Aggre-what? We know—it’s a wonky name for a relatively simple concept meaning group purchasing: in this case, the purchasing of electricity. In dictionary speak, Community Choice Aggregation  allows local governments and some special districts to pool (or aggregate) their electricity load in order to purchase and/or develop power on behalf of the residents, businesses, and municipal accounts within their service territory  .Established by law in eight states thus far, CCA is an energy supply model that works in partnership with the region’s existing utility, which continues to deliver power, maintain the grid, provide consolidated billing and other customer services.
Through CCA, local governments and their constituents are achieving a powerful range of objectives:
Energy aggregation can be done on an opt-in or opt-out basis (depending on state statute), but the most common and successful programs are opt-out . This means that customers are automatically enrolled after a successful public referendum at the local level, as in Illinois and Ohio; or, enrolled when their local elected representatives (city council or county board) vote to form or join a CCA program, as in California. The opt-in approach is voluntary but participation rates are traditionally very low which reduces the value of group purchasing and makes it harder for local programs to achieve economic viability. Opt-out aggregation achieves the necessary market scale for effective group purchasing, but allows a customer to switch back to utility service at any time. Either way, customers always have the choice.
Customers also enjoy several product options within a CCA’s offerings, including 100% renewable and/or carbon free power and access to a variety of complementary energy prorams.
Non-profit municipal utilities, or munis, provide highly reliable electricity supply at rates averaging 15 to 20 percent below the rates of traditional investor-owned utilities. Like munis, CCAs offer cost efficiencies, flexibility, and local control. But unlike munis, they do not face the capital-intensive and open-ended challenge of valuing, purchasing, and maintaining expensive utility infrastructure. CCA offers a “hybrid” approach that exists between the investor-owned (often monopoly) utility and a municipal (or member coop) utility. CCA reaps the benefits of controlling power supply and generation without the financial drag of purchasing and maintaining sometimes antiquated utility infrastructure. In this way, it is a great option for municipalities who want control over their power supply but don’t want the financial and operational burdens of owning their own utility.
Because CCA is revenue-based—not government subsidized—CCA programs are self-supporting from an existing revenue stream. That is, the electricity rates that consumers pay to a retail electric supplier or an investor-owned utility are bundled and redirected to support the group purchase of electricity through a local CCA program.
In restructured (or “retail”) states, there is a defined functional separation between energy generation and energy distribution. In this scenario, the partner/distribution role of the incumbent utility is well established and retail supply competition already exists. In these states, the utility is a ready and willing partner for aggregated communities. The retail energy suppliers understand the market value of group purchasing and compete at the municipal rather than “door to door” sales level to win supply contracts.
In partially restructured or un-restructured states (“wholesale” markets) where utilities hold monopoly positions, the reaction to CCA has been less than supportive. After all, a CCA disrupts their monopoly control of the power supply market. It’s important to note, however, that bundled utility customers are not adversely impacted and the utilities themselves are “made whole” on departing load through a mechanism called cost recovery surcharges (or exit fees). In both models (retail and wholesale), the utility retains ownership and management of the transmission and distribution infrastructure, and all power delivery, line repair, billing, and customer service functions remain with the existing utility.
Outlook and Perspectives: CCA Across the US (LEAN’s slide presentation from InfoCast Community Choice Summit, April 2018)
Status and Trends in the U.S. Voluntary Green Power Market (2016 Data) (NREL, US Dept. of Energy)
Community Choice Aggregation (CCA) Helping Communities Reach Renewable Energy Goals (NREL, US Dept. of Energy)
The Promises and Challenges of Community Choice Aggregation in California (UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs)