Nothing at the Redondo Beach City Council seems to happen these days without controversy. In the final minutes of Tuesday’s council meeting, two demonstrators scolded the governing body and questioned the science behind global warming.
It was the last meeting for Mayor Steve Aspel, who lost his re-election bid earlier this month and for outgoing Councilmember Stephen Sammarco.
The incident occurred during a debate over whether to continue studying a plan to reduce utility rates through a Joint Power Authority. The motion called to study a proposal to join a nonprofit Community Choice Aggregation program among 14 cities. Similar agencies have formed throughout California and in six other states.
Taking advantage of a California law passed in 2002, cities can collectively purchase electricity through a nonprofit public agency and sell it back to ratepayers at a lower price and from greater levels of renewable sources.
The proposed South Bay Clean Power CCA would be the largest in the state, serving 660,000 people, although the County of Los Angeles is also looking at forming one even larger.
The public debate on Tuesday hinged on climate change denial and big government.
“This is a special interest boondoggle,” argued Arthur Schaper, the vocal leader of the Beach Cities Republican Club, which lost its official charter last month after a dispute with the Los Angeles County Republican Party.
“This is another government subsidy propping up alternative energy. It’s a waste of money and a waste of time,” Schaper said.
“This is more government,” said Gary Johnson, who along with Schaper, showed up with signs in protest. “You’re talking about spending lots of money with no guarantee you’ll get it back.”
In the end, the council stood divided by a 2-1-1 vote with Sammarco abstaining, Councilmember Laura Emdee voting against, mayor-elect Bill Brand and Councilmember Christian Horvath voting for the proposal. Councilmember Martha Barbee left halfway through the meeting due to illness.
There was some confusion regarding whether the direction to staff passed or failed—while ordinances and resolutions require a larger majority, a direction to staff needs a simple majority. City Attorney Mike Webb said because the motion was a policy decision, the resolution passed.
“Given the confusion, it would be unfair to both sides,” Webb said. “Since the mayor-elect is sworn in on (April 4th), since this is a policy thing going forward, my recommendation is we just place it for further discussion on the next meeting.”
The issue will come before the council again in coming months after new councilmembers take office and the plan is shopped around to other cities, according to Joe Galliani, who heads the South Bay Clean Power Working Group, which has been studying the idea for nearly three years.
Galliani will head next to Palos Verdes Estates, Torrance and Manhattan Beach among others to gauge support before likely bringing the matter back to Redondo. In Hermosa Beach, the city council is considering a host of options that include forming its own CCA, joining with the county or with other cities.
A recent feasibility study looking at ongoing CCAs and factoring in local conditions found the South Bay agency could lower utility rates by as much as 5 percent with 50 percent renewable sources and 1 percent lower with 100 percent renewables.
Horvath, who has been looking at this idea since the plan was first considered two years ago, called it a “no-brainer.”
From a consumer’s point of view, nothing will change. Power would still be delivered by Southern California Edison, which is reportedly neutral on the idea. Ratepayers would still receive their bill from SCE.
“We don’t see this as competition with Edison,” Galliani said. “They put out a white paper that says they see themselves as a delivery service and not focused on procurement anymore.”
Under the proposal, consumers could choose to have 33 percent, 50 percent or a full 100 percent of their power being derived from renewable sources, helping to meet the state’s carbon reduction goals. SCE currently offers customers only up to 28 percent renewable energy.
Forming a CCA does come with initial costs both in staff time, funds to form the organization and so-called “exit costs” charged by the utility. Those costs are still largely unknown, but in the case of other CCAs in California, they have been recouped in less than two years, Galliani said.
Part of the plan also calls for investments in local renewable energy projects such as solar arrays, something well received by Joe Solomon a leader with the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 11.
Solomon called CCAs “job creators” that have led to “hundreds of apprenticeships” to work in solar fields.
“We’ve seen CCAs come a long way,” Solomon told the city council. “Nearly all of them are providing lower rates and cleaner energy. These are some of the most forward-thinking agencies around.”
If the plan is approved later this year, Redondo Beach residents could enroll by the summer of 2018.
—Kelcie Pegher contributed
Redondo Beach May Get into the Alternative Energy Game, by David Rosenfeld, The Beach Reporter, March 22, 2017.