Clean Energy Alliance Accepting Applications for Community Advisory Committee

Aug. 5 – The Clean Energy Alliance, a Joint Powers Authority between the cities of Carlsbad, Del Mar and Solana Beach, is seeking interested residents and business owners from its member cities to apply to serve on its inaugural Community Advisory Committee.

The new community-based committee will advise the board of directors on its Community Choice Aggregation (also known as Community Choice Energy) program operations, provide feedback, act as a liaison between the board and the community and serve as a forum for community input. 

Interested volunteers can apply here.

In November 2019, the cities of Carlsbad, Del Mar and Solana Beach formed the Clean Energy Alliance, a non-profit public entity that will operate a Community Choice Energy program within their service territories. Community Choice Energy is a model that allows communities to purchase power to meet their electricity needs, offering an alternative to the traditional SDG&E model. Community Choice Energy can provide the communities they serve with competitively priced, clean energy choices while reinvesting revenues into projects and programs that directly support the local economy. The CEA received official certification of its Community Choice Energy Implementation Plan from the California Public Utilities Commission in March 2020, putting it on track for program launch in May 2021.

For its Community Advisory Committee, the CEA board will select two appointees from each member city to serve three-year terms, with one inaugural appointee seat serving an initial two (2) years, with a two-term limit.

Applications will be accepted through August 28, 2020 to the CEA Board Secretary at  Learn more about the CAC policy and fill out the CAC application.


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Carlsbad-Solana Beach-Del Mar community choice energy program set to launch in 2021

While an expansive community choice energy program spearheaded by the city of San Diego has drawn attention across the region in recent months, a smaller entity that includes a member with real-time experience in the sector voted Thursday to obtain official certification from state regulators.

“This has everything to do with making sure that we can hit our timeline,” said Cori Schumacher, the chair of what is called the Clean Energy Alliance. She and the other two members of the group’s board adopted a resolution to submit an implementation plan with the California Public Utilities Commission that will create an alternative to San Diego Gas & Electric when it comes to purchasing power sources for customers in Del Mar, Solana Beach and Carlsbad.

The Clean Energy Alliance aims to start serving customers in May 2021.

Read more

San Diego’s Next Steps for Achieving 100% Renewable Energy

The city of San Diego is taking its first steps toward running entirely on renewable energy.

The city passed a Community Choice Energy program, or CCE, in late February. CCEs are a city-run energy provider for residents. It is set to lower energy rates by five percent and help the city achieve its renewable energy goals, according to Mayor Kevin Faulconer’s office.

The CCE is the first piece of San Diego’s Climate Action Plan, or CAP, to be implemented. The CAP is a program working to run San Diego on 100 percent carbon-free electricity by the year 2035, about 10 years sooner than the state requires.

The CAP has set goals for San Diego to accomplish in their attempt to run entirely on renewable energy. The city wants to both increase the number of zero emission city owned vehicles to 50 percent, as well as decrease total greenhouse gas emissions by 15 percent by the year 2020, according to the CAP. By 2035, the CAP aims to “create new jobs in the renewable energy industry, improve public health and air quality, conserve water, more efficiently use existing resources, increase clean energy production,” according to the city’s CAP website.

Prior to its implementation, San Diegans only had one energy provider, San Diego Gas and Electric, or SDG&E.

“This will bring good old fashion competition and choice to the electricity businesses in San Diego,” said Masada Disenhouse, executive director and co-founder of the environmental organization San Diego 350, which advocates for a county-wide CCE . “And we know that we need it, right? Our rates are among the most expensive in the country.”

However, the CCE does not remove SDG&E from the equation. Regardless of which energy provider consumers opt for, SDG&E will still deliver energy to residents and retain responsibility for customer billing, according to city’s sustainability website.

“We don’t make money on the sale of electricity,” said Joseph Britton, the communications manager for SDG&E. “If the city or other jurisdictions choose to form a (CCE) we support that choice and we’ll assist them in the transition process. We anticipate that anywhere from 70 to 80 percent of our customer load will probably be on a (CCE) in the coming years.”

While city residents may now choose between energy providers, SDG&E still monopolizes the energy market in San Diego County, said Jim Desmond, the county supervisor for District 5, in a Feb. 26 board meeting about a county-wide CCE option.

San Diego County voted on a CCE one day after the city did. Their vote resulted in a 5-0 agreement to pursue community choice energy as an option for all 18 cities in San Diego County. The board of supervisors agreed to commission a business plan. It will be presented to the county in October, with updates occurring every two months.

