Clean Energy FAQs

Here are some commonly asked questions about our 2030 Clean Energy Vision and 2030 Zero Carbon Plan from interested stakeholder groups and community members. We’ll continue to add common questions and answers to this page as we receive additional questions from our customers and community. 

Why set this goal now?

We live in one of the most polluted cities in the country. A recent report by the American Lung Association ranked the Sacramento area 5th in the nation based on days of unhealthy and unsafe levels of air pollution in the ozone layer.

SMUD already had one of the most aggressive carbon reduction goals outlined in our Integrated Resource Plan, but it’s not enough. In July 2020, our Board adopted a climate emergency declaration which promoted us to commit to:

  • Finding creative solutions to work toward eliminating our carbon emissions by 2030.
  • Incorporating environmental justice principles and leadership to ensure no communities are left behind.
  • Being open, transparent and inclusive with the public throughout the process.
  • Collaborating with local cities, counties, agencies, businesses and other organizations.

SMUD employees have never shied away from a challenge, and this is no different. Setting an exact goal of zero carbon by 2030 makes it crystal clear where we’re headed. Having an ambitious goal is a great motivator and encourages innovation and clever thinking, and invites others to help achieve this important goal and all the benefits it brings to the Sacramento region.

What’s the difference between the 2030 Clean Energy Vision and the 2030 Zero Carbon Plan?
The 2030 Clean Energy Vision is our overarching goal to reach zero carbon emissions in our power supply by 2030. The 2030 Zero Carbon Plan, now in development to present to the Board in March, will outline how we'll reach this goal.

Are all California utilities required to be carbon free by 2045 under Senate Bill 100 (SB 100)?
Yes, SB 100, also called the 100% Clean Energy Bill, calls for 100% of electric retail sales to be met by renewable and zero carbon sources by the end of 2045. It requires the California Energy Commission (CEC), California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) and California Air Resources Board (CARB) to prepare a report evaluating the policy by early 2021 and provide updates at least every 4 years.

How can SMUD reach a zero carbon goal by 2030 while ensuring that SMUD’s rates remain low?
While reducing carbon emissions is critically important for our customers and region, we’re also committed to maintaining our world-class reliability and affordable rates, which are among the lowest in California. We will continue to pursue more partnerships with the community, government entities, other utilities, public and private sector companies, agencies, foundations and others to explore potential funding sources.

There are hundreds of millions of investment dollars available globally to tackle carbon reduction. We also want to bring grant funding dollars to Sacramento so we can tackle carbon reduction in a way that uses more than our customers’ money to get to this goal. An example of this innovative funding approach was when a large part of our smart grid initiative funding came from a $127 million grant from the Department of Energy’s Smart Grid Grant in 2009.

Learn more about SMUD’s low rates

How will SMUD’s 2030 Zero Carbon Plan align with other regional plans, for example the Mayor’s Commission on Climate Change, Sacramento County or Sac State’s goals?
We can’t reach zero carbon immediately and we can't do it alone, especially when reducing carbon is a regional issue. Carbon emissions don’t respect city limits or other jurisdictional lines. Partnerships, broad community support and aligning our efforts with the Mayor’s Commission on Climate Change, Sacramento County, Sac State’s goals and other carbon reduction efforts around the region will be critical in achieving our zero carbon goal. A central part of SMUD’s Zero Carbon Plan is working with other jurisdictions and partners to align resources for maximum impact.

Will SMUD work with other utilities in California to join forces to reach the zero carbon goal?
Partnerships are a key pillar of our 2030 Clean Energy Vision. We are looking at all avenues to find innovative solutions and are looking to our community and other stakeholders to join us in working toward this important goal. This includes leveraging existing and new partnerships with local, statewide and national utilities, a diverse group of stakeholders (community groups, regulators, government, business, elected officials, solar + storage industry, academic, etc.), California regulators and more.

Many utilities in California, and around the nation, have established clean energy goals. We hope to collaborate with them and learn from one another to find shared solutions and business models that support everyone working toward a clean energy future.

How will SMUD make sure that all communities will benefit from the 2030 Zero Carbon Plan?
As one of the region’s largest and most influential employers and a community-owned, not-for-profit electric service, our goal is to enhance the quality of life for all of our customers and improve vitality in all the communities we serve. We recognize how important it is to ensure that all communities benefit from our Zero Carbon Plan and through strategic partnerships and focused investments, our goal is to ensure no community is left behind and that our entire region benefits from our 2030 Zero Carbon Plan.

