Massive $1 Billion RivCo Solar Project 1 Step Closer To Approval

RIVERSIDE COUNTY, CA — The final environmental impact reports for a proposed $1 billion solar project in Blythe were made public Thursday, moving the project a step closer to breaking ground.

If approved, the Desert Quartzite Project would feature a 450-megawatt solar energy facility on 3,800 acres of public land, Bureau of Land Management spokeswoman Sarah Webster said.

The stretch of land used — managed by the BLM — is eight miles south of Blythe and 10 miles south of Interstate 10.

The project is expected to generate enough energy to power about 117,000 homes, provide about 870 jobs during peak construction and 10 permanent operational jobs.

The environmental studies provide a comprehensive analysis of the potential impacts of the project, according to the BLM.

The publishing of the Environmental Impact Statement and Environmental Impact Report will open an appeal period that includes a 30-day protest window and a 60-day governor’s consistency review that begins Friday, Webster said.

Once the appeal period is finished, a decision will be made to decide if the project will be done.

 

Massive $1 Billion RivCo Solar Project 1 Step Closer To Approval, by City News Service Staff, Patch, September 27, 2019.

East Bay Community Energy Expands Its Renewable Energy and Storage Portfolio with Two New Contracts and Memorandum of Understanding

Oakland, Calif. – At its last public board meeting, the East Bay Community Energy (EBCE) board of directors approved an additional two agreements totaling 225 megawatts (MW) of solar power capacity, along with 80 MW/160 MWh (megawatt-hour) of battery energy storage, to be built in Southern California. Additional storage may be added to one of the projects. Additionally, the board discussed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) for 80 MW of wind power in Alameda County. The projects build upon agreements approved by the EBCE board in June and July of this year. All approved projects combined total 550 MW of new renewable energy generation and at least 137.5 MW/390 MWh of energy storage. EBCE is a Community Choice Energy provider that serves most of Alameda County and is committed to increasing clean power within its local communities.

The two new power purchase agreements for solar in southern California are both expected to be operational in December 2022. Each contract includes a contribution to a Community Investment Fund and a commitment to use union and/or prevailing wage labor. Below is a summary of the agreement terms:

  • sPower Solar + Storage Project: 20-year agreement for 125 MW of solar power and 80 MW/160 MWh of battery storage in southern California, developed by Salt Lake City-based sPower
  • Edwards Solar Project: 15-year agreement for 100 MW of solar power and virtual storage in Kern County, developed by San Diego-based Terra-Gen

The sPower Solar + Storage Project is a 125 MW solar project with 80 MW/160 MWh of battery storage. EBCE is purchasing all output from the project including energy, renewable energy credits, and resource adequacy. In addition, EBCE will have full control to charge and discharge the battery to help bring energy into the evening hours when the solar is not generating due to the sun setting. The project is being developed by sPower, a national leader in the development, construction, and operation of solar power facilities.

The Edwards Solar Project is a 100 MW solar project on land that is part of Edwards Airforce Base. Terra-Gen was selected by Edwards Airforce Base as sole developer of solar on their lands for approximately 600 MW of total solar development. In addition, this project is a solar plus virtual storage contract that allows Terra-Gen the option to install battery storage and manage the charge and discharge, providing EBCE with negative pricing protection. EBCE has the right to procure resource adequacy in the event storage is added.

EBCE’s Board also discussed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with Brookfield Renewable Partners regarding an 80 MW wind project in Alameda County. The project is in Livermore and is a repower of a former wind project that has been fully decommissioned. The expected date of operation is December 2021.

These new approved agreements supplement a growing portfolio of renewable energy and storage projects across California, which are the result of a competitive solicitation run by EBCE to deliver on its promise to increase the use of renewable energy. The portfolio has a mix of 10 to 20-year contracts along with a variety of pricing structures and contract provisions to help EBCE diversify its risk related to geographic or technology concentration. On a portfolio basis the solar projects will cost EBCE approximately $22/MWh, with a 2% inflation adjustment over time. Pricing for individual projects is confidential. Additionally, solar developers have agreed to contribute over $1,000,000 towards EBCE’s Community Investment Fund plus additional volunteer and education-related training hours.