“I think I would rather see a county wide (CCE) than one done by the city of San Diego and one done by Solana Beach and all of the other cities that are pursuing this…,” said Greg Cox, county supervisor for District 1 during the board meeting. “And at the same time, I think it’s important to make sure that there’s no one agency that’s going to be the proverbial 900-pound gorilla that’s basically going to dominate whatever’s going to happen.”

While no decision regarding county-wide community choice energy will be made until late 2019, this did not stop dozens of county residents from voicing their support during the public meeting. The extra time means the county can more thoroughly examine the impacts of a county-run CCE program.

“We can search far and wide for someone in opposition, there was no one here today, but probably we could find somebody if we dig around the bushes enough,” said Nathan Fletcher, county supervisor for District 4 during the board meeting.

This report was a collaboration between NBC 7 and the SDSU School of Journalism and Media Studies.

San Diego’s Next Steps for Achieving 100% Renewable Energy, by Chris Bremer, NBC San Diego 7, May 1, 2019.

CalCCA Statement on the Continuing Advancement of Community Choice Aggregation in San Diego

Concord, Calif. – The California Community Choice Association (CalCCA) has issued the following statement by Executive Director Beth Vaughan in response to the San Diego City Council voting on February 25 to give Mayor Kevin Faulconer a green light to negotiate the creation of a new joint powers authority (JPA) to implement a regional community choice aggregation (CCA) program. San Diego – California’s second-largest city – is an affiliate member of CalCCA.

“The California Community Choice Association congratulates San Diego as it moves ahead with the formation of a joint-powers authority to implement a community choice aggregation program as the preferred pathway to reach the city’s 100 percent renewable energy goal. We appreciate San Diego’s careful consideration of CCA with a focus on fiscal responsibility, competitive rates, economic development, local job creation, investment in communities of concern, and prioritization of local renewable energy development.”

Key points/links:

Under San Diego’s CCA timeline, the city plans to initiate CCA service in 2021. The city council would consider the approval of a JPA agreement in the third quarter of 2019 and submit a CCA implementation plan to the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) in the fourth quarter of 2019.
Environmental, community, labor, business, and climate and environmental justice organizations supported the resolution approved by the city council.
Several cities in the region are currently exploring the feasibility of CCA and have expressed interest in joining the JPA, according to city staff. These include Chula Vista, La Mesa, Del Mar, Encinitas, Carlsbad, and Oceanside. Public agencies that may consider joining the JPA or signing on as large customers include the Port, Airport, and County Water Authority. Cities in Orange County that are within SDG&E’s service territory may also have an interest in participating.
About CalCCA
Launched in 2016, the California Community Choice Association represents California’s community choice electricity providers before the state Legislature and at regulatory agencies, advocating for a level playing field and opposing policies that unfairly discriminate against CCAs and their customers. There are currently 19 operational CCA programs in California serving approximately 10 million customers.

For more information about CalCCA, visit


Clean Coalition’s Solar Siting Survey identifies about 500 MW of large commercial-scale solar potential on built environments in the City of San Diego

January 11, 2018

NEWS RELEASE: Clean Coalition’s Solar Siting Survey identifies about 500 MW of large commercial-scale solar potential on built environments in the City of San Diego

The untapped solar potential on rooftops, parking lots, and parking structures can significantly increase San Diego’s local solar generation

MENLO PARK, CA – The Clean Coalition has released a Solar Siting Survey that highlights the significant level of commercial-scale solar that may be generated within the City of San Diego. The Solar Siting Survey was conducted as part of the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) Solar Energy Innovation Network (SEIN), a collaborative effort to explore new ways solar energy can improve the affordability, reliability, and resilience of the nation’s electricity grid. The City of San Diego was one of nine teams selected to join the program, with a defined objective to ensure that 25% of the total electricity consumed throughout the City of San Diego is generated by local renewable energy sources sited within the City by 2035, when San Diego intends to be powered by 100% renewables.

The San Diego Solar Siting Survey identified approximately 500 megawatts (MWac) of technical solar siting potential for large commercial-scale solar deployments on built environments within the City. The survey pinpointed the location and estimated project sizing for over 120 prospective solar sites that could each host a solar project of at least 1 MWac. While a portion of the solar siting potential is on large rooftops, more than 75% is on parking lots and parking structures, which are often overlooked as siting opportunities for clean local energy. In total, this survey identified enough local solar capacity to fulfill the average power needs of about 500,000 homes during peak solar production hours.

