North County Cities Exploring Program to Sidestep SDG&E to Buy Energy

Solana Beach’s vote this month to begin negotiations to set up Community Choice Aggregation is one of several steps North County cities are making toward the alternative energy program.

The Solana Beach City Council voted 4-1 to have the city manager work with two energy consulting companies. If they reach an agreement on providing Community Choice Aggregation services to the city, the council can then begin negotiations with energy companies to put the program into place.

What is Community Choice Aggregation?

Right now, San Diego Gas & Electric provides power through its system of lines and wires to every city in San Diego County and southern Orange County. SDG&E buys the electricity from a variety of sources, including natural gas plants, hydroelectric dams and wind turbine farms.

If a city goes with Community Choice Aggregation, power would still go through SDG&E’s grid, but the city would buy the energy, not the utility. That allows cities to have more control over how much of their energy comes from renewable sources and the cost for that electricity.

Community Choice Aggregation would allow cities such as Solana Beach to decide where to buy their energy and how much that energy should cost. Currently, San Diego Gas & Electric purchases energy for all the residents and businesses in San Diego County.

Other North County cities and the city of San Diego are exploring community choice as a way of increasing the amount of renewable energy their citizens use. Here is a summary of steps they’ve taken:

Del Mar: The Del Mar City Council in October authorized city staff to request data needed to do a study on whether Community Choice is feasible and cost effective.

Encinitas: The Encinitas City Council voted in August to do a study on whether Community Choice is feasible and cost effective.

Oceanside: The Oceanside City Council voted in September to collect data that would be needed to study the feasibility of Community Choice.

City of San Diego: A consultant hired by the city is working on a feasibility study that is expected to be finished by March 2017.

County of San Diego: The Board of Supervisors is expected to vote in January on whether to conduct a feasibility study.

Nicole Capretz, the director of the nonprofit Climate Action Campaign, is lobbying cities to move forward on community choice. She said the cities are working together to explore the energy program, which makes sense.

“These are smaller cities and so it’s important for them to band together to figure out how to collectively achieve the same goals,” she said. “It will hopefully get our region to believe that we can have a 100 percent clean energy future. The more that everybody is coordinating and collaborating and communicating, the better for the public.”

Capretz said Encinitas is looking for funding for a feasibility study for multiple North County cities.

“If they band together they’re going to have more customers and, thus, have more revenue and, thus, have more negotiating power when they enter into agreements with energy providers,” she said.

SDG&E and its parent company Sempra Energy are lobbying against those plans. Earlier this year SDG&E became the first utility in the state to form an independent marketing district, allowing it to sidestep a law barring utilities from expressing opinions on Community Choice.

That district, called Clean Energy Advisors, created a flier that it sent to Solana Beach’s mayor and council members.

“Our goal is to provide a balanced and fact-based perspective regarding California’s changing energy landscape,” the flier read. “It is our intention to engage in a realistic conversation to ensure that all electricity customers in San Diego continue to have access to clean, affordable power.”

North County Cities Exploring Program to Sidestep SDG&E to Buy Energy, by Claire Trageser, KPBS, November 30, 2016.

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