Popular CA Republican Mayor Praises Community Choice Energy

A staunch supporter of Community Choice Energy gave the keynote address at a March 10th forum organized by the Climate Action Campaign. Since clean, renewable energy is one of the main benefits of Community Choice Energy (CCE), you might think the speaker would be a long haired hippy prone to singing kumbaya. Not at all, not even close. The proud Republican Mayor of Lancaster, California, Rex Parris, provided an enthusiastic endorsement of CCE, lambasting the high prices of utility power and praising the savings gained through Community Choice.

Rex Parris and Clean Energy Innovation

Lancaster mayor Rex Parr speaking at lectern in front of house with solar panels on roof

Lancaster Mayor Rex Parris (Source: City of Lancaster, CA)

The people of Lancaster first elected Rex Parris in 2008. Since then he has been re-elected 3 times including in 2016 when he received 67% of the vote. One of the main ways he achieved such strong support was by turning Lancaster into a clean energy mecca. The biggest win in terms of jobs was bringing Build Your Dream (BYD) electric bus manufacturing to the city. BYD is an electric vehicle heavyweight. In 2016 it built more electric carsthan any company in the world, and did so by a large margin. The Lancaster facility does not get as much press as Tesla, but it is ramping up activity in a similar fashion. Soon, in addition to buses, Lancaster will begin providing electric trash trucks and other heavy duty vehicles.

BYD 60 ft. articulating electric bus

BYD articulating bus built in Lancaster (Source: City of Lancaster, CA)

Electric vehicle manufacturing is just one piece of the pie in Lancaster. Parris was also instrumental in reducing permitting times for rooftop solar and introducing building codes requiring rooftop solar arrays. The city was the first in California to require rooftop solar on all new buildings. Better yet, Lancaster hopes to soon be able to announce that it has become a zero net energy community. That means it aims to produce more renewable energy within city limits than its total energy consumption, a goal it has been working toward since 2011. Accomplishing that has involved new and innovative building codes, creative public/private partnerships, and most importantly Community Choice Energy.

Lancaster and Community Choice Energy

While the Mayor is now a strong advocate for the environment, this was not always the case. When introducing himself, Parris said, “I like to call myself a California Republican. You know what that is? We actually read books.” Which is exactly what Parris did when people the Mayor respected kept telling him that climate change was real. Originally, the Mayor admitted, he assumed the Republican party line on climate change had merit. He thought that maybe global warming was a conspiracy invented to allow other countries to compete. Now though, not only does he understand climate change is real, but he works hard to combat it.

Lancaster saves money with CCE

As a fiscal conservative, Mayor Parris pairs belief with practicality. He realizes economics are key to finding viable solutions. As such he spent a good deal of time talking about how Community Choice Energy strengthens his community economically in addition to the obvious environmental benefits. But then, the savings achieved, were well beyond expectations. “The money you make on these things…”, he said, “just by becoming sustainable, nobody was prepared for.”

Parris said that electricity used to cost more than twice as much as it does under CCE. During the Q&A he noted that some of the city’s power now costs less than 4 cents per kilowatt hour.

Mayor Parris touted the Lancaster CCE program’s cost savings. “Everyone is saving 4.6% off their electric bill, when you average it out across the city. And they could save a lot more, but I want us to be the leader of the nation in sustainable cities and alternative energy use and that takes money and I don’t want to charge the taxpayers one dime. [The additional savings] doesn’t go into the general fund, it goes into other innovative projects.”

The mayor however is not the only CCE believer in Lancaster. People are naturally drawn to the cheaper cleaner energy option. Parris stated that the city, “had a 94% [participation] rate [in the CCE program] when we opened it up.” Over time, as people become more familiar with Community Choice, they also become more comfortable selecting it instead of the standard utility option. Evidence of this is easy to find in more recent Community Choice programs. Peninsula Clean Energy board member, Dave Pine, who also spoke at the forum, noted that the participation rate in their CCE program stands at 98%.

