San Diego’s Power Move: City Takes on Utility Over Green Energy

San Diego is going into the utility business.

After a long and often contentious debate, Mayor Kevin Faulconer is set to announce on Thursday that the city will create an alternative to the area’s investor-owned utility, San Diego Gas and Electric Company. The city says the government-run program will increase competition, lower electricity rates by as much as 5 percent and ensure that the city reaches its goal of 100 percent carbon-free electricity by 2035, 10 years ahead of the state’s mandate.

“We’re giving our customers the choice, and that choice is to go with greener energy,” Mr. Faulconer said in an interview. “It keeps San Diego on the cutting edge of environmental protection.”

The move makes San Diego the largest city in the state to embrace a program in which residents essentially band together to buy power in bulk. More than 160 cities, towns and counties in California currently take part in similar programs, which began two decades ago in Cape Cod and spread to other locations in Massachusetts, New York and Illinois.

San Diego’s program is expected to be in place by 2022, and utility customers will be automatically enrolled in it, though they can also choose to stay with SDG & E.

A group calling itself the Clear the Air Coalition, which includes leaders of organizations funded by Sempra Energy, the parent company of SDG & E, argued against the proposal, saying it would increase rates and jeopardize the city’s finances without making a significant difference in carbon-free energy.

“We just don’t see a real strong need,” said Tony Manolatos, a spokesman for the coalition.

But the city said it believed the government-run entity was the only way to achieve its carbon-free electricity goals, a view held by others that have adopted the approach.

One such program, the Redwood Coast Energy Authority in Northern California, hopes to become the first on the West Coast to get power from an offshore wind farm.

The Interior Department last week took the first steps toward leasing waters off California for floating wind turbines. San Diego’s coastal winds aren’t suitable for offshore turbines, but the city plans to tap solar arrays, land-based wind farms and geothermal power to meet its goals.

 

San Diego’s Power Move: City Takes on Utility Over Green Energy, by Ivan Penn and Inyoung Kang, The New York Times, October 25, 2018.

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