San Diego Searching for New Solar Sites

As it tries to find ways to get more green energy, San Diego is studying spots to install new solar arrays across the city.

Clean Coalition, a Menlo Park-based nonprofit, is spending the next year and a half looking for places that can host “meaningfully-sized” solar projects. The effort is paid for by a federal grantmeant to help the city reach its goal of receiving only clean energy by 2035.

Environmentalists have argued that smaller, local solar projects can help the city wean itself off power from big companies with big projects, like San Diego Gas & Electric.

Right now, there are tens of thousands of rooftop solar projects installed by residents and businesses across the city, but the goal of the study would be to find room for larger ones. Officials are looking not for the huge solar farms one finds in the desert, but for solar arrays that would fit in empty lots, over parking lots or across large rooftops.

“There’s actually quite a bit of large industrial space in San Diego,” said John Bernhardt, a spokesman for Clean Coalition.

According to SDG&E, about 3 percent of the power its customers use comes from solar projects installed by the customers themselves.

The company has huge solar farms elsewhere, but it also has its own smaller, local solar projects within the county — about 40 of which are projects around the size of those that Clean Coalition is looking to find room for.

Clean Coalition is also going to propose different ways to help pay for these solar installations. Officials could direct more money to certain projects if they are in low-income neighborhoods, are built on top of already developed land or are connected with batteries that allow solar power to be stored to use at night.

Clean Coalition has done similar work for East Bay Community Energy, a government-run power agency starting soon in and around Oakland. San Diego is thinking about forming its own agency to buy and sell clean energy, but it is also entertaining an offer from SDG&E to do the same thing on the city’s behalf.

Bernhardt said his group’s work can be used by either the city or SDG&E to find places to build new, local solar projects.

SDG&E has a complicated relationship with local solar projects, in part because it may not make as much money from them.

 

Click here for full article.

Environment Report San Diego Searching for New Solar Sites, by Ry Rivard, Voice of San Diego, May 21, 2018.

City board to SDG&E: Drop dead

Recommendations from an advisory board to San Diego’s city council and Mayor Kevin Faulconer that a clean energy plan from San Diego Gas & Electric be rejected could clear the way for the city to form its own utility to compete with the energy giant.

“The Sustainable Energy Advisory Board for the City of San Diego cannot support SDG&E’s proposal for a 100% Renewable Energy Program as presented at this time,” reads a decision from the board issued last week.

In late 2015, the city adopted a climate action plan calling for 100% of San Diego’s energy consumption to be sourced from renewable sources by 2035.

According to the board, SDG&E has been aware of criteria needed to meet this goal for “nearly three years,” but its proposals have been light on details. Last month, the board sent its latest request to the utility to respond to questions, including ratepayer fees to fund the transition to renewables or to allow them to opt out of utility service.

The latter option would be available should San Diego turn to community choice energy, a system under which SDG&E would retain ownership and maintenance responsibility for power infrastructure, but the electricity flowing through the lines would be purchased by a non-profit entity and then sold to ratepayers. Similar programs in Northern California have resulted in lower rates for customers.

A feasibility study completed last July and approved by the board in November found that community choice would be a viable option for the city, providing ratepayer savings even if the cost of wholesale solar power doubles as compared to current market rates.

“As noted in the Peer Review, ‘the main challenge associated with SDG&E’s proposal is the requirement to obtain [California Public Utilities Commission] approval for any program…other challenges include how SDG&E would address potential cost shifts to non-City customers,'” notes the board report’s conclusion.

City board to SDG&E: Drop dead, by Dave Rice, The San Diego Reader, May 18, 2018.

SDG&E Will Find it Hard to Put the Brakes on Gas

During the past decade, San Diego Gas & Electric has moved quickly to comply with California’s ambitious clean energy policy.

By 2030, half the electricity sold in the state must be renewable, which largely means wind and solar power. Right now, only about a quarter of the state’s power is considered renewable, but 43 percent of SDG&E’s power already is.

Now, though, there’s pressure on the company to shed even more of its gas-fired power within the next two decades. Cities across California – including San Diego – are looking to a future without fossil fuels of any sort. The city has a goal of being 100 percent coal- and gas-free by 2035, a plan more ambitious than even the state’s aggressive plans.

At least 42 percent of SDG&E’s electricity is still generated by burning gas – even though the company has bought wind and solar power, and got rid of coal, nuclear and hydroelectric power.

There are all kinds of technical challenges to overcome before any major city’s grid can be fossil fuel-free. Environmentalists are counting on falling solar prices and improved battery technology to make reaching the goal both possible and affordable. Even if the city goes to 100 percent renewable, there’s some interest in keeping gas plants around to help meet peaks in demand.

But it’s become clear that SDG&E hasn’t planned for lots of gas to go away anytime soon. SDG&E owns and has long-term deals for a whole bunch of gas-fired power.

“Natural gas continues to be an essential element of the state’s overall energy picture and is needed as a critical backup to ensure reliable power,” company spokesman Joe Britton said in an email.

The company owns four gas-fired plants – three in San Diego and one in Nevada.

It’s also planning to spend $280 million to buy a fifth, the Otay Mesa Energy Center along the border.

The company is fighting to keep the California Public Utilities Commission from interfering with the deal.

Bill Powers, an environmental activist, said it makes no sense to for SDG&E to be buying more gas-fired power right now – except that SDG&E can make customers pay for power, even if they don’t need it.

“They can get to 100 percent of this boneyard full of gas projects we’re paying for,” he said.

On top of that, another gas plant near the border came online in fall 2016. That’s known as the Pio Pico Energy Center. And yet another gas-fired plant, the Carlsbad Energy Center, is expected to fire up soon to serve SDG&E, though it’s replacing an older plant in Carlsbad that is about to be shut down. The company contracts for power from the two plants, but doesn’t own them.

The company gets power in one of two basic ways. It either owns a plant that generates power, or it signs a contract to buy power from another company that does. Almost all of the company’s renewable power comes from contracts with companies that own wind or solar farms, though one of the largest is a deal SDG&E signed to buy power from its parent company, Sempra Energy.

Much of its gas-fired power comes from plants the company owns. The biggest of those plants, the Palomar Energy Center, won’t be paid off until 2036.

According to a review of recent state and federal regulatory filings, the SDG&E’s longest renewable energy contracts of any significance expire in 2041, while its longest contract for gas power – the Pio Pico deal – expires in May 2042. That’s seven years after the 2035 deadline the city of San Diego set to be gas-free.

Pio Pico and the new Carlsbad plant are both “peaker plants,” which means they don’t run all the time. Instead, they start up and shut down when they’re needed, when demand for power peaks. The agreements for those plants require all electricity customers in SDG&E’s service territory to pay for that gas-fired power for years to come.

The city of San Diego is thinking about forming its own agency to buy and sell power, unless SDG&E can provide some way to provide only clean energy – but because of those deals, even customers who want only clean energy could be paying for gas plants.

Britton said even when the plants are not running they remain important because they’ll help provide backup for wind and solar power, because those sources become useless at night or in calm weather.

SDG&E also owns pipelines that bring gas into the region. It makes money from that, too.

On average, 42 percent of the natural gas used in San Diego goes to electric generation, though that can sometimes reach as high as 70 percent on some days.

“It’s not just the gas itself, it’s the infrastructure,” said Steven Weissman, a senior policy adviser at the Center for Sustainable Energy in Berkeley.

SDG&E recently proposed a major new pipeline to bring gas south into Southern California, but a draft decision by a CPUC judge rejected the $640 million project because the state is trying to move away from gas.

“Applicants have not shown why it is necessary to build a very costly pipeline to substantially increase gas pipeline capacity in an era of declining demand and at a time when the state of California is moving away from fossil fuels,” the draft decision said.

Still, there is some evidence the company could shift away from gas if it wanted. For one thing, it’s been able to increase its use of renewables quickly without affecting reliability.

A decade ago, just 8 percent of the company’s power was renewable. Now, 43 percent of it is. That’s a larger percentage of renewable power than California’s two other major power companies.

It’s also told the city of San Diego that it could be 100 percent renewable – even though it offered no specifics on how that would happen. That’s a change from the company’s position as recently as 2015, when it was adamant that any plan to abandon gas lacked credibility.

The energy market changes quickly. At times, SDG&E and its parent company, Sempra, have struggled to foresee changes.

A decade ago, Sempra bet big that California would import most of its natural gas from across the Pacific Ocean.

That idea’s shelf life was short.

At about the same time the company opened a $1 billion plant on the west coast of Mexico to import liquefied natural gas from Indonesia, American gas drillers figured out a new way to get more gas out of the ground. This abundant gas – drawn up by fracking gas-filled rocks known as shale – transformed the energy market, shoving aside nuclear power and drowning out coal.

Today there is so much natural gas in this country, Sempra is now looking to export gas from the west coast of Mexico.

That total reversal is, in a nutshell, a sign of how rapidly things are changing.

SDG&E’s ongoing gas-related bet over the past 20 years has been on gas, particularly that gas would remain the fuel of the future, or at least the next several decades.

That idea also seems to have an increasingly short shelf life.

SDG&E’s bet isn’t a wild one. Not only is gas cheap and abundant, but even environmentalists have touted natural gas as “bridge fuel.” That’s because when natural gas is burnt to generate power, it’s cleaner than coal and can be used in places and at times where solar power and wind power is unavailable.

Cleaner is no longer clean enough, though, at least not for Californian lawmakers and environmentalists.

The company does want to shut down one gas plant a few years sooner than expected. That is its Desert Star plant in Nevada in 2026. The reason is not environmental, though: SDG&E failed to understand the terms of the lease for the land the plant sits on, according to the CPUC’s Office of Ratepayer Advocates.

Disclosure: Mitch Mitchell, SDG&E’s vice president for government affairs, sits on Voice of San Diego’s board of directors.

 

SDG&E Will Find it Hard to Put the Brakes on Gas, by Ry Rivard, Voice of San Diego, May 15, 2018.

CCA Set for Debut in Solana Beach

With the county’s first community choice aggregation program set to launch in a few weeks, Solana Beach residents should have received their first enrollment notices, which provide information, rates and an initial opportunity to opt out.

As of June 1, Solana Energy Alliance, or SEA, will be the default energy provider for San Diego’s second smallest city.

Under community choice aggregation — considered an effective way to reach state-mandated greenhouse gas emission reductions — customers will receive one bill from San Diego Gas & Electric Co., which will continue to deliver power, maintain the grid and provide customer and field services.

SEA will offer two power options. SEA Choice, the most cost-effective rate, is made up of 50 percent renewable and 75 percent greenhouse-gas-free energy. SEA Green is 100 percent renewable at a slightly higher cost.

State law mandates that community choice aggregation be an automatic opt-in program. However, customers can opt out and remain with SDG&E without penalty between now and 60 days after SEA launches.

Those who opt out more than 60 days after SEA service starts will be charged a processing fee by SDG&E and will not have the option to return to SEA for one year.

SEA will not charge a termination fee. SDG&E will charge customers authorized fees for delivering power to homes or businesses and for providing other services.

Those components of the electric bill are the same whether customers buy electricity from SEA or SDG&E.

SEA customers will continue to receive a single monthly bill from SDG&E that includes all applicable electric charges, including SEA’s power generation fees.

SDG&E will also charge SEA customers a power charge indifference adjustment, referred to as PCIA, and a franchise fee surcharge, both of which are calculated based on the number of kilowatt hours used each month.

The PCIA is intended to ensure that customers who remain with SDG&E are not negatively impacted by customers moving to SEA. The PCIA is currently 1 cent to just under 2 cents per kilowatt hour.

Solana Beach has been working for more than seven years to create community choice aggregation, also called community choice energy, in an effort to have more local control over energy procurement and to offer residents and customers cleaner energy choices at somewhat lower rates.

According to the current schedule, SEA Choice customers will see about a 3 percent reduction in their monthly energy bills. Additionally, solar users will receive a higher credit compensation.

While the program was being developed, most people who weighed in either during public hearings or via email supported CCA. Some, however, were skeptical, including former Mayor Ginger Marshall.

She said she was opposed when the city approved the program last year because of concerns and unanswered questions about costs and regulatory processes.

She said she would prefer to wait until Solana Beach could join with other nearby cities who are currently considering the option, including Del Mar, Encinitas, Carlsbad and Oceanside.

Council members said they have not ruled out the possibility of partnering with those or other cities in the future.

To review rates, opt out or upgrade to SEA Green, visit www.SolanaEnergyAlliance.org or call (858)720-4422. Customers choosing to stay with SDG&E should have their electric bill handy to more easily process the request.

The website also features a section for frequently asked questions.

 

CCA set for debut in county, by Bianca Kaplanek, The Coast News Group, May 10, 2018.

The City’s Two Paths to Clean Power

One way or another, the city is about to rearrange a bunch of electrons.

Right now, much of San Diego’s electricity comes from local power plants that burn natural gas to create electricity. City officials want to ditch that power and replace it with green energy to meet their goal of using only clean power by 2035.

Don’t expect to see windmills or solar farms popping up all over the city just yet, though. So far, it’s unclear where all the new power will come from.

There are two paths to get 100 percent renewable energy. This will be energy, mostly solar and wind, that doesn’t emit greenhouse gases.

The city could form its own utility to buy and sell power to its 1.4 million residents. If this happens, San Diego Gas & Electric would still own its power lines but the city would choose what power runs through them.

The other path is to let SDG&E keep its monopoly but change how it does business.

The city has determined it’s possible to start its own utility but is still working on a business plan for how it would operate.

SDG&E has made a counter offer to avoid having to compete with the city. But it’s so thin on details that the company is testing the patience of city staff.

How a City-Run Utility Would Get to Green Power

If San Diego decides to compete against SDG&E, the city will join dozens of other local governments in California. By the mid-2020s, most of the power consumed in the state could come from cities that are doing their own buying and selling.

At first, these government-run utilities buy nearly all of their power from the energy market – a pool of power that is traded every day – and through relatively short-term contracts with existing power plants, hydroelectric facilities or wind and solar farms.

This power is currently pretty cheap, which allows cities to beat the prices charged by the state’s three major power companies – SDG&E, Southern California Edison and Pacific Gas & Electric. But relying on the market can mean relying on power from far away, and on power that may not reduce greenhouse gas emissions locally or at all.

Slowly, some of these local agencies – known as community choice aggregators, or CCAs – are also beginning to build their own power supplies or to sign long-term contracts.

That’s nearly everybody’s goal. It’s the only way to provide price and supply stability. It’s also the only way to satisfy environmentalists and unions.

Environmentalists want self-sustainable communities.

Unions want jobs. In particular, unions here want a guarantee that new power for San Diego will come from local projects, which unions define as anything built in San Diego or Imperial counties. So far, the unions haven’t gotten the guarantees they’re looking for from the city or from SDG&E.

“At this point, neither proposal has what we want to see in it, so we’re educating on the benefits of what we’d like to see,” said Lydia Van Note, the environmental organizer for the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, Local 569.

The challenge is coming up with the money to pay for local projects. Land in Southern California can be expensive – and the state’s environmental laws, ironically in this case, can be used to stall any kind of new development.

There is one major energy project already in the works: For years, the city and the San Diego County Water Authority have talked about building a giant water battery in East County that could store green energy. The project would attempt to make money off daily changes in energy prices and provide enough green energy to power 325,000 homes.

After nearly a decade in business, the oldest of the state’s CCAs, Marin Clean Energy, says it has committed $1.6 billion to build new renewable generation, mostly wind and solar farms, in California. Unions have criticized the agency in the past for buying far-away power, but most of its new projects employ union workers. Still, many of the projects are in the Central Valley or Northern California, away from Marin’s San Francisco Bay Area customers.

Power companies have argued that it’s mostly wealthy areas, like Marin County – one of the richest in the state – that are starting CCAs. The insinuation is that only elites can afford clean energy. This masks two things.

First, some low-income communities are served by CCAs. Marin also provides power to the Contra Costa County city of Richmond, which has a higher poverty rate than the state as a whole.

Second, so far, government-run power has been cheaper than the power offered by the power companies.

A new CCA, East Bay Community Energy, is expected to begin selling power later this year to most of Alameda County, which includes Oakland, a city that is both booming because of the nearby tech sector but also home to extraordinary poverty.

Anne Olivia Eldred, an organizer for the California Nurses Association, is head of East Bay Community Energy’s community advisory committee.

She’s pushing to make sure projects are built in Alameda County. Right off the bat, the agency’s power will be slightly cheaper than PG&E’s, but it will all come from the market or contracts. Edlred said she is making sure the agency has a plan to change that.

“Because you can’t launch with everything you want in the world, but if you don’t plan for it, it will be very difficult,” she said.

The first CCA in San Diego County will be Solana Beach’s. The agency is supposed to be up and running in several weeks, but City Manager Gregory Wade said this week he wasn’t sure yet where the power would be coming from. The city hired a company, Florida-based The Energy Authority, to do the purchasing.

“We will not have the breakdown of renewable procurement generation sources until sometime in June,” Wade said in an email. “As soon as we have it, we will make it available.”

If San Diego starts a CCA, it’s not clear yet when it will have enough money to begin making major local investments.

How SDG&E Would Get to Green Power

It’s also not clear what SDG&E’s plans are if it’s able to hang on to its monopoly. While it employs thousands of workers locally, including at several gas plants in the county, some of its biggest projects are not local. According to a 2016 filing, three of its 10 largest sources of renewable energy are in Montana, Mexico and Arizona. The others are in California. About 43 percent of SDG&E’s power is considered green.

SDG&E has told the city it could concentrate on building projects in San Diego and Imperial. But it’s not made a firm offer about what, when or where it would build anything. This stands in contrast to some major companies – including some, like Apple, that are not power companies – that have moved quickly to use only clean energy.

Kendall Helm, SDG&E’s director of portfolio optimization, said the company is offering the city a chance to use the company’s experience to buy the kind of power the city wants.

“It’s different than just saying, ‘You go do this and come back in year 2035 when you have completed the mission’ – they wanted to have local input,” Helm said.

A consultant hired by the city said SDG&E’s offer lacked details. But that seems intentional, because the company doesn’t seem to have a vision yet of how it would transform the grid itself.

“I do not have that personal vision of what that would look like, but what SDG&E has a vision on is what would be the most prudent process to follow to put a strategy in place,” Helm said.

City staff, though, seem a bit frustrated by this.

In an April 24 letter to the company, the city’s chief sustainability officer, Cody Hooven, said, “SDG&E’s response provided a concept for the city to consider, but did not provide a fully described program proposal.”

CCAs aren’t just trying to get new power, they also want to actively get rid of old, dirtier power.

East Bay Community Energy is working to replace a power plant in Oakland that burns jet fuel. PG&E, which was once hostile to cities trying to enter the power market, is cooperating.

Ironically, Dynegy, the same company that once owned a plant on Chula Vista’s bayfront, owns the Oakland plant. The air-polluting eyesore helped prompt Chula Vista officials to consider forming their own utility years ago. SDG&E successfully killed that effort. The plant was eventually torn down.

It’s plants like that, though, that environmentalists argue show power companies have traditionally failed to look out for communities.

“I believe the reason that CCAs developed is because there is a need to change our relationship to power,” Eldred said. “Currently it functions as a rotating debt that is paid every month and we have the opportunity to create a public resource that we can use to address the needs of our community.”

 

The City’s Two Paths to Clean Power, by Ry Rivard, Voice of San Diego, May 2, 2018.

San Diego newest city fighting to ditch the power company

SAN DIEGO — Seeking control over the way their electricity was generated and paid for, Cape Cod, Massachusetts, residents banded together two decades ago to bypass the local utility and buy power in bulk.

Driven, in part, by local mandates to shift to green-energy sources, the movement has gained momentum across the country, allowing customers to choose their electricity provider, as they can do with telephone service. A growing number of California’s local governments are offering a program similar to the Cape Cod model, as are communities in New York state, Illinois and other parts of Massachusetts.

The model has met growing resistance from traditional retailers of power, which have found profits squeezed as energy-efficient appliances and residential solar installations reduce demand.

The idea is getting a major test in San Diego, where the City Council is expected to vote this year on whether to adopt the same approach.

Having a choice has generally meant lower rates for customers. They can also tell their provider that they want electricity from climate-friendly sources, an option that proponents say has helped speed the construction of solar and wind farms. But that doesn’t mean everyone is a fan.

Critics of the San Diego plan — backed by an affiliate of the local utility, the San Diego Gas and Electric Co. — have started a political-style ad campaign on social media, raising concern that taxpayers could be on the hook for billions of dollars if the program went wrong.

They have made the case that major changes to California’s energy policies gave rise to an energy crisis in 2000 and 2001 that caused rolling blackouts and soaring power bills. And they formed an alliance, the Clean Air Coalition, that includes leaders of organizations funded by the power company, among them a group of African-American pastors.

That’s when the campaign became more than Bishop George McKinney could stand.

McKinney, pastor of St. Stephen’s Cathedral Church of God in Christ here for the last 55 years, said he believed that those attacking the program, including fellow African-American clergy members, were doing so only because of financial support from the utility company.

“I think that the inner-city residents are being taken advantage of,” the 85-year-old bishop said. “The cost of energy now is escalating in the community. There has to be someone who is willing to speak truth to power.”

The move toward such government-run electricity programs, known as community choice aggregation, has been gathering steam over the last year in Southern California, with Los Angeles County adopting the effort and recruiting dozens of cities to enroll. Similar programs have been operating in Northern California for almost a decade.

Broad success of the community choice movement in California could contribute to a substantial reshaping of the West’s energy market. Managers of the state’s complex power grid would have to factor in the supply agreements struck by these new energy players while ensuring that service remained reliable.

San Diego Gas and Electric, a subsidiary of Sempra Energy, is one of California’s three big shareholder-owned utilities, along with Pacific Gas and Electric and Southern California Edison. Together they serve about 70 percent of California’s electricity customers and have been raising concerns about the impact of government-run utility programs on their businesses.

“We support customers’ right to choose an energy provider that best meets their needs,” said Helen Gao, a spokeswoman for the San Diego utility. “At the same time, we have an obligation to protect customers who remain.”

When local governments adopt community choice programs, they typically require the traditional utilities to maintain the network of power lines and often the billing for all customers. California programs are usually designed so that customers are automatically enrolled in community choice and must opt out to go back with the utility company.

Utilities argue that the required services impose an unfair financial burden on them and ultimately their remaining customers.

California regulators are expected to have a proposal by summer’s end about how much community choice programs should pay the power companies in so-called exit fees to make up for the loss of customers.

If the fees are too high, though, community choice provides no savings to consumers. If the fees are too low, the utility companies might not be able to cover their costs.

San Diego, like dozens of other cities nationwide, proposes to reach 100 percent carbon-free electricity. The city has a target date of 2035.

After reviewing feasibility studies, city leaders determined that one of the few ways they could reach their goal was through a community choice program supported by the development of new solar and wind facilities locally and with neighboring California counties. In addition, any cost to carry out the program would be recouped within five years, they said, citing a Northern California county that covered its $2.7 million in expenses within two years.

“I’m not saying these guys are bad, and we’re the white hats,” Beth Vaughan, executive director of the California Community Choice Association, said about the utility companies. “What I’m saying is times are changing. It makes sense to me that the communities want to have a say.”

Mark Pruitt, principal of the Illinois Community Choice Aggregation Network, said savings to ratepayers through the state’s program had diminished over time from as high as 30 percent compared with the utility companies down to 5 percent or less.

When community choice programs begin, they have an advantage over utilities: Particularly with the falling prices of solar and wind power, they can often secure wholesale contracts at better terms than the long-term agreements that the incumbents are locked into.

In some cases, however, the utilities offer lower rates in Illinois than the community choice programs, Pruitt said. Cities there determine each year whether to use the public program or the utility, based on the better deal. But about 50 percent to 60 percent of electricity customers in the state remain with the community choice programs.

“It has forced better practice throughout the utility sector in Illinois,” Pruitt said.

But the critics of San Diego’s community choice proposal said they worried that it could drain the city’s coffers.

“It may double the budget at a time when we don’t have the resources that we need,” said the Rev. Gerald Brown, co-chairman of the Clear the Air Coalition. “We don’t want any new taxes or any new rates at all.”

Brown runs a nonprofit organization, the United African American Ministerial Action Council, that receives financial support from San Diego Gas and Electric.

He said the support had nothing to do with his criticism of the community choice proposal. He said he was troubled by an estimate that it could cost the city up to $2.8 billion to support the program — a worst-case scenario that the city says it no longer includes in its estimates because it was too far-fetched.

McKinney said he believed that opponents of the plan had made up their minds prematurely, taking a position that would ultimately harm the disadvantaged and minorities.

“I’m going to support the change,” he said, calling it “one possible means of equalizing and bringing justice to the table.”

 

San Diego newest city fighting to ditch the power company, by Ivan Penn, The New York Times, April 28, 2018.

Clean Coalition partners with the City of San Diego to drive local solar development

The Clean Coalition has partnered with the City of San Diego, which was selected by the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) to participate in a collaborative effort to explore new ways solar energy can improve the affordability, reliability and resilience of the nation’s electric grid.

The City of San Diego is one of nine teams selected to join the program, which is known as the Solar Energy Innovation Network (SEIN).

“We selected teams that are experimenting with promising ideas to use solar power to improve the future of grid security and resilience in their communities,” said Kristen Ardani, who leads the SEIN at NREL.

The City of San Diego’s participation in the Solar Energy Innovation Network will include financial, analytical and facilitation support as the City develops programs to address the new challenges and opportunities stemming from local solar and other distributed energy resources in San Diego. The solutions developed and demonstrated by the San Diego team will serve as a blueprint for other communities nationwide facing similar challenges and opportunities.

With over 100,000 solar installations, San Diego is already one of the nation’s top solar cities. But as in many U.S. cities, the potential for commercial-scale solar in the area remains largely untapped. In addition to the conducting a Solar Siting Survey, the Clean Coalition will also design a design a feed-in tariff (FIT) with streamlined interconnection to unlock the potential of this underserved market segment.

“San Diego is showing leadership on local renewables and climate,” said Craig Lewis, Executive Director of the Clean Coalition. “Our partnership will provide the City with effective tools for integrating commercial-scale solar as a big part of achieving the City’s 100% renewables and other climate-related goals.”

The Clean Coalition will conduct a Solar Siting Survey to identify the technical potential for commercial-scale solar throughout the City of San Diego. The Clean Coalition’s unique Solar Siting Survey methodology not only identifies viable solar siting opportunities across the urban and suburban environments, but also evaluates those opportunities based on the interconnection potential of the local grid for each identified site.

“San Diego’s Climate Action Plan is our roadmap to a cleaner, more energy efficient city,” said Mario X. Sierra, Director of the City’s Environmental Services Department. “Our partnership with the Clean Coalition will help us create economic and sustainable opportunities for our community while moving us to cleaner, more affordable energy sources.”

“The Clean Coalition’s Solar Siting Survey and CLEAN Program design are powerful tools to maximize local solar power, delivering a trifecta of economic, environmental and resilience benefits to communities,” said Lewis. “We’re excited to help San Diego unlock the tremendous potential of commercial-scale solar and provide a model for other communities to expand clean local energy.”