CCE savings for San Diego

So if a Community Choice Energy program in San Diego were to achieve similar savings levels per account [as Sonoma County], San Diego ratepayers would save $171 million dollars each year.

Options are available for individuals who want to live a more environmentally sound lifestyle. Some are as easy as signing up for free clean energy, but nothing in California comes close to rivaling the impact of Community Choice Energy programs. If the City of San Diego were to adopt Community Choice, it would have real advantages over the Lancaster success story. To begin with, San Diego’s population is eight times Lancaster’s. Those 1.4 million San Diegans would give the city a significant boost in economy of scale. Plus, each new CCE program that comes on line gets better energy prices, partially due to the learning curve, but also due to the financial industry becoming more familiar and more comfortable with CCE programs in California. Enough hypothesizing though, let’s look at one of the large existing CCE programs and see what kind of savings it actually experiences.

Sonoma Clean Power just released its 2015 results in its 2016 annual report. SCP served 195,000 accounts in 2015 and achieved $48 million dollars in savings for its customers (page 7/9). SDG&E serves approximately 700,000 accounts in San Diego city limits. So if a Community Choice Energy program in San Diego were to achieve similar savings levels per account, San Diego ratepayers would save $171 million dollars each year.

Crime and Utility Rates

Parris does not waste time mincing words. To emphasize how extreme the cost differences were between CCE and standard utility rates, Parris said that electricity used to cost more than twice as much as it does under CCE. During the Q&A he noted that some of the city’s power now costs less than 4 cents per kilowatt hour. If anyone was unsure of how seriously the Mayor views the disparity between utility pricing and CCE pricing, Parris, a lawyer by trade, followed that up with, “Someone ought to be in jail.” It is starting to look like Parris may get his wish.

Criminal activity aside, it can be said time and time again that CCE programs have proven themselves to be the cleaner, cheaper energy option.

Clean Energy means Local Jobs

Bill savings are just one way Community Choice strengthens a city. The only way Lancaster has managed to make it to the verge of becoming a zero net energy city has been through a tremendous amount of local clean energy construction projects. One of those projects is a city-owned 10 megawatt solar array. An array of that size, in addition to providing well-paying local jobs, can power more than 1,500 homes. As Lancaster ramped up local clean energy, it also ramped up employment. This is another way that CCE changes the dynamic: money paid to Lancaster-based power producers goes right back into the local economy. Out-of-state utility investors can not suck money out of our region nearly as easily with a CCE in place.

Field of solar panel collectors in Lancaster, CA

Lancaster’s tracking solar array – Source: City of Lancaster

San Diego’s Lost Decade

The idea of CCE is not new to the San Diego region. In 2005 the county performed a feasibility study on CCE. It said that CCE would save the unincorporated portions of the county 25 million per year over the next 20 years. Looking at the savings being achieved by Sonoma Clean Power, it appears the authors of the study erred on the conservative side. Still, that lowball estimate would amount to 250 million dollars per decade.

Unfortunately, all elected officials are not as up to date on clean energy initiatives as Mayor Parris. There are still some elected officials who resist Community Choice. For example, in February, San Diego County Supervisor Kristin Gaspar refused to move forward with a CCE study. Her input to the discussion was, “What’s the rush?

Conclusion

In today’s divisive political climate, it is nice to find an issue on which we can all agree. The majority of people in both political parties believe we should be emphasizing alternative energy over oil and gas. Imagine how popular renewable energy would become if everyone realized that clean energy does not just save the environment, it is cheaper too. CCE should be an easy decision. Democrats want it. Republicans want it. It saves us money. We end up with cleaner air and more jobs. The question is not, “What’s the rush?” The question is, “What are we waiting for?”

Tyson Siegele, a SanDiego350 member, is an architect who works to promote sustainable design and clean energy. Recently he created ButItJustMightWork.com, a residential clean energy handbook, to chronicle things to do as well as things to avoid on one’s path to zero emissions.

Popular CA Republican Mayor Praises Community Choice Energy, by Tyson Siegele, San Diego Free Press, April 13, 2017.