What is SMUD doing to support local nonprofit organizations who serve disadvantaged communities, such as affordable housing places and shelter programs, to be a part of the 2030 Zero Carbon Plan?
Our Sustainable Communities initiative is working closely with many community organizations to help bring environmental equity and economic vitality to all communities in our service area, with special attention given to historically underserved neighborhoods. A few examples include our partnership with Habitat for Humanity Greater Sacramento to install rooftop solar, EV-ready, electrification homes in underserved communities; investment in infrastructure and solar for the new South Sacramento location for Sacramento Native American Health Center to provide mental and dental care for underserved communities; funding for the City of Refuge for a new all-electric building, weatherization and EV charging in Oak Park and much more. Learn more about what we’re already doing and will continue to do as part of our 2030 Zero Carbon Plan here

What major industries and sectors are in SMUD's territory?
Of SMUD’s largest commercial customer accounts, about 20% includes Federal, State, County & City government, 19% manufacturing, 12% retail, 8% schools, 7% property management/development and data centers, 6% hospitals and 21% all other.

How does SMUD compare in size with other utilities?
We’re the nation’s 6th largest community-owned, not-for-profit electric utility and provide reliable, affordable electricity to most of Sacramento County and small portions of adjoining Placer and Yolo Counties. Our service area is 900 square miles. We serve a total of 640,712 residential and business customers. In California, we are the 5th largest utility in the state. 

What languages does SMUD support?
Through our Contact Center, we’re proud to say that SMUD customers can talk to us in 140 languages through a special arrangement with a translation service. We have a dedicated Spanish language website and translate our program and marketing materials into as many as 14 languages.

What percentage of SMUD’s electricity generation is carbon free?
Today, SMUD’s power mix is, on average, 50% carbon free. We get power from various sources, including hydropower, natural-gas-fired generators, renewable energy such as solar, wind, hydro and biomass and power we purchase on the wholesale market. Our 2019 power mix can be viewed here.  

How is "local solar" defined?
Local solar that’s being explored in the 2030 Zero Carbon Plan is defined as solar power projects that are sited within SMUD’s service territory or can be interconnected into SMUD’s system. SMUD’s service territory is approximately 900 square miles, including most of Sacramento County and small, adjoining portions of Placer and Yolo Counties. We have more than 250MW of local solar today and are planning to add another 250 MW of new renewable solar energy as well as battery storage in the next 5 years.

What is the role of rooftop solar in SMUD’s 2030 Zero Carbon Plan?
Customer-owned rooftop solar is an important part of the 2030 Zero Carbon Plan and we expect it to continue to grow significantly over the next 10 years. We’re currently having discussions with solar and solar-plus-storage industry representatives about recommendations for rates and new program offerings related to rooftop solar and storage, which includes Virtual Power Plant programs and Virtual Net Metering (VNEM) solutions, where a billing arrangement allows for a single solar system to provide solar energy to multiple customers (e.g., in a multi-family dwelling). 

Learn more about our process to update our rates for customers with rooftop solar here.  

In addition, other solar solutions will continue to play a key role in achieving our zero carbon goal such as our Neighborhood Solar Shares (NSS) program, which is a cost-effective option for builders and developers to deliver the environmental benefits and bill savings of solar to residential customers in compliance with the 2019 Building Standards mandate.  

SMUD will look for opportunities to work with the solar industry to transition solar-only installations toward solar + storage installations that can deliver greater benefits to system owners and to all SMUD customers, in particular where these systems can support virtual power plant aggregation.

What technologies is SMUD considering to achieve the zero carbon goal?

We’re currently evaluating proven clean energy technology such as wind, solar, hydro, geothermal, biomass, battery storage, demand response and energy efficiency, which all play a part in reaching zero carbon by 2030. We’ll need a diverse portfolio of customer- and SMUD-side options to achieve our ultimate goal, and this includes customer solar and storage and the programs that can be built around them.  

We are also taking a broad approach to consider many interesting and new ideas to get to zero carbon by 2030, including: 

  • New technology including but not limited to green hydrogen, biofuels, long duration storage, carbon capture, vehicle to grid and Virtual Power Plants (VPP), which is a cloud-based distributed power plant that aggregates the capabilities of individual utility scale and distributed energy resources to form a “virtual power plant” that acts and feels like a traditional utility scale resource. 
  • Business models that engage with customers and their connected devices and offer demand flexibility.
  • Gas-fired power plant replacement and repurposing to greatly reduce the use and associated emissions and increase plant flexibility on our path to zero carbon.  

We know that achieving zero carbon by 2030 is very challenging and we’re enthusiastic about new and innovative solutions – we encourage you to email your thoughts and ideas to ZeroCarbon@smud.org. All new initiatives and ideas will be reviewed carefully and tested thoroughly before becoming part of our 2030 Zero Carbon Plan.

