Riverside County Takes the next Step Toward Buying Electricity for Residents

A divided Riverside County Board of Supervisors voted Tuesday, Nov. 14, to take the next step in a process that could put the county in the power-buying business.

The 3-2 vote – supervisors Kevin Jeffries and Chuck Washington were opposed – allows county officials to submit a Community Choice Aggregation plan to the California Public Utilities Commission.

If the commission approves the plan, the county could start buying electricity at discounted rates for customers in unincorporated communities by next year. The county’s goal is to lower residents’ power bills and encourage economic development by offering cheaper power to businesses.

A feasibility study found aggregation could save the average customer 9 percent on electricity. Six California communities use aggregation through a process set up by state legislation in 2002.

Residents served by aggregation would continue to be billed for their use of electricity. The current power provider, Southern California Edison, would still maintain the grid.

Customers would be able to opt-out of aggregation if they wanted to stay with Edison, although missing a deadline to make that choice could incur a financial penalty.

The county has spent $250,000 to date pursuing aggregation, including hiring two private firms to write the implementation plan. Aggregation’s startup costs are estimated at $1.7 million with operational costs projected to be $1.67 million a year.

Tuesday’s vote doesn’t spend more money or commit the county to pursuing aggregation. Whether the county forges ahead could depend on the exit fee payable to Edison.

The commission, which sets the fee, could change how the fee is calculated. “If the changes negate the opportunity for ratepayer savings, then we will most likely not go forward with (aggregation),” Deputy County Executive Officer Brian Nestande said after Tuesday’s meeting.

Jeffries said the exit fee is “the only thing that is holding me up from continuing down this path.”

“It is a gamble,” Jeffries said. “It is risky to take our taxpayer funds and put it in something knowing that there’s a decision point coming up in seven or eight months that could throw all this out.”

Washington sounded skeptical about how much residents will save through aggregation.

“The estimates on the savings are high (and) estimates on costs are low,” he said. “I think that this approach we’ve taken is not thoroughly vetted and I don’t believe it serves the county as a whole.”

Supervisor Marion Ashley argued for taking the next step in the aggregation process. “Let’s get to that decision point and then make a decision,” he said.

In addition to Riverside County, the Western Riverside Council of Governments also is looking into aggregation and has developed a business plan for a program called Western Community Energy.

Talks with cities to gauge their interest are ongoing, said Jennifer Ward, the council’s director of government relations. The council hopes to move ahead with aggregation for five or six cities starting late next summer, she added.

Riverside County Takes the next Step Toward Buying Electricity for Residents, by Jeff Horseman, The Press-Enterprise, November 15, 2017.

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