SDG&E’s Affiliate Approved To Lobby On Community Choice Amid Ongoing Investigation

There has been a few months of uncertainty over whether an independent marketing district formed by SDG&E and its parent company Sempra Energy can lobby against the alternative energy program called community choice aggregation.

The matter seems to be resolved after the California Public Utilities Commission, or CPUC, approved plans for the marketing district called Sempra Services in an advice letter sent last week. But just last month, a CPUC spokeswoman told KPBS an investigation is still ongoing into whether lobbyists for Sempra Services broke state law by meeting with elected officials before their organization received full approval.

“We are looking into the issue to determine the full details of the communications and whether there were violations on the prohibitions on communicating on (community choice) without the formal approval of the advice letter,” said Terrie Prosper, the CPUC spokeswoman, in an email. “This issue is not impacted by the approval of the advice letter.”

The investigation centers around an alternative energy program called community choice, which would allow cities and counties to bypass SDG&E and decide on their own where to buy energy, which could allow them to choose more renewable energy sources.

What is community choice aggregation?

Right now, San Diego Gas & Electric provides power through its system of lines and wires to every city in San Diego County and southern Orange County. SDG&E buys the electricity from a variety of sources, including natural gas plants, hydroelectric dams and wind turbine farms.

If a city goes with community choice aggregation, power would still go through SDG&E’s grid, but the city would buy the energy, not the utility. That allows cities to have more control over how much of their energy comes from renewable sources and the cost for that electricity.

State law prevents utilities from marketing or lobbying on community choice aggregation unless they set up an independent organization that is not funded by ratepayers.

That’s what Sempra Energy did by establishing Sempra Services, but until last week that organization had not been completely approved by the state.

However, people working for Sempra Services were meeting with San Diego elected officials anyway. They met with Mayor Kevin Faulconer and three San Diego city councilmembers, as well as four San Diego County supervisors.

Now that Sempra Services has received full approval, there is no question about whether those lobbyists can meet with elected officials or do other work to market against community choice. That’s as long as SDG&E and Sempra Services follow the terms laid out in the letter from the CPUC.

The letter says every six months SDG&E must supply a list of all Sempra Services personnel who also work for SDG&E and provide a “justification as to why each individual identified has been deemed to not have engaged in ‘marketing or lobbying.'”

Amber Albrecht, a spokeswoman for SDG&E, said in an email that SDG&E believes Sempra Services was approved last summer, so all of the lobbying done up until now has not been against the law.

“The California Public Utilities Commission incorporated certain points into SDG&E’s compliance plan by reference, and required SDG&E to edit its approved compliance plan to make those points explicit. That process is now complete by the (advice letter from last week),” she said. “Sempra Services Corporation is a separate company from SDG&E. It is not ratepayer funded and it is not a utility subject to the California Public Utilities Commission’s regulation. A compliance plan is required before SDG&E can engage in lobbying or marketing against community choice. It is not required for separate companies. Note that SDG&E is not engaging in any lobbying or marketing against community choice.”

In August, the California Public Utilities Commission gave initial approval to Sempra Services but said it still needed more information from SDG&E.

Then in December, the commission said marketing and lobbying on community choicewas suspended because SDG&E had not given enough information to show Sempra Services is independent enough from the utility.

The California Public Utilities Commission’s letter last week said SDG&E has now provided that information.

SDG&E’s Affiliate Approved To Lobby On Community Choice Amid Ongoing Investigation, by Claire Trageser, KPBS, April 12, 2017.

Op-Ed: Community Choice Energy Key Player in Local Climate Change Policy

Deep in the flood of disturbing reports, policy changes and sardonic commentary flowing from Washington D.C., the Trump administration has been recklessly undoing the environmental policy work of the Obama administration.

Trump’s commitment to “stopping the war on coal,” for one, reversed the Obama-era moratorium on the federal coal program that provided new coal leases. His free-market, deregulation stance means a review on the EPA’s Clean Water Rule which protects streams and wetlands from pollution and degradation. Further, he has denounced the whole of climate change policy by rescinding Obama’s climate action plan from 2013.

As frustrating as this has been, there is an opportunity here for students and faculty alike to create strong, community-based climate change policy by supporting Community Choice Energy.

Community Choice Energy, sometimes referred to as community choice aggregation, is a non-profit alternative to the corporate monopoly of San Diego Gas & Electric. SDG&E is an investor-owned utility, which means that the average person has no say over the source of their energy. SDG&E works through contracting to smaller, local energy providers such as Palomar Energy Center and the Encina Power Station.

CCE aims to create a non-profit energy provider run by the local city government that contracts out local, clean energy providers. Its goal is twofold: increase the percentage of clean energy provided to consumers based on their wants and needs and invest in local businesses rather than outsourcing to large corporations.

The city of San Diego is conducting a feasibility study that is key to accomplishing its goals, projected to publish preliminary results in the summer of 2017. The study will examine energy providers by their costs to consumers and their carbon footprints.

Programs like Community Choice Energy already exist in counties across California, and many other local governments are in considering a restructuring of their power. In Oakland and Berkeley, similar models of clean energy providers are being pushed for. Monterey Bay Community Power, however, has already conducted and presented the results of a feasibility study from May 2016 that shows that the CCE model would be viable under a range of market conditions and has the potential to reduce carbon emissions greatly depending on the type of plan chosen.

CCE has been heavily opposed and lobbied against by SDG&E because it presents a threat to SDG&E’s energy monopoly. In a Voice of San Diego breakdown, author Ry Rivard explains how the process of buying power for its customers, regardless of type, is often done through contracts that project 20 years into the future. Should SDG&E experience a reduction in purchasing, it could have an issue of excess supply. Another incentive for SDG&E to oppose CCE is the government incentive to use rooftop solar, which would ultimately lead to decreased demand for its product, something that has certainly been a concern for the company long before the push for CCE.

This movement for CCE has largely been driven by local organizations like the Sierra Club and San Diego’s 350.org chapter. Proponents of the energy alternative say that CCE is the single biggest thing that the city can do to reach its Climate Action Plan goals of fostering a greener economy, one of them being  a target to reduce carbon emissions to 50 percent of their 2010 levels by the year 2035.

What matters now is contributing support to local action. In times when the energy surrounding environmental justice is so negative, it is motivating to look at our own campus as an example of how nonprofit, independent energy is economically and environmentally viable — 88 percent of the campus is powered by electricity from our local grid.

As students, we have a choice to become involved with our local community rather than be strangers passing through an institution. Right now, there is a chance to make your voice heard: Our representative, Barbara Bry, is not opposed to CCE but has not made any strong stances on it.

UC San Diego is a huge proportion of her district and therefore her constituents — simple acts like signing this petition, making a phone call to her office or even joining organizing efforts with the Sierra Club and Student Sustainability Collective are different but effective ways to get involved. Community choice energy is an opportunity to bring a community together that fights for clean power, but inspires the kind of positive, passionate energy needed to make change at the local level.

Op-Ed: Community Choice Energy Key Player in Local Climate Change Policy, by Rebecca Chong, The Guardian, April 9, 2017.

Unions Wait to Weigh in On San Diego’s Renewable Energy Ambitions

San Diego environmentalists are ready to transform the region’s energy sector, but it isn’t clear yet how much support they’ll get from local labor unions.

San Diego wants 100 percent of electricity sold within city limits to come from renewable sources by 2035. City officials say it won’t just be good for the environment, it’ll also create jobs through all the projects required to move the city from natural gas-fired power to green energy.

That has yet to guarantee the full support of local electrical workers.

The city could begin buying power for its 1.4 million residents from someone other than San Diego Gas & Electric. In doing so, the city would become what’s known as a “community choice aggregator,” also known as a CCA. Officials are still waiting on a technical and economic study of their options. It’s likely to be released later this spring, setting up a potential City Council vote could by the end of the year.

How local labor views the measure could determine how that vote comes down. Right now, they aren’t talking.

While San Diego unions have expressed general support for community choice in the past, they have yet to take a firm position on the city’s plans, in part because the city’s plans are not yet firm. Gretchen Newsom, the political director of International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 569, indicated in an email that they are still finalizing their position but declined to comment further.

In San Diego, there are two IBEW locals – Local 569 and Local 465. Local 465’s membership base are SDG&E employees.

SDG&E is not a fan of the city’s plan. The company would still control the power lines, but the city would suddenly oversee buying power for many of the company’s customers. SDG&E would still exist, but it would be literally and figuratively less powerful.

Read more by clicking the link below:

Unions Wait to Weigh in On San Diego’s Renewable Energy Ambitions, by Ry Rivard, Voice of San Diego, March 30, 2017.

SDG&E Issues New RFO for Community Solar after Few Bids

Dive Brief:

  • San Diego Gas & Electric has already informed state regulators that it received just two bids in its Enhanced Community Renewables (ECR) solicitation and this month launched another RFO.
  • A blog post at law firm Stoel Rives LLP predicts a slow start for California’s community solar program, which ultimately aims for the state’s three largest investor-owned utilities to procure 600 MW.
  • Power purchase agreements are priced at $0.068/kWh, and along with some other restrictive rules means there have been few bids so far—and possibly no qualifying bids—according to the law firm.

Dive Insight:

California’s community solar program may be in need of some tweaks, but Stoel Rives predicts it will take at least another round of proposals before stakeholders can get together and agree.

“For developers looking to participate in California’s community solar program, it is probably unlikely that any major program revisions will be made in 2017,” wrote Brian Orion and Brian Nese. “It will probably take at least one more RFO showing low participation levels before the stakeholders reach a consensus around the need for program reforms.”

Utilities must hold two RFOs annually, and the next is just starting.

Earlier this month, SDG&E told the California Public Utilities Commission that of the two bids it received in the ECR I solicitation, one was a non-conforming bid and one initially met minimum conformance requirements, “however it did not achieve Enhanced Community Renewables community interest requirements.”

Because the utility did not receive any bids that met all ECR program compliance requirements it will not submit PPAs and instead launched a new solicitation.

SDG&E Issues New RFO for Community Solar after Few Bids, by Robert Walton, UtilityDive, March 30, 2017.

Sempra Services Lobbyists Met With San Diego Elected Officials, Potentially Violating State Ban

State officials say lobbyists for Sempra Energy’s new marketing division, Sempra Services, may have violated state law by meeting with some San Diego elected officials.

That’s because Sempra Services has not received full approval from the state agency that oversees utilities, the California Public Utilities Commission.

The California Public Utilities Commission has confirmed it is investigating Sempra and its utility, San Diego Gas & Electric, for beginning to lobby before receiving full approval.

But the utility argues it is doing no such thing.

RELATED: State Commission Investigating SDG&E For Lobbying Against Community Energy Program

The dispute centers around an alternative energy program called community choice, which would allow cities and counties to bypass SDG&E and decide on their own where to buy energy, which could allow them to choose more renewable energy sources.

State law prevents utilities from marketing or lobbying on community choice aggregation unless they set up an independent organization that is not funded by ratepayers.

That’s what Sempra Energy did by establishing Sempra Services, but that organization has not been completely approved by the state.

However, people working for Sempra Services have been meeting with San Diego elected officials anyway. They also spoke about community choice at a recent San Diego County Board of Supervisors meeting.

RELATED: Sempra May Have Broken State Rules By Lobbying On Energy Program

The city of San Diego’s records show a lobbying firm called Responsible Solutions headed by Lani Lutar met with the following elected officials and their staff:

—Mayor Kevin Faulconer.

—Stephen Puetz, the chief of staff for Mayor Kevin Faulconer.

—Mike Hansen, the deputy chief of staff and chief of policy for Mayor Kevin Faulconer.

—City Councilman Chris Cate.

—Ian Clampett, the deputy chief of staff and chief of policy for City Councilman Chris Cate.

—Jack Straw, the director of land use and environmental policy for Mayor Kevin Faulconer (the form lists Straw as a staffer for Councilman Scott Sherman, but Sherman’s spokesman said he was no longer working in that office at the time of the meeting).

