City of San Diego One Step Closer to Energy Freedom: Independent Study Confirms Community Choice Energy Beneficial for San Diego Families & Businesses

Program Proven in Cities throughout California will Reach 100% Clean Energy Goal, Lower Costs & Offer Consumers Choice

SAN DIEGO, July 13, 2017—Today, the City of San Diego released the results of its widely anticipated Community Choice Aggregation (CCA) Feasibility Study at the Sustainable Energy Advisory Board meeting. The independent and peer-reviewed study proves the City stands to benefit from the economic and environmental benefits of CCA, a tried and true program throughout California used to accelerate the transition to clean energy while lowering energy rates for families and businesses.

“We are thrilled the independent study confirms what we already knew – San Diego only stands to gain from Community Choice Energy – the fastest, most equitable, and cost-efficient path to 100 percent clean energy” said Nicole Capretz, the Executive Director of Climate Action Campaign. “Community Choice gives us the freedom to control our energy destiny–it’s the American way. Powering our lifestyle with clean energy gives us the freedom to enjoy clean air, create new jobs, grow our economy and reduce our carbon footprint.”

Community Choice Energy is a partnership between local governments and utilities, which allows cities to purchase electricity for their constituents while the utility continues to deliver the power. The City of San Diego conducted a CCA Feasibility Study to determine how a CCA program could help achieve the 100% clean energy goal in its legally-binding Climate Action Plan passed in late 2015. The results of the study reveal that CCA has the potential to provide clean air, clean energy, clean jobs and reduced electricity costs to families and businesses. The study shows that a CCA program in San Diego can:

  • Provide lower rates for San Diego families and businesses with a higher renewable energy content
  • Generate revenue, within five years, that will be reinvested into the community for such programs incentivizing rooftop solar, storage, and electric vehicles
  • Take the profit out of a fundamental public need, ensuring affordable energy with stable and transparent rates for all
  • Set the stage for building local clean energy in our backyard – creating local jobs and growing our economy

Daniel Sullivan, the founder and president of Sullivan Solar Power, set out to lead the solar energy revolution over 13 years ago. He is eager to see the Community Choice program begin: “With Community Choice, we have the ability to revolutionize our grid, to have the freedom of choice and to take control of a 100 percent clean energy future. We have the cost-effective technology, and I am excited about the opportunity to have new local agencies set rates and design programs to promote rooftop solar, energy storage and electric vehicles to move us away from fossil fuels.”

Should San Diego move forward with Community Choice Energy, it would be the largest city in the state to embrace CCA.

California has 8 operational Community Choice programs in place: Marin Clean Energy, Sonoma Clean Power, Lancaster Choice Energy, CleanPowerSF, Peninsula Clean Energy, Silicon Valley Clean Energy, Apple Valley Choice Energy, and Redwood Coast Energy Authority. The City of San Jose, the City of Pico Rivera and the Counties of Los Angeles, Alameda, Monterey, San Benito and Santa Cruz are set to begin operations in 2017 and 2018.

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Other community and business leaders are ready to move forward with community choice energy. Here’s what they have to say:

“In addition to offering families options and cost control that doesn’t exist today, community choice energy provides the most cost-effective and efficient way to reach our commitment to 100% clean energy in San Diego. CCE will harness our region’s strengths as an innovation hub, and create energy competition in the marketplace which is good for both jobs and consumers. I’m pleased that the study confirms community choice is feasible and viable for our city, and I encourage all of you to raise your voice for community choice energy by calling on the Mayor and my colleagues to join me in moving forward with this program as soon as possible,” Councilmember Barbara Bry, District 1, City of San Diego.

“In light of all that has occurred to date, clearly, Community Choice is really our only choice,” Ruben Arizmendi, Chair, Steering Committee, Sierra Club San Diego.

“As business owners, we understand that competition breeds innovation and efficiency. It makes everyone try harder to be better. That’s what we’d love to see from our energy providers,” Mikey Knab, founding chair of Main Street Alliance San Diego and Director of Operations at Ponce’s Mexican Restaurant.

“It’s time San Diegans had a choice — a real choice — about where their electricity comes from. It’s time for our communities to reap the benefits that Community Choice will offer,” Joyce Lane, Chair, Public Policy Team, SanDiego350.

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City of San Diego One Step Closer to Energy Freedom, by Alicia Race, Climate Action Campaign, July 13, 2017.

New Study Finds Use Of Community Choice Energy Feasible

Switching to an alternative energy program called community choice will help the city of San Diego use more renewable sources of energy and could lower electricity costs, according to a study published this week.