Below is a summary of all new long-term agreements signed in 2019.

  Developer Technology Nameplate MW Storage MW County Expected Completion Term
Contracted Salka Energy Wind 57.5 N/A Alameda 12/1/2020 20
Clearway Energy Group Solar 112 N/A Kern 12/31/2020 15
Solar Frontier Americas Solar 56 N/A Tulare 12/31/2021 15
EDPR Renewables North America Solar + Storage 100 30 Fresno 12/31/2022 20
sPower Solar + Storage 125 80 SoCal 12/31/2022 20
Terra-Gen Solar + Virtual Storage 100 TBD Kern 12/31/2022 15
Evaluating Clearway Energy Group Wind 43 N/A Alameda 12/31/2021 15
Brookfield Renewable Partners Wind 80 N/A Alameda 12/31/2021 20
OCEI* Vistra Energy In front of meter storage and resource adequacy 20 20 Alameda 1/1/2022 10
esVolta In front of meter storage and resource adequacy 7 7 Alameda 12/1/2021 13
SunRun Behind the meter storage and resource adequacy 0.5 0.5 Alameda 1/1/2022 10

*OCEI – Oakland Clean Energy Initiative

Additional information from previous press releases can be found at these links:

###

About East Bay Community Energy (EBCE)
EBCE is a not-for-profit public agency that operates a Community Choice Energy program for Alameda County and eleven incorporated cities, serving more than 550,000 residential and commercial customers throughout the county. EBCE initiated service in June 2018 and is one of 19 community choice aggregation (CCA) programs operating in California. CCAs are expediting the climate action goals of their communities and those of California. EBCE is committed to providing clean power at competitive rates while reinvesting in our local communities. For more information about East Bay Community Energy, visit https://ebce.org/.

 

About sPower

Headquartered in Salt Lake City, sPower is one of the fastest-growing utility-scale renewable energy companies in the United States. sPower owns and operates more than 155 utility and commercial distribution electrical generation systems and has a portfolio of solar and wind assets exceeding 13.0 GW between operation, construction, and development. As a vertically integrated platform, with technology neutrality, sPower develops projects at the lowest cost; funds projects from development through operations; and provides access to a mature, highly viable pipeline of projects. sPower is owned by a joint venture partnership between The AES Corporation (NYSE: AES), and the Alberta Investment Management Corporation. For more information, visit www.spower.com.

About Terra-Gen 

Terra-Gen, LLC is a leading U.S. developer, owner, and operator of utility-scale renewable energy projects in North America. Terra-Gen owns approximately 1,180 MWs of wind, geothermal and solar generating capacity in operation across 33 renewable power facilities throughout the United States. Terra-Gen was formed in 2007 and is wholly owned by Energy Capital Partners.  For more information, visit www.terra-gen.com.

About Brookfield

Brookfield Renewable Partners (Brookfield) operates one of the world’s largest publicly traded, pure-play renewable power platforms. Brookfield’s portfolio consists of hydroelectric, wind, solar and storage facilities in North America, South America, Europe and Asia, and totals over 17,000 megawatts of installed capacity and an 8,000-megawatt development pipeline. Brookfield Renewable is listed on the New York and Toronto stock exchanges. For more information, visit https://bep.brookfield.com.

Annie Henderson | Vice President, Marketing and Account Services
East Bay Community Energy

ahenderson@ebce.org | 510-640-9681

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CalCom Energy’s $100M Fund Targets Farms for Solar-Battery Systems

In California, it’s not just vulnerable families and critical services that could use battery-backed solar systems to ride through wildfire-prevention power outages. Farms also have critical energy needs, like pumping water to crops on set schedules, or chilling them after harvest, that could face significant disruption under the state’s new wildfire prevention regime.

CalCom Energy, a long-time solar and energy services provider for California’s agricultural sector, thinks it has a solution. This week, the Fresno-based developer launched a $100 million Agriculture Energy Infrastructure Fund, aimed at combining low-cost solar power-purchase agreements with the backup power of energy storage.

The fund, developed in partnership with Symbiont Energy and Live Oak Bank, marks CalCom’s first foray into owning the systems it develops, David Williams, CalCom’s chief commercial officer, noted in Wednesday’s press release. But it’s far from CalCom’s first foray into solving the farm-specific energy challenges facing its customers in the state’s Central Valley.