A snapshot from the Clean Coalition’s San Diego Solar Siting Survey

San Diego has even more commercial-scale solar siting potential than was identified in this survey, which focused on very large solar projects. If a minimum project size of 500 kilowatts (kW) were considered, instead of the 1 MW size that was set, the Clean Coalition expects that the technical solar siting potential in San Diego would increase by a factor of two to about 1 gigawatt (GW); this would approximately double again to 2 GW if projects as small as 100 kW were considered.

The Clean Coalition’s unique Solar Siting Survey methodology does more than identify viable solar siting opportunities across urban environments; it also evaluates those opportunities based on the interconnection potential of the local grid for each identified site. Solar Siting Surveys help facilitate the development of local solar projects, which San Diego has a tremendous opportunity to expand.

“By identifying the top commercial-scale solar siting opportunities within San Diego, this Solar Siting Survey provides property owners, developers, and policymakers a clear view of the vast potential for solar within the City, and exactly where the best opportunities exist,” said Craig Lewis, Executive Director of the Clean Coalition. “In addition, this Survey helps identify the best solar sites, thereby reducing the costs associated with developing solar and solar+storage projects.”

With over 100,000 solar installations, mostly at residential-scale, 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 remains largely untapped. To unlock the potential of this underserved market segment in San Diego, the Clean Coalition will follow this Solar Siting Survey with an innovative Feed-In Tariff (FIT) that streamlines procurement opportunities for commercial-scale renewables and energy storage, greatly fulfilling core City objectives.

“The Clean Coalition’s Solar Siting Survey and FIT design are powerful tools to maximize local solar energy, delivering a trifecta of economic, environmental, and resilience benefits to communities,” added Mr. Lewis. “We are excited to help San Diego unlock the tremendous potential of commercial-scale solar and provide a model for other communities throughout California and well beyond.”

Developing the local solar projects identified in the Solar Siting Survey can help create a stronger, more resilient grid in San Diego. By pairing distributed solar with other distributed energy resources, such as energy storage, demand response, and electric vehicle charging infrastructure, the city has the potential to establish Community Microgrids, a new approach to designing and operating electricity grids and providing indefinite, renewables-driven backup power to critical facilities. Many of the large solar sites identified in this survey are prime candidates to serve as foundations for Community Microgrid.

The Clean Coalition’s San Diego Solar Siting Survey and associated materials are available on the Clean Coalition website.


About the Clean Coalition
The Clean Coalition is a nonprofit organization whose mission is to accelerate the transition to renewable energy and a modern grid through technical, policy, and project development expertise. The Clean Coalition drives policy innovation to remove barriers to procurement and interconnection of distributed energy resources (DER) — such as local renewables, energy storage, advanced inverters, and demand response — and we establish market mechanisms that realize the full potential of integrating these solutions. In addition to being active in numerous proceedings before state and federal agencies throughout the United States, the Clean Coalition collaborates with utilities, community choice aggregation agencies, municipalities, and other jurisdictions to create near-term deployment opportunities that prove the technical and economic viability of local renewables and other DER.

Rosana Francescato
Communications Director
415-282-2488 (m)

SDG&E Is Looking to Leave the Power-Buying Business

In a dramatic sign of California’s changing energy market, San Diego Gas & Electric wants to stop buying and selling electricity.

In recent days, the company has asked lawmakers to introduce legislation that would let SDG&E reduce its role – while also pushing the state to enter the energy market in a big way.

The company’s vision could eventually require the state to buy out its long-term power contracts and possibly pay the company for several natural gas-fired power plants it owns.

SDG&E is pitching this idea as the company prepares to lose about half of its power customers within the next few years.

Last month, San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer said he wants to form a “community choice” agency, known as a CCA, to buy and sell power on behalf of the city’s 1.4 million people. Other smaller cities across the county are likely to join that effort, creating an electricity buyer’s club that will compete with SDG&E and leave the company with more power than it can sell.

“We think it makes better sense for SDG&E to eventually move out of the commodity role,” said Kendall Helm, the company’s vice president of energy supply. “But it’s important to always provide clean, safe and reliable delivery to all customers in our service territory.”

That may sound like it’s bad for business, but it may be more of an opportunity. A well-run utility can make a steady profit from delivering power.