The long-anticipated study—paid for by the city and conducted by the firm Willdan Financial Services—will likely serve as a jumping-off point for arguments in support of and against community choice. The City Council is expected to vote in January on adopting the program.

RELATED: Battle Over San Diego’s Energy Future Will Heat Up Soon

San Diego’s Climate Action Plan lays out the goal of using 100 percent renewable energy by 2035. The final draft of the feasibility study released Thursday found community choice is one pathway to get there.

Switching to an alternative energy program called community choice will help the city of San Diego use more renewable sources of energy and could lower electricity costs, according to a study published this week.

Community choice would take the purchasing power away from SDG&E and give it to the city. If the city goes with community choice, the city would still use SDG&E’s power grid and electric bills would still come from SDG&E, but the city would decide what energy sources to buy.

The idea is the city could then buy more renewable sources of energy, such as wind and solar power, and less natural gas.

The study found community choice would not only get the city to 100 percent renewable energy by 2035, but also would generally lower electricity costs.

It presented multiple scenarios to show a range of outcomes if the city switches to using community choice:

• At 50 percent renewable energy, community choice’s rates would be on average cheaper than SDG&E’s by 2024.

• At 80 percent renewable energy, community choice’s rates would be on average cheaper than SDG&E’s by 2027.

• At 100 percent renewable energy, community choice’s rates would not be cheaper than SDG&E’s, but the utility has also not outlined a pathway for only using renewable sources of energy.

CREDIT: WILLDAN FINANCIAL SERVICES

A graph showing community choice rates in comparison to SDG&E rates under multiple scenarios. The graph is from the feasibility report on community choice conducted by Willdan Financial Services.

“The prices are competitive with SDG&E’s current prices, which is a good sign,” said Cody Hooven, the city’s sustainability manager. “It’s too early to say yet if people will notice a difference on their bills, but they surely shouldn’t see an increase.”

She said she’s pleased to see the study shows community choice is one option the city can use to reach its renewable energy goals.

But the lobbying arm of SDG&E, called Sempra Services, said conclusions based on the study are too hasty. A spokesperson did not respond to a request for an interview, but said in a statement, “The city’s study is incomplete because it is not possible to determine what a government-controlled energy model will cost customers. Until the true costs and benefits of such a program are transparent and shared with the public, we believe it is premature to move forward.”

Haney Hong, the president of the San Diego County Taxpayers Association, also said the study does not examine all the risks of switching to community choice.

“What is the cost of creating another agency, another bureaucracy to implement such a program?” he said. “What protections are there for taxpayers? Could this become an agency where energy bills are used to pay off a burgeoning public pension debt at the city?”

While two members of the Taxpayers Association’s board are from SDG&E and its parent company Sempra Energy, Hong said they do not have influence over the association’s positions.

“We have a board of about 50, so the last time I checked, two of 50 is a pretty small percentage,” he said.

He also said his association is not saying community choice “is good or bad,” it just wants to examine the alternatives.

In a statement sent when the study was released, Mayor Kevin Faulconer cheered the results.

“We’re moving full speed ahead to reach our ultimate goal of using 100 percent renewable energy citywide, and this study shows we have the ability to get there,” he said. “This analysis underscores that San Diego’s Climate Action Plan is not only ambitious, it’s achievable.”

RELATED: Carlsbad To Share Cost Of Community Choice Energy Study

Environmental groups also celebrated the findings of the study in a press conference Thursday morning.

“Community choice energy is a win for San Diego families,” said Alicia Race with the advocacy group Climate Action Campaign. “Community choice will give us lower bills, cleaner air, and the freedom of choice.”

At the same time, the city is considering other options for how to reach the 100 percent renewable energy goal. To gather those options, the city recently put out a request for quotes from businesses and organizations to propose how they could help the city use more renewable energy. Eleven entities — including SDG&E — responded to the city’s initial request for information, according to a public records act request.

The city will get final proposals from businesses and organizations in July and then review them, along with the community choice feasibility study. It will hold a series of workshops to inform residents about potential energy program changes this fall and then the City Council will vote on whether to go with community choice in January.

New Study Finds Use Of Community Choice Energy Feasible, by Claire Trageser, KPBS, July 13, 2017.

Carlsbad To Share Cost Of Community Choice Energy Study

Carlsbad is the fourth North County city to agree to consider the feasibility of Community Choice Energy.

Carlsbad City Council voted unanimously Tuesday night to join other North County coastal cities and start exploring the feasibility of buying energy from cleaner sources of power.

