Americans want more renewable energy. Can ‘community choice’ help them get it?

National Geographic

In CCAs, Dawn Weisz of MCE and others like her have found a tool that can help with the clean energy transition. Community choice aggregation lets a city, county, or a group of them take over the role of buying power for the community.

“To double, and then triple the amount of renewable content people are getting really had a dramatic impact on our carbon footprint, and that was really our goal,” Weisz says.

“There’s definitely this grassroots interest in procuring renewable energy,” says Michelle Davis, a solar expert at energy research firm Wood Mackenzie. “Customers are really wanting to take more control over their power.”

In total, CCAs caused nearly 50 million megawatt hours of renewables to be used in place of fossil fuel sources between 2011 and 2019. That contribution is still relatively small—California uses about five times that much electricity each year—but it’s expected to grow quickly: By the end of 2021, more than 40 percent of the state’s customers will likely be part of a CCA.

Several of the newer CCAs, such as southern California’s Clean Power Alliance, default their customers into 100 percent renewable power. Some 93 percent of the Alliance’s three million customers stick with that option, which pushes up demand for renewables and helps to “put steel in the ground,” says Ted Bardacke, the executive director. Across the state, CCAs have contracted for about 6,000 megawatts of new solar, wind, and other renewables projects, according to the trade association CalCCA.

California is going to get to 100 percent renewables one way or another, but “it’s safe to say that the CCAs are going to accelerate that,” says Eric O’Shaughnessy, an energy researcher with Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.

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