The records say the meetings were about implementation of the city’s climate action plan, which includes the consideration of community choice.

City council members’ calendars from 2016 and the first two months of 2017 also show Lutar met once with Councilman David Alvarez and twice with Councilman Mark Kersey. A spokeswoman for Alvarez said the meeting was about “the Otay Valley Regional Park Concept Plan Update and a related matter of the Skydive San Diego lease.”

Kersey’s chief of staff said the two Lutar meetings “didn’t have to do with Sempra or SDG&E, they had to do with our infrastructure committee priorities for the year.”

Kersey’s calendar also shows he met with Frank Urtasun, who told KPBS he works for Sempra Services. However, on city forms Urtasun is most recently registered as a lobbyistfor Sempra Energy.

Kersey’s chief of staff said the meeting “had to do with climate action plan implementation.”

City forms show Urtasun also met with Faulconer’s staff about implementation of the climate action plan.

Meetings like those and public comments at the county meeting are the reason SDG&E is being investigated by the California Public Utilities Commission.

A spokeswoman for the commission said by email earlier this month that “SDG&E is not in compliance with the California Public Utilities Commission Resolution allowing them to form an Independent Marketing Division with conditions and consequently may not be participating in lobbying activities that could only be performed by the marketing division.”

“SDG&E attorneys have argued that under their particular reading of the Resolution they are allowed to lobby,” she said. “The California Public Utilities Commission is investigating the facts surrounding their community choice-related communications.”

Amber Albrecht, a spokeswoman for SDG&E, said by email that the utility “is not lobbying” on community choice. Instead, she said, their understanding is that the California Public Utilities Commission has approved their independent organization to lobby on community choice.

In August, the California Public Utilities Commission gave initial approval to the organization but said it still needed more information from SDG&E.

Then in December, the commission said marketing and lobbying on community choice was suspended because SDG&E had not given enough information to show the organization is independent enough from the utility.

Albrecht said that proposed changes to SDG&E’s independent organization are being reviewed by California Public Utilities Commission staff, but that doesn’t block the organization from operating.

“Staff has no authority to override the California Public Utilities Commission’s resolution,” she said. She added that the commission “has no authority” to stop the independent organization “from exercising its First Amendment right to speak, particularly here where the ban would be applied to control the content of Sempra Services’ speech.”

California Public Utilities Commission staff still have not said how long the investigation could last, or what the consequences of it could be.

Sempra Services Lobbyists Met With San Diego Elected Officials, Potentially Violating State Ban, by Claire Trageser, KPBS, March 17, 2017.

Hundreds Gather to Learn about Community Choice Energy

REGION — If there was one prevailing theme from the hosts of panelists speaking to city and county officials, alternative energy stakeholders and others about community choice energy in a Rancho Bernardo conference room on March 10, it was this: why wait?

Many of the leaders present — from Encinitas Mayor Catherine Blakespear to Councilwoman Tasha Boerner Horvath and Solana Beach City Manager Greg Wade — are from cities that are actively exploring community choice energy, the informal name for community choice aggregation, the process in which a jurisdiction forms an entity that buys power on the open market, choosing the source of the power based on the community’s choice.

For example, the community could choose that it wants all of its power from solar or wind farms, or it wants the most cost effective energy source possible.

The major energy companies such as Sempra, San Diego Gas & Electric and PG&E in Northern California would still deliver the power, but the community would have control over where it received the power from.

CCAs, or CCEs as they are known for short, have emerged in Northern California and one city in Southern California, Lancaster, also has a CCA. But much of Southern California is still wading in the discussion and exploration phase.

At the San Diego Community Choice Forum, dozens of panelists echoed the same message — be patient, be prudent, but also be assertive.

R. Rex Paris, a Republican mayor of Lancaster, Calif., who was the forum’s keynote speaker, said that cities needed to act now, not later. Lancaster’s community choice model has become a darling in the industry, as it has propelled the high desert community to “net zero” status, which means that it produces more solar power than it consumes, which has also been a financial boon for the city.