Community Choice Energy, or Community Choice Aggregation as it is sometimes called, would give cities more choice of how the energy they buy is generated, though SDG&E transmission lines would continue to bring that energy to homes and businesses.

The Carlsbad council voted unanimously to pay a maximum of $60,000 as its share of a $100,000 technical study into whether Community Choice Energy would be cheaper and use cleaner energy. The decision is significant because it means Carlsbad is willing to take part, even if neighboring Oceanside does not vote to contribute to the study.

RELATED: Battle Over San Diego’s Energy Future Will Heat Up Soon

The Sierra Club mobilized support for the measure: more than 600 Carlsbad residents and 70 businesses signed on in favor of exploring the options.

The cities of Del Mar and Encinitas have already voted to share the cost of a feasibility study. Encinitas has agreed to look for contractors to do perform the study.

Solana Beach has already completed a study and hired contractors last May to start setting up a Community Choice program.

Ryan Jubela owns Masters Kitchen, a restaurant in Oceanside. He supports studying whether community choice energy could benefit businesses like his.

“It definitely could help with the fossil fuels being burned, it also helps with costs with me doing business,” he said. “I just think all around it’s a good idea to check and see if it actually can work, and if it’s something that the community can move forward with.”

Oceanside City Councilman Jerry Kern said he has serious questions about whether a Community Choice energy contract would be in the long-term best interests of the city, since ratepayers will be on the hook to pay for natural gas power plants SDG&E has committed to, whether they use the energy or not. Kern said he would be in favor of finding out more information about Community Choice Energy, before making any commitments.

Oceanside has already collected some of the data from SDG&E necessary to conduct a feasibility study.

The earliest Oceanside City Council could vote on the issue is August.

The results of the city of San Diego’s feasibility study are due out Wednesday.

Carlsbad To Share Cost Of Community Choice Energy Study, by Alison St John, KPBS, July 12, 2017.

Battle Over San Diego’s Energy Future Will Heat Up Soon

The feasibility study for community choice aggregation, completed by Willdan Financial Services, has found the renewable energy option to be feasible in San Diego.

“We’re moving full speed ahead to reach our ultimate goal of using 100 percent renewable energy citywide, and this study shows we have the ability to get there. This analysis underscores that San Diego’s Climate Action Plan is not only ambitious, it’s achievable,” said Mayor Kevin Faulconer.

“We now have at least one option to completely power San Diego with green energy, and over the coming weeks and months we will look at other options, put all the alternatives on the table and have a public discussion about the best approach to ensure reasonable rates for San Diegans and a sustainable future for our city.”

Original Story:

For more than two years, the city of San Diego has been considering switching the way it buys energy, and this week is a key time in that decision-making process.

A study will be released showing whether a new way of getting energy—called community choice aggregation—is feasible and whether it would be cheaper, more expensive or cost about the same as the current system.

The answers to those questions could change the way San Diegans get their energy, and will likely be the kicking off point to a big political battle that will brew until the San Diego City Council votes on whether to use community choice aggregation in January.

RELATED: Carlsbad To Share Cost Of Community Choice Energy Study

What does the term “community choice aggregation” mean?

Right now, San Diego Gas & Electric provides power through its system of lines and wires to every city in San Diego County.

SDG&E buys the electricity from a variety of sources, including natural gas plants, hydroelectric dams and wind turbine farms.

Community choice aggregation is a different kind of energy program.

If a city goes with community choice, power would still go through SDG&E’s grid and electric bills would still come from SDG&E. The big difference is that the city would make the decisions about where to buy its energy from, instead of SDG&E.

This change would allow cities to have more control over how much of their energy comes from renewable sources, which theoretically would help them reach a goal of using 100 percent renewable energy.

Currently, 43 percent of SDG&E’s energy comes from renewable sources, according to the utility.

Several cities and counties across the state have also considered moving forward with community choice, including Solana Beach, which recently voted to try out the program.

San Diego is considering community choice to help it reach its goal of using 100 percent renewable energy by 2035, which is laid out in the city’s Climate Action Plan.

RELATED: How Will San Diego Reach Its 100% Renewable Energy Goal?

Environmental activist Nicole Capretz wrote the original version of San Diego’s Climate Action Plan and included community choice as the way to get to 100 percent renewable energy. She now runs the environmental advocacy group Climate Action Campaign, which is lobbying for community choice across the county.

Capretz has been waiting for the results of this feasibility study for a long time. The city paid the firm Willdan Financial Services to conduct the study, after an initial study funded by a nonprofit was never finished. City officials said even if the nonprofit study had been completed, the city still would have paid for its own study.

