This City Could Become Region’s First to Offer SDG&E Alternative for Electricity

Solana Beach has for years flirted with an energy program that would give its residents and businesses a government-run alternative to San Diego Gas & Electric. On Wednesday, it could launch official steps toward becoming the first municipality in the county to do so.

While the City Council’s planned vote on a resolution Wednesday wouldn’t legally bind Solana Beach to what’s known as community choice aggregation, or CCA, approval of the measure would trigger a formal process that could lead to roll-out of the program within 18 months.

Amid controversy with traditional utilities, a growing number of cities and counties in California are embracing CCA or moving toward it.

Under such programs, municipal government officials — or their appointees — decide which power providers to contract with on behalf of ratepayers in their jurisdiction, from natural gas plants to solar and wind installations. Ratepayers can opt out of the program if they prefer to deal directly with the utility, which in either case continues to maintain the pipes and wires that deliver the electricity.

This City Could Become Region’s First to Offer SDG&E Alternative for Electricity, by Joshua Emerson Smith, San Diego Union-Tribune, May 23, 2017.

Ocean Beach Planning Board Endorses More Choices for Electricity

If skeptics of climate change and defenders of San Diego Gas & Electric are abundant in Ocean Beach, it wasn’t apparent at this month’s meeting of the Ocean Beach Planning Board.

Seeing none of either constituency, the OBPB threw its weight behind the creation of a government body designated to buy electricity and compete with SDG&E. It voted unanimously May 3 to write a letter to the City Council supporting the concept known as Community Choice Energy (CCE).

“Currently, SDG&E both buys and distributes power to ratepayers. With CCE, also known as Community Choice Aggregation, the government would also buy electricity, allowing customers to choose between the two vendors. Bills would still come from SDG&E and the utility would still provide the means of distribution,” said Alicia Race of Climate Action Campaign.
Debate among the 11 board members and comments from the two dozen or so audience members was surprisingly scant – surprising, perhaps, until you remind yourself the motion took place in this left-leaning beach community that prides itself for its environmental consciousness.

“CCE is seen as an important step in meeting the requirements of the city’s landmark Climate Action Plan, which among other things, calls for all electricity used in San Diego to come from renewable sources by 2035,” Race said. (Stoves, dryers and other appliances that use natural gas would still be allowed.)

“The Climate Action Campaign is in the midst of an information offensive at planning board meetings to urge the City Council to approve CCE,” Race said. So far, 63 cities and nine counties throughout the state have signed on.

Like the other 40-plus planning boards throughout the city, the OBPB is sanctioned to make nonbinding recommendations to the city on land-use and quality-of-life matters.

“Most energy still comes from dirty fuel sources,” Race said. “This shifts from the for-profit model to a nonprofit model and gives us local control and accountability over our rates.”

CCE could also boost the local economy if managed skillfully, Race suggested.

“Today we see millions of dollars are leaving San Diego to pay for electric generation. We see that with community choice, we start to build up local infrastructure,” she said. “We could take advantage of our beautiful sunshine – 89 percent of our buildings are solar viable – so there’s a potential to create local jobs.”

Race said CCE is strongly supported in the polls. However, the concept has its critics, including SDG&E parent company Sempra Energy and the San Diego County Taxpayers Association, according to reports.

 

Ocean Beach Planning Board Endorses More Choices for Electricity, by Tony de Garate, SDnews, May 13, 2017.

SDG&E Closes in on Energy Storage Goals

For California to meet its ambitious goals to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, developing more energy storage solutions appears to be an absolute necessity.

On that front, San Diego Gas & Electric is ahead of schedule.

SDG&E has just announced it signed five new contracts for local battery storage facilities totaling 83.5 megawatts.

That number is significant because the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) has laid down targets for SDG&E — along with fellow utilities Pacific Gas & Electric and Southern California Edison — to add energy storage projects to their portfolios by the end of 2020.

Pending CPUC approval, SDG&E’s five new contracts will put the investor-owned utility on the cusp of meeting its energy storage mandate with more than three years to spare.

“I’m very pleased with the results of this solicitation and I’m confident we’ll achieve this mandate,” Emily Shults, SDG&E’s vice president of energy procurement, said on Tuesday.

Shults said the utility is asking the commission to approve the contracts by the end of this year.

The CPUC set SDG&E’s energy storage target for 2020 at 165 megawatts in three different areas. The new contracts would put SDG&E over the top in two energy storage domains (transmission and distribution) and just 7.5 megawatts shy in the third (customer or third-party owned).

Shults said the remaining 7.5 megawatts will likely come from commercial and industrial sources.

Pacific Gas & Electric and Southern California Edison were given larger energy storage targets — 580 megawatts each — but also seem to be well on their way to meeting their respective mandates.

PG&E officials said it has 225.3 megawatts of storage either in place or lined up whileEdison reported it has contracts that have 409 megawatts counting toward the target “which is almost double the amount that was installed in the entire nation in 2015.”

Energy storage comes in a variety of forms, ranging from such sources as batteries to pumped hydro, in which water is pumped uphill behind dams and then released, with the ensuing rush of water generating power.

State policymakers want to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to 80 percent below 1990 levels by 2050 and as California keeps integrating more renewable energy sources into its power grid, storage is increasingly seen as a key driver to keep the system operating.

For example, solar power has increased its percentage of in-state electricity generation from 0.4 percent in 2009 to 7.7 percent in 2015, the most recent year tabulated by the California Energy Commission.

But renewable sources have a problem with intermittency — that is, producing power from solar when the sun is not shining or from wind power when the wind isn’t blowing.

Energy storage technologies are designed to smooth out the ebbs and flows, as well as helping the state’s power mix become less reliant on natural gas.

Natural gas makes up 59.9 percent of in-state generation and the shutdown of the Aliso Canyon natural gas storage site in Los Angeles County after the massive methane leak at the facility has raised questions about the durability of the state’s power system.

The chief criticism of energy storage systems centers on cost. Some analysts have estimated the CPUC’s energy storage mandate may come to as much as $3 billion, which will be picked up by utility ratepayers.

Defenders of storage say costs are coming down rapidly. The management consulting firm McKinsey & Company came out with a report last August predicting costs will drop by half by 2020.

Shults would not disclose the cost of the five systems SDG&E contracted last week, citing confidentiality agreements.

All five of the systems use lithium-ion battery technology.

Two of the five facilities will be owned and operated by SDG&E — a 40-megawatt site that will be constructed by AES Energy Storage and a 30-megawatt facility in Miramar to be built by Renewable Energy Systems America.

Three other storage projects totaling 13.5 megawatts will be owned by third parties and constructed in Escondido, Poway and San Juan Capistrano.

SDG&E officials say the new facilities are like having batteries from more than 5,500 all-electric, long-range vehicles at the ready.

The most recent announcement comes less than two months after SDG&E unveiled another energy storage project — a 30-megawatt plant in Escondido that consists of 400,000 batteries. SDG&E partnered with Virginia-based AES Energy Storage on the facility.

Shults said she was not surprised at how fast the company is reaching its storage targets.

“Everybody in the industry is really focused on energy storage as being a solution to deal with renewable integration and bolstering reliability,” she said.

SDG&E Closes in on Energy Storage Goals, by Rob Nikolewski, The San Diego Union-Tribune, April 26, 2017.

Carmel Valley Board Backs Community Choice Energy

The Carmel Valley Community Planning Board supported community choice energy as a way for San Diego to promote cleaner energy and competitive energy rates at its April 27 board meeting. The vote for community choice was 9-1 with board member Kimberly Elliott voting against it.

In 2015, the planning board supported San Diego’s Climate Action Plan which calls for 100 percent clean and renewable energy and requires the city to reduce greenhouse gases by 50 percent by 2035.