SDG&E – one of the region’s largest employers – makes most of its money that way, which is why its bottom line won’t be at much at risk if it stops selling power. The company already gets guaranteed revenue from the sprawling system of power lines and cables it’s built over the last century to each home and business in the region. It also delivers natural gas.

Instead, the company is looking to shed the risk it now faces trying to buy power for a customer base that is looking to jump ship.

“Signing contracts that are 10 and 20 years in length while the cities are discussing the possibility of joining together to buy their energy from a CCA provider will be tricky to say the least and thus we are looking at what the best options are for the near future related to our efforts,” SDG&E’s vice president for government affairs, Mitch Mitchell, said in a Nov. 14 letter to state Sen. Ben Hueso. (Disclosure: Mitchell sits on Voice of San Diego’s board of directors.)

For years, most California power companies did it all – they owned both the power and the lines that delivered it to customers.

Now, following years of deregulation and changes in the industry, the state’s three big energy utilities – Southern California Edison, Pacific Gas & Electric and SDG&E – no longer own all of the power they deliver. Much of their power comes from long-term contracts they signed with other companies.

Even that market is eroding as governments enter the energy market.

SDG&E’s parent company, Sempra Energy, sees that and recently paid just under $9.5 billion to control Texas’ largest utility, Oncor, which only delivers electricity.

In the future, SDG&E could look more like Oncor.

The question is how to get there.

A draft bill, which Hueso’s office provided, shows what SDG&E is asking lawmakers to consider. The company urges the state to create a way for the company to sell off its long-term power contracts to a “state-level electrical procurement entity.” The first step would be a state-level task force to sort through all the issues involved, which would be many.

Matthew Freedman, a staff attorney for The Utility Reform Network, said there are already discussions about the state stepping in to help develop renewable power resources. But those discussions are about developing new power – like geothermal projects in Imperial County – not paying companies for existing contracts.

“That is the legitimate part of what SDG&E is teeing up, but I don’t think they are the right messenger,” he said. “Their motives are not pure on this, and what they have put on the table now is more of a manifesto than an actual proposal.”

For one thing, it’s not clear what state agency would step up to pay for all of this.

One power-buying entity already exists at the state level, a small division within the state Department of Water Resources known as California Energy Resources Scheduling. The division – known as CERS by the few people who know about it – was created in 2001, during the energy crisis, to buy and sell power to avoid rolling blackouts across the state. But in the nearly two decades since the crisis, only a skeleton crew now runs the division, mostly to ensure the state is fully compensated for the power it bought years ago.

There’s also the matter of the power plants SDG&E does own – four plants that generate power by burning natural gas. The draft bill would make sure the company is “fully compensated” for those plants in certain scenarios. This could put the state in the awkward position of paying for fossil fuel-fired power even though California lawmakers this year set a goal of having all electricity sold in the state come from renewable resources by 2045.

SDG&E said it’s already taking steps to minimize the number of gas-fired power plants it owns. For a while now, it’s been expecting that it would be forced to buy another gas-fired plant from Texas-based energy company Calpine for $280 million. The forced sale is part of a bizarre deal involving former California Public Utilities Commission President Michael Peevey.

Helm said SDG&E has worked out a deal with Calpine that would not require SDG&E to buy the plant.

SDG&E gets the rest of its power – roughly three-fourths of the electricity it sells – from other sources, largely long-term contracts it signed with wind and solar farms across the southwestern United States and northern Mexico. It cannot make money on the power it buys and then resells from customers.


SDG&E Is Looking to Leave the Power-Buying Business, by Ry Rivard, Voice of San Diego, November 19, 2018.

San Diego to form world’s largest single city CCA

Community choice aggregation (CCA) has become quite the hot topic in California. CCAs happen when local governments, either municipalities or counties, form an entity to procure electricity for their communities. In the Golden State they have allowed communities procure renewable energy even more rapidly than the statewide 60% by 2030 mandate.

Last week, atop the city’s Alvarado Water Treatment Plant, San Diego Mayor Kevin L. Faulconer (R) announced that the city of 1.4 million would be forming its own CCA. The decision comes as critical action toward’s the city’s Climate Action Plan, which sets an even more ambitious renewable mandate than California’s already-aggressive state one, at 100% by 2035. So, not only is San Diego the largest city in the U.S. to have set an 100% renewable energy mandate, but it is the largest single city in the world to form a CCA.