RELATED: San Diego Energy Study Never Finished

Willdan’s study will be presented to the Sustainable Energy Advisory Board, a city commission that advises the mayor and City Council, on Thursday morning.

“What we expect to happen on Thursday is to have confirmed that community choice is a viable and feasible program model that will save customers money, that will allow us to have local control over our energy future, that will finally inject competition into the marketplace, and that will give us that confidence that we need that we can hit that 100 percent clean energy target,” Capretz said.

After San Diego began considering switching to community choice, SDG&E became the first utility in the state to create an independent entity to lobby against the program. Under state laws, utilities can not use ratepayer money to lobby for or against community choice.

RELATED: SDG&E Says It Has Enough Energy To Meet San Diego’s Needs Through Hot Summer

Frank Urtasun, the head of that lobbying arm called Sempra Services, declined to be interviewed about the feasibility study until it comes out.

Capretz said once the study’s results are public, she expects to spend the next four months battling with the utility to convince residents community choice is the way to go.

“Unfortunately in our mind, our utility has decided to fight the city’s decision to potentially move forward with an alternative energy program model and they are expending a lot of resources and funds to fight this,” she said.

At the same time, the city is considering other options for how to reach the 100 percent renewable energy goal.

“There is no one silver bullet to get to 100 percent renewable electricity,” said Cody Hooven, the city’s sustainability manager who oversees implementation of the Climate Action Plan. “It’s going to take creativity and being open to new ideas. So no matter which pathway we choose it’s going to take a combination of solutions.”

To gather all of those options, the city recently put out a request for quotes from businesses and organizations to propose how they could help the city use more renewable energy. Eleven entities—including SDG&E—responded to the city’s initial request for information, according to a public records act request.

Hooven said the requests do not exclude the city from also using community choice, and that there are lots of businesses in San Diego that could help reach the 100 percent renewable energy goal.

“The energy sector is changing pretty rapidly right now, there are a lot of new technologies available and new ideas, and the business community around energy is changing rapidly,” she said.

The city will get final proposals from businesses and organizations in July and then review them, along with the community choice feasibility study. It will hold a series of workshops to inform residents about potential energy program changes this fall and then the City Council will vote on whether to go with community choice in January.

Battle Over San Diego’s Energy Future Will Heat Up Soon, by Claire Trageser, KPBS, July 12, 2017.

‘Community Choice’ Could Provide Cheaper, Greener Electricity for San Diego, Report Says

A government-run alternative to San Diego Gas & Electric could deliver more green energy while costing residents and businesses less money over time, according to a report released Wednesday by the city of San Diego.

The document sparked the latest round of jockeying by environmentalists, fiscal hawks, backers of investor-owned utilities and others, with each group espousing what it sees as the benefits, detriments or unknown factors of community choice aggregation — commonly called CCA.

Such programs have become increasingly popular across California, with a growing number of cities and counties considering them as a way to more rapidly boost use of renewable energy.

The California Public Utilities Commission recently predicted a transformation in the state’s power market: It said investor-owned utilities, which today buys and sells power for about 76 percent of the electricity market, could see its control over such decisions plunge to less than 15 percent by 2025, largely because of competition from CCAs and the installation of rooftop solar panels.

The study released Wednesday looked at the feasibility of launching a CCA program in San Diego, which might eventually be launched to satisfy the city’s pledge to use 100 percent renewable energy by 2035.

“We’re moving full speed ahead to reach our ultimate goal of using one hundred percent renewable energy citywide, and this draft study shows we have the ability to get there,” Mayor Kevin Faulconer said on Wednesday after the report’s release.

Under community choice, a utility still operates the poles and wires needed to deliver energy, but elected officials control the buying and selling of power for their jurisdiction. If a city or county votes to form or join such a program, ratepayers can opt out if they would rather have the rates offered by their traditional utility.

Specifically, the new report found that a community choice program has the potential to deliver cheaper rates than SDG&E’s while providing 50 percent renewable energy by 2023 and 80 percent green power by 2027. SDG&E currently offers about 43 percent renewable energy to its customers, and under state law must get to 50 percent by 2030.

Advocates of community choice hailed the report, which was compiled by the fiscal, engineering and energy consulting company Willdan Financial Services in Temecula.

“It confirms that we already knew — that San Diego families only stand to gain from the adoption of community choice,” said Nicole Capretz, executive director of the San Diego-based nonprofit group Climate Action Campaign. “The question is no long whether we move forward with community choice, the question is what are we waiting for.”