Since its 2012 founding as CalCom Solar, the Fresno, Calif.-based company has developed more than 200 megawatts of clean energy projects, largely solar projects for farms and water districts. In fact, it’s one of the largest commercial solar developers in the territory of Pacific Gas & Electric, the Northern California utility now in bankruptcy reorganization under the weight of tens of billions of dollars in liabilities from deadly wildfires started by its power lines in 2017 and 2018.

Like many California solar developers, energy storage is playing an ever-increasing role in CalCom’s projects, leading it to rebrand as CalCom Energy last year. Changes to California’s net metering regime, including time-of-use (TOU) rates that reduce the value of midday energy and increase its cost in late afternoon and evening hours, have an outsize effect on commercial solar projects like CalCom’s that rely on meter aggregation for valuing their production.

CalCom also provides metering and billing analysis through its Energy Services management platform, to allow its customers to better manage how they consume electricity in relation to their solar-generated and battery-stored resources. For example, big Salinas Valley grower and shipper D’Arrigo Bros. of California, which has installed about 5.5 megawatts of solar PV through CalCom, has also added two 520-kilowatt batteries at its central cooling facility, to reduce demand charges, shift energy to different TOU periods, and provide backup power to critical loads.

But batteries have become even more critical under the much-expanded wildfire prevention “public safety power shutoff” regimes put in place by PG&E and other California utilities under state regulatory mandate this year. Agricultural customers are huge electricity users, largely to move water — pumping and treating water uses roughly one-sixth of the state’s electricity supply.

In fact, water treatment plants and other water infrastructure are among the classes of “critical services” that have been earmarked for special treatment under the California Public Utilities Commission’s latest revisions to the Self-Generation Incentive Program, which also included $100 million in incentives for disadvantaged or medically vulnerable customers who live in high-fire-threat parts of the state.

But farmers are also dependent on steady and reliable electricity to meet water-pumping schedules that are often fixed by law, or by the needs of its crops and the growing season. Solar-plus-storage projects that promise to reduce overall electric bills, as well as provide backup power, are becoming a far more attractive option than installing expensive and polluting backup generators to insure against a crop-ruining power outage.

 

 CalCom Energy’s $100M Fund Targets Farms for Solar-Battery Systems, by Jeff St. John, Greentech Media, September 26, 2019.

CalCom Energy’s $100M Fund Targets Farms for Solar-Battery Systems

In California, it’s not just vulnerable families and critical services that could use battery-backed solar systems to ride through wildfire-prevention power outages. Farms also have critical energy needs, like pumping water to crops on set schedules, or chilling them after harvest, that could face significant disruption under the state’s new wildfire prevention regime.

CalCom Energy, a long-time solar and energy services provider for California’s agricultural sector, thinks it has a solution. This week, the Fresno-based developer launched a $100 million Agriculture Energy Infrastructure Fund, aimed at combining low-cost solar power-purchase agreements with the backup power of energy storage.

The fund, developed in partnership with Symbiont Energy and Live Oak Bank, marks CalCom’s first foray into owning the systems it develops, David Williams, CalCom’s chief commercial officer, noted in Wednesday’s press release. But it’s far from CalCom’s first foray into solving the farm-specific energy challenges facing its customers in the state’s Central Valley.

Since its 2012 founding as CalCom Solar, the Fresno, Calif.-based company has developed more than 200 megawatts of clean energy projects, largely solar projects for farms and water districts. In fact, it’s one of the largest commercial solar developers in the territory of Pacific Gas & Electric, the Northern California utility now in bankruptcy reorganization under the weight of tens of billions of dollars in liabilities from deadly wildfires started by its power lines in 2017 and 2018.

Like many California solar developers, energy storage is playing an ever-increasing role in CalCom’s projects, leading it to rebrand as CalCom Energy last year. Changes to California’s net metering regime, including time-of-use (TOU) rates that reduce the value of midday energy and increase its cost in late afternoon and evening hours, have an outsize effect on commercial solar projects like CalCom’s that rely on meter aggregation for valuing their production.

CalCom also provides metering and billing analysis through its Energy Services management platform, to allow its customers to better manage how they consume electricity in relation to their solar-generated and battery-stored resources. For example, big Salinas Valley grower and shipper D’Arrigo Bros. of California, which has installed about 5.5 megawatts of solar PV through CalCom, has also added two 520-kilowatt batteries at its central cooling facility, to reduce demand charges, shift energy to different TOU periods, and provide backup power to critical loads.

But batteries have become even more critical under the much-expanded wildfire prevention “public safety power shutoff” regimes put in place by PG&E and other California utilities under state regulatory mandate this year. Agricultural customers are huge electricity users, largely to move water — pumping and treating water uses roughly one-sixth of the state’s electricity supply.

In fact, water treatment plants and other water infrastructure are among the classes of “critical services” that have been earmarked for special treatment under the California Public Utilities Commission’s latest revisions to the Self-Generation Incentive Program, which also included $100 million in incentives for disadvantaged or medically vulnerable customers who live in high-fire-threat parts of the state.

But farmers are also dependent on steady and reliable electricity to meet water-pumping schedules that are often fixed by law, or by the needs of its crops and the growing season. Solar-plus-storage projects that promise to reduce overall electric bills, as well as provide backup power, are becoming a far more attractive option than installing expensive and polluting backup generators to insure against a crop-ruining power outage.

 

CalCom Energy’s $100M Fund Targets Farms for Solar-Battery Systems, by Jeff St. John, Greentech Media, September 26, 2019.

California wants a carbon-free economy by 2045: Can floating offshore wind help it get there?

Emerging floating offshore wind technologies could save California electricity customers billions in the next two decades and play a key role in achieving the state’s ambitious climate and renewable energy goals, a new report concludes.

But the mechanics of floating wind remain unproven at scale and developers face multiple permitting and financing hurdles. Nevertheless, California could be where floating offshore wind (OSW) finally breaks into the U.S. market, developers and offshore wind researchers told Utility Dive.

An August study by Energy + Environment Economics (E3) found California ratepayer savings could reach $2 billion due to OSW’s “proximity to in-state electricity demand” and could produce up to 9 GW of emissions-free energy by 2040 at substantial customer savings.

Read more

California could face power shortages if these gas plants shut down, officials say

It’s been nearly a decade since California ordered coastal power plants to stop using seawater for cooling, a process that kills fish and other marine life.

But now state officials may extend the life of several facilities that still suck billions of gallons from the ocean each day.

Staff at the California Public Utilities Commission recommended this month that four natural gas plants in Southern California, which are now required to shut down in 2020, be allowed to keep operating up to three additional years. Without the gas plants, PUC staff said, the state may face power shortfalls as soon as summer 2021 — specifically on hot days when energy demand remains high after the sun goes down and solar farms stop generating electricity.

Energy regulators aren’t panicked, since there’s still time to make up for the expected shortfall.

And critics say shortages are unlikely and regulators are being overly conservative.

Still, the PUC’s proposal highlights increasingly urgent questions about how much natural gas California should continue to allow on its electric grid, and for how long. The state now gets one-third of its electricity from renewable sources, and state law requires 100% climate-friendly energy by 2045.

Burning natural gas contributes to the climate crisis. But it’s also California’s largest power source.

Read more

San Diego progresses green energy transition

The city of San Diego is to press ahead with a Community Choice Energy (CCE) programme to provide residents with the choice of greener energy.

The San Diego City Council also approved a proposal to create a new regional joint-powers entity with several cities across the region including Chula Vista, La Mesa and Encinitas which will give them the ability to choose who they buy their energy from within their jurisdictions.

Largest US city

The vote in favour makes San Diego the largest US city to pursue a clean energy Community Choice programme. The regional entity will be the second-largest community choice entity in California in terms of electrical load.

San Diego was the first major city in the US to pledge to reach 100 per cent renewable energy by 2035.

After three years of research and analysis, Kevin Faulconer, mayor of San Diego selected Community Choice as the preferred pathway to reach the 100 per cent renewable energy goal in the city’s climate action plan.

The new entity would create healthy competition to benefit San Diegans, lower energy costs for ratepayers, and help the city reach its renewable energy goal by 2035 – a decade ahead of the state’s goal.

“Today is a monumental step toward 100 per cent renewable energy for our city, and a greener and cleaner future for our region,” said Faulconer.

“This is about lower energy costs for customers, green jobs for working families and renewable energy powering homes and businesses.” The future has arrived, and we proudly stand with our regional partners to lead the green energy revolution.”

Faulconer led a collaborative negotiation process with other cities to develop the terms for the new regional entity. The city of Imperial Beach is expected to consider this proposal later this week.

A regional approach would allow for greater negotiating and buying power as well as create efficiencies in operations and service. Analysis shows that Community Choice would result in lower energy costs compared to the investor-owned utility’s rates.

“Chula Vista is taking action to increase local control over the energy our community uses and by partnering with other jurisdictions, like the city of San Diego, we will be able to eliminate upfront costs and minimise risk to the city’s general fund,” said Mary Casillas Salas, mayor of Chula Vista.

“Climate change is already affecting our communities and we do not have time to delay action. We look forward to working with the other cities to provide our residents and businesses a new, cleaner, cheaper energy choice.”

Enacting Community Choice, a programme in which a public entity purchases greener power for residents, will be a multi-year process.

Following the formation of the joint-powers entity and appointment of its board of directors later this year, the board would then hire an executive leadership team, including a chief executive and chief financial officer, which would guide the entity through the implementation process.

The new entity would then seek approval from the California Public Utilities Commission with the goal of delivering power as soon as 2021.

“This is a historic moment. We are on the cusp of transforming our energy future and implementing our 100 per cent renewable energy goal, a linchpin of achieving our Climate Action Plan commitments,” said Nicole Capretz, executive director and founder of the Climate Action Campaign.

“We are so proud of all the cities stepping up to join this energy revolution.”

 

San Diego progresses green energy transition, by Smart Cities World Staff, Smart Cities World, September 23, 2019.

 

Standard solar acquires 7-MW California schools solar project portfolio

Standard Solar, a solar developer and financing company, has acquired a 7-MW portfolio of distributed generation (DG) solar projects for the Lake Elsinore Unified School District (LEUSD) in Lake Elsinore, California.

Standard Solar will finance, own and operate all eight projects which are currently planned for phased development, with all systems expected to be online in 2020. The projects were developed by Lamb Energy, of Riverside California. Stronghold Engineering, an award-winning design and construction firm, will install the projects.

The projects include a 3-MW ground-mount array at the 75-acre capped West Riverside Landfill, for which the property has been leased from the Riverside County Department of Waste Resources (DWR). The landfill system will sell its electricity to Southern California Edison who will in turn issue bill credits to the power bills for 29 power meters of schools and buildings in LEUSD that are not suitable candidates for on-site solar.

The remaining projects will consist of 4 MW of solar canopies at seven schools in the LEUSD: Canyon Lake Middle School, David Brown Middle School, Lakeland Village School, Lakeside High School, Temescal Canyon High School, Terra Cotta Middle School and Ortega Continuation High School.

These projects were started with the formation of a joint power authority among the Unified School Districts of Riverside County, California. The organization, the Riverside County Public Agency Energy Alliance (RCPAEA), is headed by Gregory Bowers, Assistant Superintendent of the LEUSD and founding RCPAEA Executive Officer

“The RCPAEA will serve as an efficient means for its members to source renewable energy, a resource for the education of environmental matters including information, strategies and projects relating to energy conservation, energy-cost savings, clean and/or alternative energy generation and share best practices going forward,” said Bowers. “We are excited to launch our Alliance with these solar projects.”

LEUSD superintendent, Doug Kimberly said, “We are excited to pioneer these innovative solar projects through the use of Standard Solar’s Power Purchase Agreement, enabling LEUSD to reduce its carbon footprint with a zero cost to district solution and enjoy the savings on the energy procurement for the next 25 years.”

“With the purchase of this eight-site project, Standard Solar is deepening its investment portfolio in California, which recently set another record with the most solar power ever flowing on the state’s main electric grid,” said Scott Wiater, president & CEO, Standard Solar. “We continue to fund projects and have enjoyed an active year of acquiring multiple MW of solar assets. We are proud to help customers like LEUSD significantly drive down their electricity expenses through solar.”

The eight projects are expected to generate 12,179,760 kWH of energy, enough to offset the CO2 emissions from 1,502 homes’ electricity use for one year.

“Developing these unique projects into a structure and form that worked to the benefit of all parties was the result of a team of industry experts working together to deliver cutting edge energy solutions,” said Scott Bailey, President, Lamb Energy Inc. “Standard Solar and Lamb Energy have worked arm [in] arm, tirelessly, to ensure its success. The county of Riverside and their team have always been supportive of our vision. Together, we will offset overhead costs of the school district that can now be utilized to provide educational resources to students in its territory, benefiting them for generations to come.”

 

Standard solar acquires 7-MW California schools solar project portfolio, by Billy Ludt, Solar Power World, September 23, 2019.

California Is Investing $95 Million Into Clean Transportation

California has announced that it is investing $95 million into clean transportation with several goals in mind, including helping those living in disadvantaged communities get access to clean transportation. A 2019–2020 Investment Plan Update for the Clean Transportation Program was published a few weeks ago.

California wants to make sure that its citizens eventually use only zero-emissions vehicles, helping the state to reach its climate and air quality goals. Beyond the climate goals, the state wants to make sure all Californians are able to breathe cleaner air. The 2019–2020 Investment Plan Update for the CEC’s Clean Transportation Program also wants to help disadvantaged communities and help bridge an anticipated gap in charging infrastructure for electric vehicles.

David Hochschild, Chair of the California Energy Commission, says, “The drive to zero-emissions is more important than ever as California continues to be challenged by climate change and air pollution. Today’s action demonstrates CEC’s ongoing commitment to deploying the infrastructure needed to meet the demands of the state’s ever-increasing fleet of clean cars, trucks, and buses.”

The plan has a budget that covers zero-emissions vehicles, infrastructure, and related workforce development, the latter of which is important especially when it comes to aiding disadvantaged communities. Here’s how it breaks down:

  • $32.7 million for light-duty EV charging infrastructure
  • $30 million for medium- and heavy-duty ZEVs and infrastructure
  • $20 million for hydrogen refueling infrastructure
  • $2.5 million for workforce development

The remaining $10 million will help with the production of zero-and near-zer0-carbon fuels. CEC Commissioner Patty Monahan explains, “This plan makes strategic investments in zero-emission fuels and technologies, including charging infrastructure, that will help the state reach its climate and clean air goals. We are tackling the chicken and egg problem of charging infrastructure and ZEVs, so electric vehicle drivers will feel more confident they can conveniently recharge their vehicles.”

The CEC breaks down its focus on EV infrastructure by sharing an estimate that California will fall around 81,600 charging ports short of the 250,000 needed to support the state’s goal of 1.5 million ZEVs on the road by 2025.

Aside from incentives for charging infrastructure to help leverage more private capital, the plan also includes ride-sharing solutions.

This type of plan is definitely a well rounded plan that helps reach the general population as well as those who see financial obstacles as a primary reason why they won’t switch.

 

California Is Investing $95 Million Into Clean Transportation, by Johnna Crider, Clean Technica, September 21, 2019.

What to Watch as the City’s New Energy Agency Gets Off the Ground

Last week, the San Diego City Council took the big plunge and decided, in a 7-2 vote, to start buying and selling energy.

San Diego, along with several neighboring cities, will shortly form a “community choice” energy agency, or CCA. This is something I’ve written a lot about over the past two years, because it represents a major shift in who controls both literal and figurative power in the region.

Right now, energy decisions are made by a private company, San Diego Gas & Electric, which operates under the somewhat watchful eye of the California Public Utilities Commission and, of course, the shareholders of its parent company, Sempra Energy.

In the future, a group of local officials and their consultants will make most major energy decisions for the region.

Some big questions remain unanswerable — for now. Exactly how much will the power cost? Where will all the power come from? We don’t know yet.

The city has always had two major goals. First, by 2035 it wants all the power it buys and sells to come without burning coal or natural gas. That’s to comply with the city’s goals of reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

The city’s second big goal has been to sell power that’s cheaper than SDG&E’s.