“I want San Diego to lead this region into a cleaner future,” Faulconer said in a release announcing the CCA. “This gives consumers a real choice, lowers energy costs for all San Diegans, and keeps our city on the cutting edge of environmental protection. We are a city where our environment is central to our quality of life and Community Choice will ensure we leave behind a better and cleaner San Diego than the one we inherited.”

This decision comes just weeks after the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) voted to increase the “exit fees” that customers have to pay when opting out of utility procurement and into a CCA. Furthermore, CPUC chair Michael Picker has previously expressed concerns over the implementation of CCAs and their affect on utilities.

The raise on exit fees is especially important, as CCAs are already responsible for complying with local capacity requirements and ensuring that remaining utility customers do not see cost increases. However, these concerns do not seem to be an issue in San Diego, as the mayor’s office expects the city to see “a cost reduction of 5 percent or more compared to the utility’s energy generation rates residents and businesses are currently paying,” according to the mayor’s office.

Now, with the announcement in the past, comes the process of procuring power for the city of San Diego. Under the proposed CCA’s business plan, a Joint Powers Authority (JPA) would be formed in 2019, along with the appointment of a board of directors. From there on, the board would hire an executive leadership team, a chief executive and a chief financial officer. These executive positions would guide the JPA through the CCA implementation process, in hopes of delivering power to customers by the plan’s target date of 2021.

“San Diegans deserve to have a choice in where their energy comes from,” said City Councilmember Lorie Zapf. “This is an opportunity to reach our climate goals while at the same time lowering costs for everyone, especially families struggling to make ends meet. With this decision, Mayor Faulconer is ensuring that San Diego continues to set an example for other cities to follow when it comes to protecting our environment.”


San Diego to form world’s largest single city CCA, by Tim Sylvia, PV Magazine, October 29, 2018.

San Diego’s Climate Action Plan is years ahead of schedule despite few efforts to cut emissions

When San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer announced his support for a government-run alternative to San Diego Gas & Electric this week, many political insiders were somewhat stunned that the momentous decision had come to pass.

Many in the know had long guessed that the investor-owned utility and its powerful parent company Sempra Energy would somehow prevent the mayor from siding with a small band of environmentalists led by local advocate Nicole Capretz.

Green groups had argued that having the city purchase energy for its residents under a so-called community choice aggregation was the only way to meet its Climate Action Plan goal of using 100 percent clean energy by 2035. But for nearly a year, the mayor had also considered letting SDG&E craft a plan to run the city on all renewable power.

“This is unquestionably the most striking David vs. Goliath stories in recent SD history,” Rachel Laing wrote on Twitter. The longtime political strategist is married to the mayor’s chief spokesman Greg Block, and has worked for everyone in town from the San Diego Regional Chamber of Commerce to Sempra to former Mayor Jerry Sanders.

Since Faulconer approved the city’s Climate Action Plan in 2015, he has repeatedly touted progress on the blueprint as far ahead of schedule, claiming the city has made bold moves to reign in greenhouse gases.

“I for one am very proud of our city’s leadership on climate action and believe that it should be the source of pride for all San Diegans,” he said at a press event on Thursday to announce his support for community choice.

However, on the same day as Faulconer’s big announcement, his staff also quietly released this year’s annual climate plan progress report.

The report shows that since the plan was approved in 2015, the city has made only marginal progress on reducing greenhouse gases — thanks largely to California’s recent drought restrictions on water use, its low-carbon fuel standard and requirements on utilities to buy increasingly more renewable power over time.

In fact, more than 80 percent of all greenhouse gas reductions envisioned through 2020 in the climate plan come from state and federal actions.

The rest of the emissions cuts come from a small suite of local programs, such as efforts to boost recycling and composting, expanding the urban tree canopy and, most notably, getting commuters onto transit, bikes and sidewalks in lieu of driving.

According the city’s 2018 progress report such programs are lagging considerably.

The climate plan, for example, calls for roughly 20 percent of commuters to bike, walk or ride transit by 2020. Today, that number is roughly 12 percent, according to the update. On its current track, the city isn’t projected to get to 19 percent until 2035.

“We’ve asked for a transportation master plan,” said Capretz, executive director of the Climate Action Campaign. “We have no idea how we’re going to get to the transportation goals. This is not a top priority for the city.”

Complicating the issue, transit ridership is down all over the country, including in the city of San Diego. But the mayor has also not delivered a long-promised transportation master plan, as well as millions of dollars of bike lanes throughout the city.

Recently, Faulconer acknowledged the challenge and importance of limiting tailpipe emissions from driving.