“It is ethically, morally and just from a point of survival incumbent for us to do something about it,” Paris said.

Paris, who spoke for a half hour, said the biggest obstacle his city faced when forming their energy group was from Southern California Edison.

“In order for us to really be effective, we had to take the power back from Edison, not because they are bad people, but because they are very slow, they are bureaucratic,” Paris said.

The call for swift action was a common theme echoed by other panelists.

“Don’t wait for the next symposium,” said Drake Welch, the vice president of customer care from CalPine Energy Solutions, which provides data management and call center services for many of the state’s CCE programs.

Welch was among a panel that included Dave Pine, the vice president of the San Mateo County Board of Supervisors, Colin Miller, the program manager of Local Clean Energy Alliance and Tom Habashi, the CEO of Silicon Valley Clean Energy.

Pine, whose county’s CCE, Peninsula Clean Energy, is one of several in Northern California, said the major factors that helped them successfully launch their program was having the manpower, financial resources (the county put up the $3 million seed money), and massive communication and stakeholder outreach that included a 20-person advisory committee.

This, Pine said, allowed the county to overcome the biggest obstacle, skepticism from local government officials who saw the program as “too good to be true.”

He said they got all of the city attorneys in the county involved with writing the joint power authority agreement that provided the backbone for the CCE.

“They were the most conservative voices, so we got them eating the (sic) food,” Pine said.

Pine said the best argument that elected official could make to their constituents was they were giving them a choice.

Habashi echoed Pine’s sentiments, saying that communities needed to be prepared to spend lots of money ($2 million to $3 million before seeing a return on the investment), and needed to have the program led by a single entity, such as a CEO or a chairman, not by committee.

“You need one maestro, not six conductors trying to lead the show,” Habashi said.

Habashi also said it was important for communities to choose what their exact goal was with their CCE, whether it be green energy, better rates than the local energy provider or economic development.

“These are all fine and good but one of them must take precedence for your community,” Habashi said.

Blakespear, whose city is among five coastal communities considering a joint powers authority to form a community choice organization, said that the forum helped her get a better understanding of the undertaking of creating a group.

“It wasn’t my goal to run an energy company when I ran for mayor, but I want our city to be a more environmentally oriented city, and having clean power is the most effective way to reduce our carbon footprint,” she said. “This helps me understand the details of CCA and what it means for a city to actually start one. There is lot of intricacy, and I need to understand that to be a supporter.”

Blakespear said she still needed more information before committing the city to moving forward, but said the fact that Encinitas is not alone makes the task less daunting.

While the County of San Diego has already voted to not pursue a CCA, which Blakespear said was disappointing, the fact that other cities still have interest means they can still move forward with the next steps.

Hundreds Gather to Learn about Community Choice Energy, by Aaron Burgin, The Coast News Group, March 17, 2017.

SDG&E Invests in Energy Storage with Flow Battery Technology

SDG&E is unveiling a new vanadium redox flow battery storage pilot project in coordination with Sumitomo Electric, which stemmed from a partnership between Japan’s New Energy and Industrial Development Organization and the California Governor’s Office of Business and Economic Development.

During the four-year demonstration project, SDG&E will be researching if flow batterytechnology can economically enhance the delivery of reliable energy to customers, integrate growing amounts of renewable energy and increase the flexibility in the way the company manages the power grid.

“SDG&E is continuously at the forefront of delivering clean energy solutions and championing innovative technologies to assess the long-term benefits for our customers,” said Caroline Winn, SDG&E’s chief operating officer. “This pilot will advance our understanding of how this flow battery technology can help us increase the reliable delivery of clean energy to our customers and align with state and local carbon emission reduction goals.”

The vanadium redox flow battery storage facility will provide 2 MW of energy, enough to power the energy equivalent of about 1,000 homes for up to four hours. Like other battery storage systems, the battery will act like a sponge to soak up renewable energy harnessed from the sun and release it when resources are in high demand.