NREL is operating the Solar Energy Innovation Network with funding from the U.S. Department of Energy Solar Energy Technologies Office. NREL pursues fundamental research and development of renewable energy and energy efficiency technologies to transform the way we use energy.

 

Clean Coalition partners with the City of San Diego to drive local solar development, by Kathie Zipp, Solar Power World, April 12, 2018.

East County organizations receive money from Tule Wind Farm

The operators of the recently opened Tule Wind Farm in San Diego’s East County presented two checks of nearly $100,000 each Thursday to the Mountain Empire Unified School District and Mountain Health and Community Services.

The donations by Oregon-based Avangrid Renewables were part of a Good Neighbor Agreement negotiated with the community in the development of the wind energy project that consists of 57 turbines that loom over the landscape in the rugged McCain Valley.

Company officials say donations to various community and civic groups will be made during the life of the project that is expected to deliver more than $39 million in state and local tax benefits over 25 years.

“We’re proud of our work to bring clean renewable power to thousands of California homes,” Avangrid Renewables CEO Laura Beane said in a statement.

The Tule Wind Farm covers about 12,000 acres and launched operations Jan. 12 after 13 years of bureaucratic and legal battles. Some environmental groups say the project poses danger to the area’s habitat, golden eagles in particular. The company says it has been careful to make sure wildlife and birds are protected.

 

East County organizations receive money from Tule Wind Farm, by Rob Nikolewski, The San Diego Union-Tribune, April 6, 2018.

 

Report Casts Serious Doubt on SDG&E’s Green Power Plan

Last fall, San Diego Gas & Electric said it could provide city customers with 100 percent green power in coming years. At first glance, the offer was remarkable for a company with “gas” in its name.

But the company’s plan isn’t much of a plan, according to new review of SDG&E’s proposal paid for by the city.

The review found that SDG&E’s offer “raises more questions than it answers,” “gives little or no information about the approach, costs, or risks,” and may well threaten the city’s ambitious plans to fight climate change.

Right now, the power company is scrambling to maintain its monopoly. A 2015 city rule says all electricity sold within city limits must come from renewable sources within two decades.

Some city officials think the city could meet its goal and also provide cheaper power than SDG&E if it creates its own government-run agency to buy and sell green energy. Mayor Kevin Faulconer’s administration is working on a plan for such an agency but has given SDG&E a chance to hold on to its monopoly, if the 140-year-old company changes how it does business.

SDG&E said it could change. In October, it offered to team up with the city to buy green energy. The company would continue buying and selling power, but the city could have more control over what kind of power that was.

The company’s offer was 130 pages long, but lacked many details. Some of SDG&E’s critics laughed at the proposal in private and worried it was just a delay tactic. For one thing, a unique partnership between a shareholder-owned power company and the city would require special approval by the California Public Utilities Commission – an unpredictable bureaucracy that works at its own pace.

The city hired a consultant, Oakland-based MRW & Associates, to pore over SDG&E’s offer. The review, released Thursday, is not flattering to the power company.

MRW said SDG&E failed to offer details and certainty.

That’s a problem, because if something goes wrong along the way, the city may be unable to meet its climate goals.

In a statement, SDG&E said the MRW review left out critical facts and context and offered to meet with the consultant and the city to talk more, plus it plans to respond to questions MRW said were unanswered.

“Our response provides a comprehensive and innovative approach to developing an energy portfolio that provides the city with a means to achieving its 100 percent renewable goal by 2035,” SDG&E spokesman Joe Britton said in an email. “Our proposal recommends a flexible procurement plan to give the city an attainable path to realizing its greenhouse gas reduction goals, along with other stated priorities related to safety, reliability, local economic impact and affordability.”

While SDG&E is currently the greenest major electricity provider in California – about 43 percent of its power is renewable – it has historically been unable or unwilling to abandon natural gas, which it burns to create about another 42 percent of its power. So, saying it could try to get rid of gas was a big step in its own right. (This doesn’t count gas that is used in ovens and water heaters, just gas that is burned to make electricity.)

In its offer to the city, SDG&E seems to be waiting on the city to tell it what to do – what the company calls flexibility. But it’s possible this strategy is rubbing some city officials the wrong way, because they have repeatedly made clear what their goal is: to provide green energy across the city by 2035 – a goal the mayor has mentioned in each of his last four State of theCity speeches. If city officials agree with MRW that SDG&E isn’t offering a clear and concrete way to make that happen, it’s possible they will conclude SDG&E is not a sincere partner.

On Thursday, the city released a separate but related review by MRW. That review looked at a study by another consultant the city released last year. (Yes, the city paid a consultant to do a study, and then paid another consultant to review that study.) That earlier study concluded the city could provide greener, cheaper power by forming its own power-buying agency to compete with SDG&E.