“We’re going to quickly turn our attention to transportation, knowing that’s the big next hill that we have to tackle,” he said, “and we are going to make sure that we have a plan and strategy for that.”

The city has also called for diverting 75 percent of all the solid waste from its landfills by 2020 by ramping up recycling and introducing a compositing program.

In 2015, San Diegans sent about 1.6 million tons of garbage to the landfill, diverting about 64 percent of total refuse. With a composting program yet to be introduced, the city still tosses about 1.6 million tons into the landfill, with a diversion rate last year of 66 percent, according to the progress report.

The tree canopy program has also yet to bloom, although efforts to catalog the city’s inventory of trees have started.

The climate plan calls for 15 percent of the city to be covered in trees, up from 13 percent today. However, to meet that target the city would need to plant roughly 150,000 new trees. Last year, it planted 307, according to the progress report.

“Nothing’s changed really,” said Anne Fege, chair of the Community Forest Advisory Board. “They have a small staff, and I’m working to try to make sure we have some funding. It continues, but it’s awfully slow. Really slow.”

Since approving the climate plan in 2015, the city has cut annual emissions by about 5 percent from about 10.8 million to 10.2 million metric tons of greenhouse gas.

The city’s progress report does not outline how many of these reductions came from local as opposed to state and federal programs, but it acknowledges that most of the heavy lifting has come from programs outside of its jurisdiction.

Despite limited progress, the city has already met its greenhouse gas reduction goals through the end of Mayor Faulconer’s term in 2020.

In fact, the city met that benchmark before the plan was approved three years ago.

Specifically, the plan calls for a 15 percent reduction in climate emissions below 2010 levels by 2020 — a metric similar to the state’s target of reducing emissions to 1990 level by 2020.

When the climate plan was inked, the city had already experienced a 19 percent reduction in emissions below the 2010 benchmark, according to calculations in the document.

While that’s due in part to California’s tough environmental laws, it’s also because of inaccurate projections from the San Diego Association of Governments that were used in the climate plan.

As a result the city has taken credit for what appears on paper to be a massive reduction in driving, while in fact the number of cars and trucks on the road have actually increased dramatically.

Faulconer’s team said the city relied on the best available data when it adopted the plan, and they don’t plan to change the accounting flaw.

Still, this may not matter for Faulconer, once considered as a possible Republican candidate for governor.

The recently called for creation of a community choice program could help refurbish his image as environmentally conscious conservative in the vein of former Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger. In fact, Faulconer joined the famous Hollywood actor in Los Angeles on Thursday for a discussion of efforts to combat climate change before returning to San Diego to announce his support for the government-run energy program.

“Mayor Faulconer has put this plan into action by adopting it, making it legally enforceable and keeping San Diego at the forefront of global climate action leadership,” said Assemblyman and former City Councilman Todd Gloria at the mayor’s press event on Thursday.


San Diego Failed To Reduce Carbon Footprint In 2017, by Joshua Emerson Smith, The San Diego Union-Tribune, October 27, 2018.

CCA 101: How does Community Choice Aggregation work? What you need to know

The name may sound clunky, but Community Choice Aggregation, or CCA, is one of the hottest energy topics in California and may upend the long-time relationship between utilities and customers.

But while the growth of CCAs has led to heated debates across the state within the energy and political spheres, many local utility customers are either unclear or unaware of the subject — even as the City of San Diego slowly deliberates whether to hop on the CCA bandwagon to help it meet its Climate Action Plan that calls for 100 percent of the city’s electricity coming from renewable sources by 2035.

It’s a complicated story but an important one because adopting a CCA affects what consumers pay, what kinds of energy sources a community purchases and who makes those acquisitions.

It also tests the relative levels of trust and mistrust ratepayers have in their local power companies and local governments while raising questions about making decisions affecting an energy sector with a history of volatility, in a state where dramatic transformations are already underway.

Here’s an overview.

What are they?

Community Choice Aggregation allows any city, county or combination thereof to form an entity to take over the responsibility for purchasing power for their community.

How are they different?

About 75 percent of electricity supply in California comes from three investor-owned utilities — Pacific Gas & Electric in Northern California, Southern California Edison in the Los Angeles metropolitan area and San Diego Gas & Electric, which covers San Diego County and a small portion of Orange County.

As the name suggests, investor-owned utilities are owned by shareholders, and these private electricity and natural gas providers are overseen by the California Public Utilities Commission, or CPUC.