The SDG&E shareholder group that lobbies on CCA issues, Sempra Service Corporation, released a statement criticizing the report as flawed.

“San Diegans deserve an open and honest conversation about the best way to reduce emissions in our region. The city’s study is incomplete because it is not possible to determine what a government-controlled energy model will cost customers. Until the true costs and benefits of such a program are transparent and shared with the public, we believe it is premature to move forward.”

The lobbying group said issues that could impact rates for both community choice and utilities are still being debated by the state Public Utilities Commission. Specifically, the commission is reviewing whether to adjust an “exit fee” charged to CCAs to ensure that utilities are compensated for the long-term energy contracts they signed on behalf of ratepayers who subsequently became community-choice customers.

In the fight against climate change, San Diego approved a Climate Action Plan in December 2015 that calls for slashing its greenhouse-gas emissions in half by 2035 from the level in 2010. Electricity accounts for about 24 percent of the city’s carbon footprint, behind transportation at 55 percent.

The city has already met an interim benchmark of cutting such emissions by 15 percent by 2020 as a result of state and federal mandates to improve fuel efficiency and for utilities to purchase green power. But there’s debate about how San Diego can best get to its 2035 goal, which is legally binding.

The city is accepting alternative proposals for meeting its green-energy goals.

SDG&E officials said the utility plans to submit its own competing blueprint, which the City Council would likely weigh against community choice or other energy options. This process would include voting on a path forward sometime early next year.

“Over the coming months we will also look at other approaches, put all the alternatives on the table and have a public discussion about the best way to ensure reasonable rates for San Diegans and a sustainable future for our city,” Faulconer said.

Arguably the biggest opponent of CCA proposals in San Diego County is SDG&E. This year, it became the first investor-owned utility in the state allowed to form a shareholder-funded lobbying group to weigh in on community choice. Investigators at the utilities commission said they are looking into whether the SDG&E lobbying arm began meeting with elected officials before it was cleared to do so.

Sempra officials have denied any wrongdoing.

This lobbying arrangement followed the Legislature’s decision in 2011 to bar investor-owned utilities from using ratepayer dollars to speak out on CCAs. The lawmakers took action after a bitter fight between Marin County and Pacific Gas & Electric over establishment of the state’s first CCA program.

In the San Diego region, elected officials have had mixed reactions to establishing community choice programs.

In February, the county Board of Supervisors declined to study the feasibility of CCA for the unincorporated communities it governs.

Meanwhile, Solana Beach has taken official steps toward adopting community choice, and three other North County cities — Encinitas, Del Mar and Carlsbad — are jointly looking at a similar idea.

By the end of the year, community choice programs from Humboldt to Lancaster are expected to serve nearly 1 million people, according to state energy regulators. In addition, cities and counties representing more than 15 million of the state’s nearly 40 million residents are in various stages of considering community choice.

‘Community Choice’ Could Provide Cheaper, Greener Electricity for San Diego, Report Says, by Joshua Emerson Smith, The San Diego Union-Tribune, July 12, 2017. 

 

North County Report: Several Cities Are Exploring Energy Choice

Whether it’s for the environment or cost savings, five North County cities are looking buy their power from an entity that is not SDG&E.

Community choice aggregation is the system that allows cities to choose where they get their electricity from. SDG&E is the local generator and provider, and it decides how electricity gets generated, whether that’s through burning fossil fuels or from alternate forms of energy.

Under community choice aggregation, cities would get to choose what generates their power.

Sometimes that’s done to get a handle on costs for residents. More recently, cities have chosen to act for environmental reasons, and put their money toward sustainable energy.

Del Mar and Encinitas recently voted to join Solana Beach to share the costs of a feasibility study, which includes a plan for how to roll out community choice.

If those smaller cities establish a nonprofit CCA, operated by private companies, they’d be able to choose who provides the CCA with electricity. The more cities (and customers), the more the cost of operating the CCA would be shared ‒ though residents can still opt to buy their energy from SDG&E.

And there are potentially a couple of “big gets” for the CCA on the horizon. KPBS reports that Carlsbad will consider paying for the feasibility study for its 45,000 homes. There are also rumblings for including the 65,000 households in Oceanside to a CCA.

But efforts to ditch SDG&E as their energy producer may be tough for cities.

Ry Rivard writes this week that SDG&E has successfully fought off energy choice efforts across the county for decades, including an effort to create a new utility for a growing San Marcos in 2000. SDG&E lobbyists also helped kill community choice aggregation in unincorporated parts of the county earlier this year.

