At last, Community Choice

On Sept. 18, the SLO City Council approved a Community Choice Energy (CCE) program in accordance with California’s Community Choice Aggregation law. The council also directed staff to come back with a plan that will make the city “carbon neutral” by 2035, one of the most ambitious greenhouse gas reduction goals in the world, beating California’s just-announced state goal by 10 years. The new Central Coast Community Energy program will help make that zero carbon footprint happen.

There’s room in that program for every city in the county. Morro Bay was the first to sign on, with an expeditious vote at its Sept. 25 City Council meeting to pass an ordinance and resolution establishing a Community Choice program and Joint Powers Agreement with San Luis Obispo. The program is scheduled to launch in 2020.

Per the city of SLO’s Community Choice Energy page, this, in a nutshell, is the reason why these two cities have planted this flag:

• Sustainability: Significant increase in renewable energy generation and reduction of greenhouse gas emissions.

• Economics: Competitive and stable rates. CCEs also help support the local economy through jobs creation and local power development.

• Customer Choice: Competition and choice in the local electricity market, providing ratepayers with options about their power supplier and level of clean energy they wish to support.

• Community Control: CCEs are community-run, mission-driven, and accountable to the people and businesses they serve.

How big a deal is this? When PG&E sent out the press release announcing the pending closure of Diablo Canyon and listing the reasons why, the list concluded with the potential departure of PG&E’s customers to Community Choice Energy programs.

In short, CCE is the future of energy in California, and Sept. 18 through 25 was an historic week for the Central Coast. So, this seems like a good time to wax historical.

Ten years ago, two little-noticed events transpired in two other local government meetings, which the Sierra Club predicted at the time “will be recalled years from now as flashpoints for historic changes that made all the difference between a good quality of life and an unlivable one for every resident of the Central Coast.”

The first occurred on Jan. 8, 2008, at the San Luis Obispo City Council. The council moved to adopt a needs assessment for a greenhouse gas emissions inventory. That was because, two years previously, the Sierra Club had noticed that a greenhouse gas emissions inventory was absent from the city’s update of its general plan. We wrote some draft policy language, went to the planning commission at its final meeting on the update, read it into the microphone, and it promptly became Energy Policy 4.30.18.

One day later and a few blocks away, the first opportunity to create a feasibility study for CCE was brought before the SLO Council of Governments.

It wasn’t the first time the Council of Governments had heard about Community Choice Aggregation (CCA). At a Regional Energy Planning Conference at Cal Poly in 2007, local elected officials indicated a strong interest in pursuing CCA as a tool for energy planning. A year before that, at the Smart Energy Solutions Summit at the SLO Vets Hall, Paul Fenn, the author of California’s CCA law, explained the concept of CCA to San Luis Obispo for the first time, telling a packed house that Community Choice would be “the best thing to happen to the environment in this community in a hundred years.” Both events were created by the Strategic Energy Alliance for Change, which the Sierra Club’s Santa Lucia chapter co-founded in 2006 to advance the cause of Community Choice.

In 2012, we noticed another crucial omission in a city policy when SLO’s Climate Action Plan was in draft. Sierra Club and SLO Clean Energy, a citizens group that organized that year for the express purpose of bringing Community Choice Energy to the Central Coast, pointed out to city planning commissioners that CCA should be part of the plan. They put it in.

Of course, there was more to this story than the above. The tale of what it took to get to this point could fill the rest of this issue. It has been a long road—with switchbacks, potholes, roadblocks, and booby traps; op eds, town halls, and student projects; meetings with city managers and elected officials … but here we are, and the landscape looks very different than it did 12 years ago. The long road has gotten us to the point where we can now take the first step on the real journey.

The struggle to get a declaration of clean energy independence is always followed by the fight to keep it. According to state Sen. Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco), “Every year, there are probably three or four different efforts—sometimes with a fresh bill, sometimes with a quiet amendment inserted into another bill, other times trying to push something through at the last moment—to try [to] blow up CCAs.”

Good luck and safe travels to us all. Δ

Andrew Christie is director of the Santa Lucia Chapter of the Sierra Club.


At last, Community Choice, by Andrew Christie, New Times San Luis Obispo, October 4, 2018.

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