“One of the key programs that’s going to get us to that 100 percent is community choice energy,” said Alicia Race, the community choice coordinator from the Climate Action Campaign, a non-profit organization doing a lot of education and outreach to help the city reach its goals.

The idea of community choice aggregation has spread throughout California—63 cities and nine counties have moved forward with community choice, including most recently Los Angeles County. Race said there’s a lot San Diego can learn from the “early adopters” like Marin County and Lancaster County, where residents have seen a 4.5 percent drop in their energy bills and the renewable energy content is higher.

San Diego City Council is expected to consider taking action on community choice this fall.

In February, the San Diego County Board of Supervisors voted not to go forward on a feasibility study on community choice aggregation, waiting instead to see how other jurisdictions fare. Currently Solana Beach is conducting a study on community choice and cities like Del Mar and Encinitas are also considering it.

Today, San Diego customers only have the one utility option of SDG&E.

“SDG&E has two roles, they purchase our energy and deliver that energy to our homes. Unfortunately the majority of that fuel that’s powering our lifestyles is still coming from dirty fuel sources and in San Diego we have the highest rates in California when it comes to our bills,” Race said.

Race said just as people can now choose how they watch or stream TV or who provides their cellphone service, San Diego residents should also have a choice when it comes to their electricity.

“We see community choice energy as a public and private partnership between the city and the utility. With community choice, the city would set up a non-profit entity that would take over purchasing that power and because of the Climate Action Plan, they would be buying the fuel from renewable energy sources. SDG&E would continue delivering that power over their lines and their infrastructure which is where they make the majority of their money and that power would still go to your home,” Race said “It shifts our power from a for-profit to a non-profit model, breaking up the monopoly and giving us control here locally and accountability to set our rates.”

Customers would always have a choice to opt out as well.

Race said right now millions of dollars are leaving San Diego to pay for electric generation elsewhere and over time, a local community choice entity can start to build infrastructure here and purchase power locally.

“Ninety percent of buildings in San Diego are solar viable so this could be an incentive to start harnessing that energy,” Race said, noting that would led to an increase in local jobs and economic development.

Environment California Research and Policy Center’s “Shining Cities” report recently ranked San Diego first in the nation in solar installation with 303 megawatts of installed solar capacity. Researchers said that San Diego currently has enough solar capacity to power the equivalent of nearly 76,000 homes.

One resident said it might be worthwhile for the utility to present their reasons for opposing or supporting community choice. Utilities are barred from using ratepayer dollars to lobby on programs like community choice however state law does allow investor-owned utilities to set up independent, shareholder-funded marketing districts. SDG&E’s parent company Sempra Energy has developed the marketing arm Sempra Services Corporation.

At February’s supervisor meeting, Frank Urtasun of Sempra Services Corp recommended that the county refrain from adopting community choice as the best practice on renewable energy until all available alternatives are explored. He argued that community choice can discourage investments in renewable projects and that there’s no guarantee that it will result in more renewables and lower emissions.

One resident shared concerns about the infrastructure costs now that there’s more solar now than anyone thought there would be.

“The cost of solar is coming down. When a developer builds a new community, he puts solar on each of the 100 homes. The homes pay zero to the utility, the utility has to put all the distribution in, has to put in all the backup power for night and cloudy days and then has to buy a $10 million battery pack because the surge is so great. So then they’ve got a $30 million investment in these 100 homes and they’re paying zero,” the resident said. “It’s a broken model which is way beyond what she’s trying to solve and way beyond what your committee is trying to solve when it gets to electric generation, electric distribution, solar, who pays and who doesn’t pay.”

The resident said he has solar and he doesn’t pay— he gets a credit.

Board member Laura Copic argued for the most part people who have solar are not paying zero, they have to pay to connect to the grid and store energy.

Copic said she sees a lot of value in transitioning from a for-profit to a non-profit.

“Whenever there is an issue like a fire or nuclear plant issue, all of the costs associated with those things seems to fall to the burden of the ratepayers and never to the investors. It is the company’s job to maximize shareholder value, however the shareholder does take on a risk and that never seems to be the case with SDG&E,” Copic said. “In that sense I would like to see a competitor.”