MRW found a few problems with the earlier study. For one, it relied on a “crude” way of predicting SDG&E’s future rates. SDG&E’s allies made the same point last year to argue that the city might be unable to truly provide cheaper power than the company.

Ironically, MRW found a similar problem in SDG&E’s own proposal, because the power company did not provide the city with rate forecasts.

Disclosure: Mitch Mitchell, vice president of state government affairs for San Diego Gas & Electric, is a member of Voice of San Diego’s board of directors.

 

Report Casts Serious Doubt on SDG&E’s Green Power Plan, by Ry Rivard, Voice of San Diego, March 29, 2018.

Why San Diego’s franchise accord with SDG&E needs fresh thinking

s every utility customer knows, we pay SDG&E each month for service (too much, but that’s another story). Many don’t know that SDG&E also pays the city of San Diego a substantial sum each year to put its wires and other infrastructure on public property.

Those payments typically exceed $50 million annually and are used for public services, programs and projects. The payments are required under a 50-year monopoly franchise contract between the city and the utility, which was last amended in 2001.

If you dig deep into your utility bill, you’ll see that SDG&E recoups those franchise payments from us, its customers.

In a fortuitous stroke of timing, the franchise agreement is scheduled to expire in 2020. The expiration comes as San Diego needs to accelerate efforts to meet its legally mandated Climate Action Plan. The plan requires 100 percent renewable generation sources for the city’s electricity by 2035.

The year 2035 isn’t far off, as energy planning goes. And it’s not far off given the opposition of Sempra Energy, SDG&E’s parent company, to what could be the city’s best vehicle for reaching the 100 percent clean energy target.

That vehicle is community choice energy (CCE). Community choice would allow the city to purchase its own cleanly generated power and deliver it through SDG&E’s grid. Studies and experience elsewhere indicate that community choice energy would likely get the city to 100 percent renewable energy by the target date, as well as save money for utility customers.

But given Sempra’s opposition to community choice energy, the city needs a Plan B — and that alternative should arise through a reworking of the franchise agreement. With that contract set to expire in less than three years, the process for renewing the agreement is beginning.

The City Charter requires an open bidding process for a new agreement but more is needed than an open process. We need fresh thinking.

Let’s discard the presumption that because SDG&E has had the exclusive right to distribute gas and electricity over our public rights of way for nearly a century, the utility should get another business-as-usual, long-term extension of this valuable franchise.

A ballot measure setting forth new requirements for a franchise agreement will be reviewed by the City Council Environment Committee in April. This measure recognizes the city has Charter authority to generate electricity for its constituents, and it would require the franchisee, whether it’s SDG&E or another provider, to transmit the electricity procured or generated by the city to customers.

This option for the city to provide its own clean power and have it delivered to local customers provides a range of alternatives for San Diego to meet the mandated 100 percent clean energy target. The ballot measure also requires that at least half of the city’s renewable energy be generated locally to boost our regional economy.

Expansion of rooftop solar, for example, would lead to bill savings for residents, schools and businesses, at the same time it would create local jobs and stimulate new businesses.

The ballot proposal would also limit the franchise agreement to no more than 10 years, so the city can assess the progress toward 100 percent renewable energy and other climate plan targets. In addition, a shorter term will allow adjustments to rapidly evolving energy technologies, including battery storage and the expected mass adoption of electric vehicles.

These proposals have precedent. Durham, North Carolina, has established similar options for generating its own electricity in a franchise agreement. Consideration of the ballot proposal including a provision for city generated electricity should jump-start the effort to reach a new franchise agreement in San Diego and open the process to input from all stakeholders and communities.

Mayor Kevin Faulconer has said he will bring a recommendation by the end of this year to the City Council on how to achieve the 100 percent renewable energy goal. Regardless of the path chosen by the council, a 21st-century franchise agreement would strengthen the city’s ability to achieve a renewable energy future at reasonable cost, while growing the local economy.

If we are going to franchise the use of our streets, sidewalks and parkways for electric service, let’s get the best deal for our city, our families, our businesses and future generations. Use of our public right of way is everybody’s business.

Powers is principal of Powers Engineering and chairman of California Local Energy Advancing Renewables; Powell is a member of the city’s Sustainable Energy Advisory Board and a former executive director of the City Heights Community Development Corp.; Rose is a journalist and former staff writer for The San Diego Union-Tribune.

 

Why San Diego’s franchise accord with SDG&E needs fresh thinking, by Bill Powers, Jay Powell & Craig D. Rose, The San Diego Union-Tribune, March 29, 2018.