Community choice is a different beast than what San Marcos was exploring, but lobbyists from SDG&E’s parent company, Sempra Energy, met with Solana Beach leaders ahead of their vote.

A veteran of the fight against San Marcos’ plan urged Solana Beach to delay a decision, to “join a broader and regional dialogue,” but Rivard writes that’s a familiar play from the industry handbook ‒ delay and hope the market is in a different place when the dust settles.

North County Report: Several Cities Are Exploring Energy Choice, by Ruarri Serpa, The Voice of San Diego, July 5, 2017.

 

 

 

 

Community Choice Energy: The Power of Competition

Community Choice Energy — also known as Community Choice Aggregation — offers us the chance to bring about a historic event: the conversion of a monopoly into a competitive business.

This happened to the telephone business by breaking up Ma Bell, and to the postal system, when FedEx started up. Would we have the data plans and services, even the phones we have today, without the AT&T breakup? Would we have overnight delivery if FedEx had not come along? The Post Office delivering packages on Sunday?

Map showing states with or considering CCE programs

States with CCE Programs (those considering in gray)

Competition drives innovation and efficiency. CCE programs pit two businesses against each other, one the investor-owned utility (IOU), the other an entity set up by a city, county, or a collection of cities.

The two are given the business of procuring electricity to supply to the IOU’s transmission and distribution network. Each attempt to win customers through a combination of lower pricing, greener energy, better plans, and enhanced customer service. What’s not to like?

For a detailed explanation of CCE programs and what’s been happening locally on our path to CCE, see Tyson Siegele’s articles on the subject:

Popular CA Republican Mayor Praises Community Choice Energy
The Benefits of Community Choice Energy and How California Utilities Aim to Block Them
Community Choice Energy Myths Debunked, SDG&E Misdirection Exposed

Natural Monopolies

You probably remember from high school government class that there are a few sectors of the economy that work best as regulated monopolies: potable water production and distribution, sewage collection and treatment, roads and highways, cable networks, and electric utilities are examples.

These are natural monopolies because it would be prohibitively expensive to provide duplicate services from multiple vendors.

Imagine two or three sets of water piping networks in the state, competing highway systems (each a toll road), or multiple sets of power lines running through your neighborhood and into your house. So many places for birds to perch….

Many natural monopolies are government agencies, with oversight performed by a voting and voluble citizenry. Some though, like SDG&E and Time-Warner Cable (now Spectrum), began as commercial enterprises. These investor-owned monopolies must, of course, be regulated so they don’t gouge us unmercifully — as was the case of Martin Shkreli, who is the embodiment of pharmaceutical industry greed.

By the way, if you’re worried that the city won’t likely do a good job of running a CCE, this article does a good job of assuaging any fears. Across the US, as of 2013, municipal utility electricity cost an average of 14 percent less than IOU-produced electricity.

A Historic Opportunity

An electric utility is composed of two major pieces: the generation/procurement of electricity, and the transmission and distribution of that power to its customers.

Cartoon illustration of J.P. Morgan seated

JP Morgan’s comment, while being grilled by a Congressional Committee in 1915 for predatory banking practices. (Source: Wikimedia/Public Domain)

The California Public Utility Commission (CPUC) oversees the IOUs and tries to make them efficient and economical; it’s not an easy or simple task, and it’s the way things have been for more than a hundred years.

But then, in 1997, a new model was put into service. All it took was the recognition that the power procurement/generation piece of the puzzle could be made competitive and a historic change came about: a former monopoly could be transformed into a competitive business.

Community Choice Energy

While it remains infeasible to duplicate transmission lines and distribution systems, it makes perfect sense to have two providers compete for power purchase contracts and build power plants that will produce the cheapest power. After all these decades, the power of competition will bring its forces to bear on this essential public service. Rest assured, this competition has proven to be working far better than the PUCs before them. In Illinois, for example, 80 percent of the cities and towns are served by a CCE program.

However, while the value of introducing competition into the electricity market cannot be understated, a CCE program provides other benefits as well. In San Diego’s case, our CCE will be driven by the goals of meeting the city’s Climate Action Plan and serving its citizens’ needs. Its primary aims will be:

  1. Affordably achieve 100 percent renewable energy for the city by 2035.
  2. Procure local renewable energy whenever possible.
  3. Create local jobs through the construction of local renewable energy facilities.
  4. Create innovative programs that will accelerate the adoption of renewable energy.

Does all this sound like a promising idea — perhaps even a no-brainer? Well, not to some….