Beyond that, there’s still a lot to be sorted out. Most big decisions will soon be in the hands of a multi-city “joint powers authority,” or JPA. Acronym check: A JPA will run the CCA.

Who will be in charge of this thing?

San Diego, La Mesa, Encinitas and Chula Vista are among the cities that will help oversee the new energy agency, which will resemble other regional agencies, like the San Diego County Water Authority or the San Diego Association of Governments.

Leadership is important, of course, and one of the first big decisions will be picking the person who runs the new agency. The former head of the Water Authority, for instance, made major decisions that increased water supply reliability but also increased water costs, so much so that some farmers have been driven out of business. High energy costs could obviously prompt similar economic consequences.

Likewise, the new head of SANDAG, Hasan Ikhrata, has ruffled the feathers of North County politicians with his apparent focus on public transit (rather than freeways). Worries that a CCA leader could make decisions that ignore North County’s interests may be among the reasons several North County cities are hesitant to team up with the city of San Diego right now.

Will the energy be cheaper than SDG&E’s?

This has been one of the big promises of community choice energy agencies across the state.

At various times, the city has estimated it could provide cheaper power than SDG&E, but it isn’t technically bound to do that.

It also may become hard to compare rates in the future if SDG&E gets its wish and can stop selling electricity and become what’s known as a “poles and lines company.” SDG&E makes most of its money by charging customers for the delivery of power, not from the actual power it sells.

One of the votes against forming a CCA came from City Councilman Scott Sherman, who argued that the region wasn’t offering residents much of a choice at all. Instead of a government-regulated monopoly (SDG&E), residents and businesses will get a new government-run monopoly (the city’s CCA).

Where will the power come from?

This is going to be a source of debate for years to come. There are huge opposing forces here.

An upstart CCA buys all of its power from existing power plants and wind or solar farms, something that doesn’t necessarily mean the city is helping to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Then, as it collects money from reselling that power, it can invest in new power projects.

Unions and contractors want to make sure any new power projects employ local workers. But land in San Diego is expensive, which is part of the reason why SDG&E and others have built solar and wind farms in rural parts of California or even in Mexico.

This could put local projects with good-paying jobs into conflict with low-cost power.

There are, however, lots of parking lots and rooftops that could support solar power in San Diego. Plus a CCA would likely be more interested in subsidizing residential rooftop solar than SDG&E is.

Another way to reduce project costs is to build in low-income areas, where land is less expensive. City Councilwoman Monica Montgomery has already made clear she’s worried about projects being forced into her district.

There might also be conflict among cities over where a project goes, since a new project could generate property taxes for the city it sits in.

There will also likely be disputes over what kinds of power the CCA should and shouldn’t buy. Even though nuclear energy doesn’t generate greenhouse gases, a segment of the environmental movement now opposes using it because of other dangers.

Do we have to keep calling this a CCA?

The city will try to come up with a nice new name for its agency so we can all stop using the term CCA.

There’s something else to keep in mind.

One of the advantages of a government-run energy agency is that people can have more say over how it operates than they can over, say, SDG&E. That is, if people show up.

Some agencies, like SANDAG or the Water Authority, have often skated along for years without much public scrutiny.

That said, efforts to combat climate change are top of mind now – following years of drought and fire – and a few local nonprofits, like Climate Action Campaign and SanDiego350, are focused on energy issues and CCAs.

As the CCA gets up and running, it may seem like there’s more political fighting over how a CCA does its business than how SDG&E did its business. And that could be an early sign of things going south. But it could also simply be because governments are inherently more transparent than private companies, so issues — like labor relations — that were handled relatively quietly now spill out into the open.

It may be years before we know if the CCA has kept its promise to lower rates and reduce greenhouse gases, but we’ll know pretty soon how open, transparent and democratic the agency will truly be.

(Disclosure: Mitch Mitchell, SDG&E’s vice president of state governmental affairs and external affairs, sits on Voice of San Diego’s board of directors.)

 

Environment Report: What to Watch as the City’s New Energy Agency Gets Off the Ground, by Ry Rivard, Voice of San Diego, September 20, 2019.