Flow battery systems have an expected life-span of more than 20 years, and could have less degradation over time from repeated charging cycles than other technologies. SDG&E will be testing voltage frequency, power outage support and shifting energy demand.

“We are delighted to see our first flow battery system operating in the U.S. through the multiple-use operation of the battery system in SDG&E’s distribution network, we would like to prove its economic value and potential use on the electric grids,” said Junji Itoh, managing director of Sumitomo Electric.

“California continues to lead the nation when it comes to growing the economy and decreasing emissions,” said Sid Voorakkara, Deputy Director for External Affairs at the Governor’s Office of Business and Economic Development. “GO-Biz is proud to partner with NEDO to bring this demonstration project to life and increase opportunities for economic growth powered by renewable energy.”

SDG&E has been a leader in bringing energy storage options into the region with the recent unveiling of the world’s largest lithium ion battery storage facility in Escondido and a smaller facility in El Cajon. To date, SDG&E has about 100 MW of energy storage projects completed or contracted.

SDG&E Invests in Energy Storage with Flow Battery Technology, Electric Light & Power, March 17, 2017.

Tule Wind Project Expansion Clears Legal Hurdle

Opponents of a wind project that will dot the ridgeline of the McCain Valley in San Diego’s East County lost a court decision this week, meaning an expansion to the Tule Wind Project remains on schedule.

The Protect Our Communities Foundation (POC) battled the project from its inception, claiming the blades from wind turbines pose a danger to birds — golden eagles in particular.

But on Monday, a U.S. District Court judge in San Diego turned down the group’s case, saying the federal government did not violate its own procedures when it OK’d the second phase of the project that will deliver wind energy on lands belonging to the Ewiiaapaayp Band of Kumeyaay Indians and the state of California.

“This ill-conceived project will turn important golden eagle breeding territory into a graveyard for an iconic and protected species and destroy thousands of acres of pristine, wild desert,” April Rose Sommer, executive director of POC said in an email.

Avangrid Renewables, the company in charge of the Tule Wind Project, has long insisted the wind farm is safe.

Concerns about bird fatalities are “a serious issue that has really been given a lot of consideration and thought,” said Jeffrey Durorcher, senior counsel for Avangrid. “We’re going to be diligent and responsible about it.”

The second phase of the Tule project is considerably smaller than the first phase, which is under construction and expected to be completed by no later than the end of the year.

Called Tule I, the first half of the project is expected to erect 52 General Electric turbineswith towers 262 feet high and 351 feet in diameter, with an estimated capacity for 132 megawatts of electricity.

Southern California Edison has signed a 15-year power purchase agreement and the turbines will be connected to a substation operated by San Diego Gas & Electric.

Tule II will not be constructed until Tule I is finished and has been permitted for as many as 24 turbines with a capacity of 69 megawatts. Last fall, developers said seven turbines on Tule II will be built on state land and as many as 17 on land belonging to the Ewiiaapaayp Band.

“It’s very windy” on the reservation, Michael Garcia, vice chairman of the Ewiiaapaayp Band, told the Union-Tribune during a groundbreaking ceremony last year. “It’s an easy resource to recoup. So we just see a good opportunity there.”

Covering 640 acres, Tule II’s wind turbines will be located about 1,500 to 2,000 feet higher than Tule I. Last October, the State Lands Commission unanimously approved a 40-year lease for Tule II.

POC officials say they are not opposed to renewable energy but say the Tule Wind Project is located in a dangerous spot for birds, citing memos from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the California Department of Fish and Game that said Tule II “has a high potential” to injure or kill golden eagles and could impact their breeding territories.

But U.S. District Judge Janis Sammartino ruled Monday that the Bureau of Indian Affairs came to a “carefully considered” decision when it approved Tule II and followed safeguards from the National Environmental Policy Act.

POC has taken both phases of the project to court but have been turned back each time. Sommer said her group is considering its next steps, including an appeal to the Ninth Circuit.

Tule Wind Project Expansion Clears Legal Hurdle, by Rob Nikolewski, The San Diego Tribune, March 8, 2017.