They are different from publicly-owned utilities, which are not regulated by the CPUC, such as Los Angeles Department of Water and Powerthe largest municipal utility in the country.

Under the traditional model, investor-owned utilities:

1) Purchase sources of electricity (natural gas, solar, wind, etc.) to meet the energy needs of their customers and make sure the electric grid runs smoothly.

2) Maintain the transmission and distribution lines (poles, wires, etc.) needed to deliver the electricity.

3) Handle billing and customer service issues.

How do CCAs work?

Should a CCA be established, one big thing changes and two big things remain the same.

The utility still maintains the transmission and customer service responsibilities, but the purchasing of power is done by municipal governments.

Since elected officials often don’t have expertise in energy markets, many CCAs hire third-parties with experience in energy markets to perform all sorts of complex scheduling and marketing transactions. They are paid by the CCAs, using rates charged to their customers.

CCAs typically offer customers three different energy programs — a default program, a program for solar and a more expensive program advertising use of 100 percent renewable sources.

Who joins?

Once elected officials vote to form a CCA, all the electric customers in their jurisdiction are automatically signed up. Customers can remain with the investor-owned utility if they want to, but it’s up to them to contact the CCA and go through the opt-out process.

Opting out is free, provided it is done within the first few billing cycles (usually within 60 days). After that, a small fee may be charged, although some CCAs don’t impose opt-out fees.

Who does the billing?

The utility still does. A consolidated monthly statement will include a line-item for the CCA so customers would not receive two separate bills. The customer pays the entire bill and the utility then pays the CCA its share.

Are the number of CCAs growing?

Yes. There were fewer than 10 CCAs in the state last year but there are now 18, with a 19thexpected to come online by September.

The state’s first CCA was formed in Marin County in May 2010 with 8,000 customers, many of whom wanted community choice in order to tap more green sources of power. Called MCE (short for Marin Clean Energy), it has grown dramatically and now serves 470,000 customers in four counties.

Solana Beach became the first community in San Diego County to establish a CCA, which went online June 1.

What kind of effect have CCAs had so far?

CCAs across the state have offered electricity from renewable sources ranging from 37 percent to 100 percent, with a statewide average of 52 percent, according to the Luskin Center for Innovation at UCLA.

By comparison, SDG&E delivered about 45 percent renewable resources to customers last year, exceeding state mandates.

Rapid CCA growth is expected to continue. In 2010, investor-owned utilities had 78 percent of the statewide market share but it dropped to 70 percent last year and the Luskin Center report predicts it falling to 57 percent within two years.

PG&E mentioned erosion of its customer base due to CCAs as one of the reasons for shutting down the Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant.

What about San Diego?

The City of San Diego is considering whether to create a CCA to reach the goal of the city’s Climate Action Plan that mandates 100 percent of the city’s electric needs coming from renewable energy sources by 2035.

SDG&E is putting together a counter proposal that promises to get the city to 100 percent renewables by 2035.

The city council is expected to make a decision by the end of this year.

Why do some communities adopt CCAs?

Some want more clean sources in their energy portfolios. Others want more local control, working on the premise that community choice can deliver lower rates for customers than utilities. Boosters of CCAs say community choice delivers on both fronts.

MCE, for example, said its default program costs 2 to 5 percent less than Pacific Gas & Electric, the investor-owned utility in its area.

But slightly lower bills represent only part of their attraction for fans of CCAs.

Under the traditional utility model, energy decisions “aren’t made in our backyard,” said Nicole Capretz, executive director of the San Diego-based Climate Action Campaign and one of the architects of the city’s Climate Action Plan. “They’re made in San Francisco (home of the CPUC) and Sacramento (home of the Legislature).”

CCAs tend to be “much smaller and more nimble” than investor-owned utilities “and they’re not paying for these exorbitant salaries and they don’t have bonuses and shares of stocks” to concern themselves with, Capretz said.

Who makes the calls?

Leaving the final say on energy procurement to elected officials is a concern, said Tony Manolatos, spokesman for the Clear the Air Coalition.

“A lot of people don’t believe the city should be in the energy business — it’s very volatile,” Manolatos said. “The city would be better off focusing on core services like police, fire, parks, fixing our roads, helping solve the homeless problem … Not on launching a billion-dollar energy program.”

The Clear The Air Coalition includes representatives of the San Diego Regional Chamber of Commerce, the San Diego County Taxpayers Association, two faith groups, the Downtown San Diego Partnership and lobbyists for Sempra Energy — the parent company of San Diego Gas & Electric.