SDG&E Opposition to CCE

Last year, Sempra, SDG&E’s parent company, petitioned the CPUC for the right to form a lobbying arm to address its CCE concerns — the only one of the state’s three IOUs to make this request. The CPUC consented and Sempra Services was born. Their promotional video is below. It’s well made, highly professional and worth the watch.

Now let’s review some of the points it made:

We drive innovative climate action plans.

Response: We? It was the city who developed the plan.

Let’s focus on transportation emissions!

Response: That’s happening in parallel with the adoption of a CCE program. Reducing transportation emissions is a much tougher nut than bringing competition to the procurement and generation of power, but it will be done in conjunction with the CCE program—as well as addressing other sources of greenhouse gases.

We built the largest lithium-ion battery facility in the world.

Response: True — at the direction of the CPUC, and in response to the Aliso Canyon natural gas leak.

Quote: “To address the need for a cleaner, healthier future for San Diego families, Sempra established…Sempra Services [a lobbying arm]”.

Response: For our benefit?

Quote: “We believe you deserve an open and honest conversation…”

Response: An open and honest conversation is welcome. But notice that the primary benefit CCE provides — competition — isn’t mentioned in the video. Try searching for the word on Sempra Services’ homepage.

To understand why Sempra/SDG&E’s brought Sempra Services into existence, consider the situation from their point of view. The city’s aims with its Climate Action Plan were listed above; now let’s consider SDG&E’s aims:

  1. Maximize shareholder return
  2. Minimize risk to the corporation

These are the primary aims of any corporation, and well they should be. If Sempra/SDG&E officials and employees didn’t put those aims first they would be derelict in their duty.

But here’s the point: our goals (the Climate Action Plan) and SDG&E’s goals don’t overlap. They care, first and foremost, about their company, as they should. We care about our city and our environment.

Yes, it’s going to make life a little tougher on SDG&E to have to compete and they can’t be faulted for wanting to avoid that. But it’s the price to be paid for accelerated innovation, more efficient operation, and a greener future.

Now, all that behind us, here is the schedule of events surrounding CCE that are coming up:

July 18 13 – the city’s technical study of CCE to be completed  (Ed.: note rescheduled date)

August 10 – the city’s Sustainable Energy Advisory Board will review the study and return advice

Concurrently, city staff will also review the study and report to city councilmembers. A city council vote on the recommended CCE program is expected late in the year

Call to Action

You can support SDG&E’s goals by doing nothing. On the other hand, if you want to help bring about innovation, an acceleration toward a fully renewable future, and competition, then please write or call the city councilmembers listed below.

You may ask if that is important; does it really matter? Consider that Orinda, a town east of Berkeley, rejected CCE on the basis of an insufficient indication of interest from its citizens.

City of San Diego Contact Information:

Mayor:
Kevin Faulconer, Mayor (619) 236-6330 kevinfaulconer@sandiego.gov

Councilmembers:
Myrtle Cole, Council President (619) 236-6644 myrtlecole@sandiego.gov
Mark Kersey, Council President Pro Tem (619) 236-6655 markkersey@sandiego.gov
Barbara Bry, Councilmember (619) 236-6611 barbarabry@sandiego.gov
Lorie Zapf, Councilmember (619) 236-6622 loriezapf@sandiego.gov
Christopher Ward, Councilmember (619) 236-6633 christopherward@sandiego.gov
Chris Cate, Councilmember (619) 236-6616 chriscate@sandiego.gov
Scott Sherman, Councilmember (619) 236-6677 scottsherman@sandiego.gov
David Alvarez, Councilmember (619) 236-6688 davidalvarez@sandiego.gov
Georgette Gomez, Councilmember (619) 236-6699 georgettegomez@sandiego.gov

Community Choice Energy: The Power of Competition, by At Large, San Diego Free Press, July 10, 2017.

Five North County Cities Consider Community Choice Aggregation

Five North County cities are studying whether to contract with different energy providers to increase the amount of sustainable energy they use in a program called Community Choice Aggregation.

Encinitas is the most recent city to vote to share the cost of a feasibility study.

Community Choice Aggregation would allow cities to buy energy independently from utilities other than SDG&E, likely speeding up the transition away from fossil fuels and toward energy produced by wind and solar.

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.

Solana Beach has already embarked on a contract to explore Community Choice. Del Mar voted on June 5 to contribute to a $100,000 feasibility study, and Encinitas got on board June 28.

Encinitas Mayor Katherine Blakespear said the more cities collaborate, the better.