Is SMUD considering partnering with other utilities for procurement of clean resources?
Yes, we are very interested in partnering with other utilities and are always looking for new collaborations to find clean energy solutions that benefit our customers and community.

We currently partner with other regional utilities as a member and the operator of the Balancing Authority of Northern California (BANC), which is the 3rd largest joint powers balancing authority in California and the 16th largest within the Western Electricity Coordinating Council. This helps us source power resources from other utilities.

BANC is responsible for operational resource plans, continuously matching load and generation, monitoring power line loads and coordinating with neighboring balancing authorities including the Bonneville Power Administration, the CAISO and Turlock Irrigation District. Other participants in BANC include Modesto Irrigation District; Cities of Redding, Roseville, and Shasta Lake; Trinity Public Utilities District and the Western Area Power Administration – Sierra Nevada Region.

What geothermal power sources is SMUD considering?
Geothermal resources were included in our 2040 resource plan with most planned to come online after 2030. We will re-assess many resources and their timing during the development of the new 2030 Zero Carbon Plan.

We have a history of using geothermal power sources since the early 1980s and currently receive 52 MW each year through contracts in California and Nevada. That’s enough to power more than 38,000 homes per year – based on 750 kWh/month average household electricity use.

Will SMUD consider evaluating the recommissioning of the Rancho Seco Power Plant or similar with respect to nuclear power? 
No. SMUD is not considering nuclear power as part of the 2030 Zero Carbon Plan.

Would using biodiesel fuel count toward zero carbon?
Yes, biodiesel fuel could count toward zero carbon. This would depend on the overall greenhouse gas footprint of the bio fuel’s supply chain. We’re looking at a range of fuel options to achieve our goal of zero carbon.

As SMUD moves towards zero carbon and more renewables, what measures will SMUD take to ensure a reliable electricity supply?  
Safe and reliable electricity delivery are part of SMUD’s core values, and we work hard every day to make sure we have enough power to meet demand at all times, including during regional or state grid emergencies.  Reliable electricity delivery is not only one of our core values, but we are also required to meet reliability standards approved by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC). SMUD takes meeting reliability standards very seriously since failing to meet reliability standards carries very heavy financial consequences and negatively impacts our customers we serve. 

SMUD is a member and the operator of the Balancing Authority of Northern California or BANC, which is an independent balancing authority within the Western electricity power grid. As a balancing authority, we're responsible for balancing load supply demand with supply within our service area or within the BANC footprint. As we explore methods to eliminate our carbon emissions by 2030, we will continue to put safety, our customers, and our system reliability first. Our 2030 Zero Carbon Plan will ensure reliable and safe delivery of electricity to the customers and communities we serve through careful and continuous study, planning and plan refinement. 

How can SMUD incentivize landlords to replace gas with electric resources such as furnaces, water heaters and cooktops at rental properties?
We have incentives for converting from gas to electric appliances in multi-family properties, including for low-income customers. Learn more about our multi-family property incentives here.

What incentives does SMUD have to promote the adoption of electrification?
We offer a range of incentives up to $3,000 in rebates for customers to convert to electric appliances. Going all-electric is better for the environment, and it’s safer and healthier, too. It’s also better for your budget. Switching from gas to all-electric can save about $500 per year on overall utility bills for the average residential customer, based on PG&E gas and SMUD electricity rates. Learn more about our residential rebates here. Business customers can learn more here.

Does achieving your 2030 zero carbon goal require all new technology?
No. We believe proven clean energy technology such as wind, solar, hydro, biomass, battery storage, demand response and energy efficiency all play a part in reaching zero carbon by 2030. While these proven carbon-free technologies aren’t fully capable of achieving our 2030 zero carbon goal, we believe they can greatly contribute to achieving our goal.

Can solar energy be stored in parked electric vehicles and feed back to the grid later?
We believe electric vehicle batteries and “vehicle-to-grid” technology hold tremendous potential and are exploring this potential as part of the 2030 Zero Carbon Plan.

From a production standpoint, both solar and wind technologies are the 2 most visual examples of energy production. What is the current assessment between the 2 production models, are they equally productive or is one technology proving to be more effective?
All forms of renewable energy, including solar and wind, have their pros and cons. As part of the 2030 Zero Carbon Plan, we are thoroughly evaluating these 2 production models, along with other sources of clean energy, to include in implementation. A diverse portfolio of resources has been key in building the effective resource portfolio we have today, and it will be even more important as we strive towards our 2030 Zero Carbon goal.