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Pros and cons of Pioneer Community Energy

Is Pioneer Energy a Smart Alternative to PG&E in El Dorado County?

As PG&E’s electricity rates continue to rise, combined with the growing frequency of unpredictable system outages, it’s no surprise that more and more homeowners are installing solar to take matters into their own hands. However, everyone is not able to install solar and local governments are looking for other solutions to help lower costs.

In 2016, Placer County began exploring the idea of community choice energy programs and ultimately formed Pioneer Community Energy in February 2018. As a partnership between Placer County and the cities of Auburn, Colfax, Lincoln, Rocklin, and Loomis, Pioneer has tried to offer lower electricity rates compared to PG&E, but unfortunately as of the latest rate comparison in Placer County, the savings is not much, if any at all.

As expected, there are lots of questions about Pioneer Community Energy and the potential pros/cons of moving to Pioneer or staying with PG&E. This article is intended to help clarify some of these questions. Let’s dive in!!

Key Takeaways:

  • Pioneer began serving Placer County in February 2018
  • Rate comparisons in Placer County do not indicate meaningful savings, if any at all
  • Pioneer does not produce power or own any infrastructure, they are a reseller for PG&E and other power generators
  • Pioneer started serving El Dorado County in January 2022

Who is Pioneer Community Energy?

Pioneer Community Energy (Pioneer) is a Community Choice Aggregator (CCA) that began providing electricity to the communities of Auburn, Colfax, Lincoln, Loomis, Rocklin and unincorporated Placer County in 2018.

Pioneer is a locally-governed, not-for-profit, public agency now purchasing electricity on behalf of Placer and El Dorado County residents and businesses to provide more choice. Electricity from Pioneer is delivered to customers by PG&E, who remains an essential partner for power generation, distribution, service, and billing.

As of January 3, 2022, Pioneer Community Energy began providing residents and businesses of El Dorado County and the City of Placerville with electric generation.

What is a Community Choice Aggregator or CCA?

It’s understandable that many homeowners would want the option of buying their energy from a not-for-profit organization, like SMUD, or to have the option of choosing how their electricity is generated. This is why many communities in California and other states are attempting to secure lower energy prices—or to source green energy—from local utilities by creating CCAs, or community choice aggregations. CCAs are non-profit public agencies that represent geographic regions, such as communities, cities, or even counties. Currently, there are 12 CCAs in PG&E’s operating area, including Pioneer Community Energy, and a total of 23 CCAs in all of California.

Homes and businesses located within a CCA’s service area are automatically enrolled in the CCA, from which they buy their energy. The CCA in turn contracts with an energy utility (i.e. PG&E) for electricity supply, grid maintenance, and other service needs. The CCA acts as an intermediary between the public and the utility, which continues to handle all the responsibilities it did previously. Even the billing is still handled by the utility, which includes a line item for the rate paid by CCA members.

Are Pioneer’s Electric Rates Actually Lower than PG&E?

Unfortunately, a rate comparison for El Dorado County will not be published or available until late 2022. However, based on the latest Joint Rate Comparison Report for Placer County, the Pioneer rates are actually higher than PG&E.

Although many factors affect electricity rate changes including usage and time of use, the current economic climate, combined with rising oil and natural gas costs, and other planned rate increases related to infrastructure upgrades and maintenance costs, it does not appear that rates from PG&E or Pioneer will decrease anytime soon.

But the savings advertised by CCAs are not as guaranteed as they may seem to be, because ultimately, the infrastructure and the overall market rates are still very much under the control of utility companies and electricity rates.

Does Pioneer Provide Additional Outage Protection?

Given that the electricity for Pioneer is delivered to customers by PG&E, which remains the essential partner for power generation, distribution, and service, there are no additional outage protections to improve system reliability beyond what PG&E already provides.

Essentially, Pioneer purchases the electric supply and then partners with PG&E to transmit and deliver the power over PG&E’s poles and wires. PG&E continues to own, operate, and maintain its poles and wires, including outage response. PG&E also continues to provide meter reading and billing services for Pioneer’s customers.

For example, PG&E’s Public Safety Power Shutoffs (PSPS) may be required during severe weather to help prevent wildfires in certain areas. We know that losing power disrupts lives, but whether you’re using Pioneer or PG&E, you’ll still experience these outages unless you have some sort of backup power provided by a solar/battery system or engine-driven backup generators.

Why Am I Automatically Enrolled with Pioneer?

When the California Legislature authorized CCA programs, it wanted to ensure that all ratepayers would have fair and equal access to the benefits provided by CCA programs. It did not want to give CCA programs the option of providing service only to certain communities or customers. However, the law also provides for customers to have the option to remain with the investor-owned utility (PG&E). Customers can also choose to return to PG&E service at a later date.

As part of the Pioneer enrollment notification process, customers will receive at least two notices during the 60-day period prior to the start of Pioneer Community Energy service, and at least two additional notices during the 60-day period after being enrolled with Pioneer. The purpose of these notifications is to provide information to customers about Pioneer’s basic services. These notices also provide information on how to remain with or return to PG&E service.

Can I Opt-Out and Return to PG&E?

You may request to remain with PG&E starting 60 days before your account is scheduled to be enrolled with Pioneer, and any time thereafter. You may do so by calling Pioneer at (844) 937-7466.

Once Pioneer begins service in February 2018, requests to return to PG&E take effect at the end of a customer’s current billing cycle. If a customer requests to return to PG&E less than five days before their next billing cycle, the customer may be returned to PG&E electric generation service after the next billing cycle, due to the processing time needed for the request. Customers who request to return to PG&E will receive a bill with Pioneer’s final charges.

If I Leave Pioneer, Can I Return to Pioneer at a Later Date?

Yes, a customer who requests to leave Pioneer Community Energy can join Pioneer at a later date. However, if you leave Pioneer after the first 60 days of service, PG&E requires you to remain with PG&E’s bundled service for one year.

SIG Solar Placerville rural solar solutions

Are There Benefits to NEM (solar) Customers under Pioneer?

Our understanding is that with Pioneer, you can say goodbye to potentially big, annual electric generation true-up bills by paying monthly when your consumption exceeds your generation. Pioneer also pays more for Net Surplus Compensation (NSC).

Is Pioneer or Solar a Better Answer to Lower Electricity Costs?

Based on our experience with customers over the past several years, solar is the ideal long-term solution for curbing electricity costs. Customers of Pioneer and other CCAs should not rely on their membership in a CCA as their sole means of staving off PG&E rate increases or trying to avoid power outages. Without a doubt, the rates charged by CCAs will go up as those charged by PG&E and other utility companies rise.

Going solar is an excellent strategy for minimizing or eliminating your reliance on grid-supplied electricity, and insulating yourself from inevitable future rate increases. Furthermore, solar paired with a backup battery system is the ideal long-term solution for controlling or eliminating rising utility costs, avoiding peak electricity rates, and providing your own backup power during power outages.

Getting Starting with Solar

If you’re interested in understanding the costs and benefits of residential solar, get in touch with SIG Solar Placerville to learn more. We have extensive experience in El Dorado County and can help you get started on the right path to lower electricity costs and improved system reliability.