“It would be great to have leadership in the North County area, so to have Oceanside, Carlsbad, Encinitas, Del Mar and Solana Beach all doing it together, that would be the win in my mind — to have everybody on board,” she said.

Blakespear said city staff have been working with officials in Del Mar, Carlsbad and Oceanside.

“Trying to figure out where they are in the process — if they have the political will: basically, are there three people on the city council that are interested in moving forward, and are they interested in doing this first pass, this technical study?”

Carlsbad City Council will vote July 11 on whether to help pay for a feasibility study.

Oceanside has not yet scheduled a vote, partly because Mayor Jim Wood is recovering from a stroke, and it is unclear whether there are three votes on the remaining four-member council to pass the measure.

The San Diego County Board of Supervisors in February rejected the idea of doing a feasibility study into alternative energy sources for the unincorporated areas.

The City of San Diego is expected to announce the results of its feasibility study on July 13.

SDG&E said 43 percent of its energy currently comes from renewable resources. Some cities considering Community Choice Aggregation are aiming for 100 percent.

More than half a dozen community choice aggregators currently operate in California.

Five North County Cities Consider Community Choice Aggregation, by Alison St John, KPBS, July 3, 2017.

Encinitas to Help Research Community Choice Energy Plan

Encinitas will pay for part of an estimated $100,000 study to determine whether setting up a regional alternative to San Diego Gas & Electric is a good idea, the City Council agreed this week.

During June 28’s lengthy meeting — the last before the council’s month-long summer recess — the panel also gave its initial approval to a new permit system for alcohol-serving businesses and backed a draft city Climate Action Plan that now must undergo environmental review.

Encinitas’ acting climate plan administrator, Crystal Najera, told the panel that Del Mar officials already have agreed to participate in what’s envisioned as regional Community Choice Energy study, and Carlsbad and Oceanside may come on board too. In the coming months, the cities will settle on who is participating and how much each will pay, and then a formal cost-sharing agreement will be presented.

Celebrated by environmentalists as a way to promote the use of alternative energy sources — including wind and solar — Community Choice Energy programs are nonprofit government entities tasked with procuring electric power for residents and businesses. They’ve been established in eight communities in California, including Marin County.

If the North County coastal communities decide to create one, the new government entity would buy energy from a variety of suppliers and pay a fee to SDG&E to use its transmission lines, Najera said.

“It really means we as a community get to choose our energy options,” Jim Wang, an Encinitas Environmental Commission member told the council as he described why he supported the proposal.Not everyone, though, is ready to rush into the new energy option. While several North County cities are exploring the possibility and Solana Beach has decided to develop its own program, the San Diego County supervisors decided to hold off on their proposed Community Choice Energy research project in February after utility industry representatives raised concerns.

None of the eight public speakers at Wednesday night’s Encinitas council meeting opposed the idea. While speaking on another agenda item, a SDG&E representative stressed that traditional energy suppliers are strong proponents of renewable energy too.

A record-setting, 43 percent of SDG&E’s energy comes from renewable sources, said Adaline Woodard, the company’s public affairs manager.

In addition to backing the research proposal, the council also agreed Wednesday night to accept a draft version of citywide Climate Action Plan, which mentions establishing the Community Choice Energy program as a goal. Creating the program would be a key way for the city to drastically reduce its greenhouse gas emissions, Najera said.

The draft climate plan, which will replace one the city adopted in 2011, sets carbon-reduction targets the city hopes to achieve by 2020 and 2030 through changes in city policies and regulations. It next needs to undergo state environmental review.

Read more by clicking the link below.

Encinitas to Help Research Community Choice Energy Plan, by Barbara Henry, Del Mar Times, June 30, 2017.

What Do You Get When You Sign up for a 100% Green Electricity Plan?

For the first time, residents and businesses up and down the state can buy electricity plans touted as “100 percent green” in their quest to fight climate change or simply be more environmentally friendly.

They can enroll in these programs through California’s three major investor-owned utilities — San Diego Gas & Electric, Southern California Edison and Pacific Gas & Electric — or through the growing number of cities and counties that offer alternative power programs called community choice aggregation, or CCA.

Does this mean all the electricity flowing into those customers’ homes and offices is created with renewable energy? No.

When residents pay a roughly $5 to $10 premium on top of the average monthly bill to get a 100 percent green plan, the provider buys a corresponding amount of renewable energy on their behalf. Almost all of that green power comes from existing inventory, which is mixed with electricity generated from fossil fuels, and the situation isn’t expected to undergo a transformation until far more people enroll in 100 percent plans. Whether that explosion in demand takes years or decades to realize remains to be seen.