As Race said competition is the “American way”, people like having options.

“We see this really as adding an option, something that’s popular and moving across the state, that will help us get to that 100 percent goal,” Race said.

Carmel Valley Board Backs Community Choice Energy, by Karen Billing, Carmel Valley News, May 3, 2017.

Encinitas Wins Clean Energy Award

The city of Encinitas has been honored by the Climate Action Campaign with the Agents of Change Award.

The Climate Action Campaign is a San Diego-based organization with the simple mission of stopping climate change through policy action.

The award, presented April 12 at the NightCAP Annual Awards Celebration event, honors public institutions that move toward 100% clean energy. The city of Encinitas earned the distinction for leading the exploration of a possible joint Community Choice Energy program across North County cities.

Forming a Community Choice Energy program could offer residents and businesses a choice in their energy supply for cleaner and renewable sources of electricity.

“Our community values include being good stewards of the environment,” said Crystal Najera, the city’s Climate Action Program Administrator. “We’re committed to creating opportunities for our residents and business owners to provide their input on how they’d like to see the city move toward sustainable energy. We did just that through the exploration of Community Choice Energy over the past year and through our current efforts to update the City’s Climate Action Plan.”

Jim Wang, an Environmental Commissioner for Encinitas, was also honored with the Unsung Hero award. The Climate Action Campaign awarded Wang for being a champion of bold climate action and persistently pushing forward the Community Choice Energy and Climate Action Plan efforts in Encinitas through his role on the Encinitas Environmental Commission.

For more information on the city of Encinitas environmental efforts, visit the Climate Action web page at www.encinitasca.gov/climate.

Encinitas Wins Clean Energy Award, by Bart Grundig, Seaside Courier, April 30, 2017.

SDG&E Plans More Energy Storage To Meet State Goal, Boost Renewables

San Diego Gas & Electric (SDG&E) has signed contracts for five new local battery storage facilities for a total of 83.5 MW. According to the California utility, the four-hour energy storage facilities would be like having batteries from more than 5,500 all-electric, long-range vehicles at the ready. All five of the battery projects will be able to store supplies of solar, wind and other traditional sources and release it when energy is in high demand, the company adds.

In addition, SDG&E has signed a contract to add a 4.5 MW demand response program, and the company has submitted all six contracts to the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) for approval.

If approved, two of the five lithium-ion battery energy storage facilities will be owned and operated by SDG&E to enhance regional energy reliability while maximizing renewable energy use. AES Energy Storage will construct a 40 MW storage facility, building on its successful 37.5 MW of deployments in Escondido and El Cajon, Calif. A 30 MW facility will be built in Miramar by Renewable Energy Systems Americas Inc. (RES). The other storage projects totaling 13.5 MW will be owned by third parties including Powin Energy, Enel Green Power North America and Advanced Microgrid Solutions.

“These projects will add more flexibility to the system and help us to ensure reliability while providing greater levels of clean energy to all of our local communities,” says Emily Shults, SDG&E’s vice president of energy procurement. “By building these projects, SDG&E will remain at the forefront of helping the state achieve its bold clean-energy and carbon-emission targets.”

The CPUC has set targets for investor-owned utilities to procure large amounts of energy storage by 2020, including 165 MW by SDG&E. With these five new projects, SDG&E says it is on track to meet this goal. The new facilities are expected to come online between December 2019 and late 2021.

The utility notes that the proposed demand response program, to be run by OhmConnect, will also add flexibility to the system. Beginning in early 2018, OhmConnect will request industrial and commercial customers who have enrolled in the demand response program to reduce energy usage within 20 minutes of being called during certain days and hours. This process will be conducted by the California Independent System Operator and/or SDG&E as needed.

SDG&E Plans More Energy Storage To Meet State Goal, Boost Renewables, by Joseph Bebon, Solar Industry, April 20, 2017.

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.