other words, the 40+ employees at MCE push papers, do marketing, make deals, handle “opt-out” phone calls and squeeze out a “profit” for the organization by skimming money for no real purpose.
However, MCE doesn’t really want you to know this. They would rather have you think that they are a new, non-profit dedicated to delivering greener energy to your home. And THAT, fellow Pittsburgers, is completely false.
From our friends at Technocracy News:
“Here’s how [MCE] works. Local government agencies form a new, semi-invisible government agency to purchase and sell electricity. The local utility company, PG&E, provides transmission, distribution, and customer billing services for a fee paid by [MCE’s] customers. All people who live and do business in the area become customers of the new agency unless they ask to “opt out.”
The new agency [MCE] must compete with the local utility company for customers. Government can make everyone their customer for a moment [by forcing customers to opt-out, instead of opt-in], but then they have to keep them. So what’s their pitch? Is the energy they’re selling greener than, say, PG&E? Is it cheaper? Is it managed by superior experts in the energy industry?
At the end of the day, Community Choice Agencies [MCE] offer nothing to consumers. They simply cannot compete, long-term, with local utility companies. Facts don’t deter special interest groups that … profit from government contracts and urge government expansion with tireless zeal. Good sense demands that public officials resist the temptation to jump on this bandwagon.
Energy is a long-term business. Procurement contracts are non-cancellable and can span 30-40 years into the future. Cities that join CCAs are on the hook for large, long-term financial obligations. When things turn south (as they surely will), member agencies are stuck because they cannot afford to exit the program.
For example, as of March 31, 2015 [MCE] had outstanding non-cancelable power purchase commitments of approximately $886.5 million for energy and related services through October 31, 2041 [As of March 31, 2017 that number had ballooned by one BILLION dollars to $1,885,900,000.]”
So what exactly is the takeaway from all this?
- Your city leaders thoughtlessly signed Pittsburg up for a future of possible financial hurt, for absolutely NO benefit to the city or its residents. They did this KNOWING the financial problems that the city is already dealing with due to the CALPERS disaster – a disaster that they ALSO got us into through their poor management and planning.
- MCE is not the business they present themselves to be. They are essentially a small group of people who, by pushing paperwork and doing creative, long-term accounting, get to skim some money off your regular power bill. In fact, in 2017, MCE made over $180,000,000 in electricity sales and paid over $12,000,000 (yes, that’s MILLION) in payroll and contract services. This company, that purports to have roughly 40 staff members, paid $12 MILLION dollars to staff and contractors.
- The people who stay with MCE get the false belief that they are helping the environment and saving money. In reality they are getting the same power at their house that they always have (and could be causing even MORE greenhouse gasses1) and are saving less than 8¢ a day… for now.
- In another “good lord!” moment, it turns out that Council Member Craft has again benefitted from a council decision. According to MCE, they have used Craft’s company, Future Build, to train call-center employees. These employees could have easily been trained by any other company, but, in a move that surprises no-one, Pittsburg’s City Council allowed this conflict of interest to happen again.
- In addition, if you are a Pittsburg resident with solar panels already installed on your home or business, you are likely to be in for a nasty surprise. Your annual “true-up” with PG&E comes due IMMEDIATELY upon your switching over to MCE. Most, if not all, solar systems generate most of their energy credits in the summer, so when the annual “true-up” occurs there is a credit buffer. Not this year. You will be required to “true-up” immediately in April. In fact, if you didn’t opt-out before you got “slammed” to MCE, your true-up date is due immediately and, what’s worse, if you choose to switch back to PG&E you will need to “true-up” AGAIN!
What is our conclusion on this mess?
Pittsburg’s City Manager and City Council have again demonstrated that they are incapable of making intelligent, well-thought decisions about the future of our city. Every decision they make appears to be made to stop Pittsburg from competing with the surrounding cities as an affordably desirable place to live that will grow to become a clean, low-crime city with civic pride and a bright future. Instead, city leaders are making poor plans for our city and failing to improve the quality of life for its residents.
Nobody thinks our City Manager and City Council are complete idiots. But if they didn’t understand exactly what was about to happen to the citizens of Pittsburg, they are bigger fools than we thought.
Here again is the opt-out information:
Call: 1 (888) 632-3674
Pittsburg Voice has more to add to this narrative. Look for our ongoing reporting on just how badly managed Pittsburg has been for the last decade, and what the results of that poor management has been on quality of life, and what that means for the future of Pittsburg.
1 According to Technocracy News: “What happens is [MCE] buy a REC, and it is pasted on the front of this brown power,” [energy expert Jim] Phelps said. “Then they report to you, the consumers, that this is clean energy; but it’s not.” This is known as “green washing”. Phelps analyzed the MCE’s power mix substituting system power, which has an emission rate of 944 pounds of carbon dioxide per megawatt hour, for all of the authority’s RECs. From that he concluded that MCE is producing more greenhouse gas emissions than PG&E.