Under state law, a utility cannot use ratepayer dollars to lobby about CCAs but utilities can set up marketing divisions for that purpose, provided that shareholders, not ratepayers, fund them. SDG&E’s parent company, Sempra, did just that in 2016.

City officials making energy decisions is “like any other public agency accountability,” Capretz said. “You want to make sure they hire the right people who are experts in the field … Yes, ultimately the elected officials make the final decisions, but all the leg work and ground work is done by the professional staff.”

In Marin County, MCE has a staff of 60 but officials say that represents less than 3 percent of its budget.

How big is too big?

Another concern centers on the size of a proposed CCA in the City of San Diego — about 1.3 million customers. That’s well over twice the size of the largest CCA operating in the state (East Bay Community Energy, based in Alameda County, with 550,000 customer accounts).

If a City of San Diego CCA went belly up, critics worry ratepayers would be on the hook for financial liability.

But Capretz said a recently formed CCA in Los Angeles County, the Clean Power Alliance, “is going to be way bigger than us.”

The Clean Power Alliance expects to grow its current customer base of 36,000 to just under 1.04 million by the end of May 2019. By then, its CEO said from an energy load perspective, the L.A. County CCA would be the fifth-largest load serving entity in the state, trailing only Southern California Edison, PG&E, Los Angeles Department of Water and Power and SDG&E.

“L.A. County is just starting implementation and like them, we would do the same thing,” Capretz said. “You do it in phases, you get your sea legs, set up best practices and move on.”

What about cities outside San Diego but still in the county?

Since a City of San Diego CCA — at least in its initial iteration — would not include other cities and communities in the county, Haney Hong, CEO of the San Diego County Taxpayers Association, worries that cities like Imperial Beach or Chula Vista could be exposed to higher costs.

SDG&E in recent years signed power purchase agreements with energy providers under long-term contracts for renewables. But the price of renewable energy is lower today. That means a CCA can procure green energy sources at a lower price. That’s good news for customers in a proposed City of San Diego CCA but Hong sees a potential problem for communities in the county not in the CCA.

“If things are not properly accounted, then you have one taxpayer benefiting over another,” Hong said. “I remind folks we’re the San Diego County Taxpayers Association. We’re not just looking at San Diego city taxpayers; we’re also looking at National City taxpayers and Imperial Beach taxpayers.”

Capretz said such cost-shifting concerns can be addressed by properly accounting for the exit fees CCAs pay utilities each month.

What exit fees?

Among the acronyms thrown around, there’s another inelegant set of initials to keep in mind — PCIA, which stands for Power Charge Indifference Adjustment.

Once a CCA is created, the state’s Public Utilities Commission requires the community choice customers pay an exit fee, the PCIA.

Why? Because of those long-term power contracts utilities signed to secure energy for their customers. The utilities commission mandates that customers going to a CCA do not burden the remaining utility customers with costs paid to procure those energy purchases and investments.

Power companies have also built infrastructure, such as natural gas and solar power plants, all with CPUC approval. The utilities procured many of the clean energy sources in order to meet the state’s aggressive climate goals via the Renewable Portfolio Standard.

The exit fee is applied to each kilowatt-hour of electricity consumed by the customer and it shows up as a separate charge on every monthly bill.

The size of the fee is critical. Utilities want to make sure it compensates them for the generation they have procured while CCAs want to ensure the exit fee doesn’t raise their customers’ bills too high.

The utilities commission determines the fee, which involves a complicated formula. The exit fee is different in each of the service territories of the state’s three investor-owned utilities because each power company has a different mix of resources. In very general terms, the exit fee runs about 2.5 cents per kilowatt-hour for SDG&E residential rates.

Last month, an administrative law judge for the CPUC proposed a new exit fee the utilities did not like.

CPUC commissioner Carla Peterman responded with an alternate proposal that is more favorable to the remaining customers of power companies. As one would expect, the CCAs don’t like Peterman’s proposal. The Clear The Air Coalition liked the alternate decision better but didn’t like the fact that both proposals include caps from one year to the next, saying they would create “uncertainty, risk and debt.”

The full five-members of the commission are scheduled to make a decision on a new exit fee on Sept. 13 but CPUC watchers say they would not be surprised if a vote is delayed, given the details and debate.

“If I were a community considering a CCA, I would want to know the resolution of the PCIA debate before committing to provide service to local residents,” said Matthew Freedman, staff attorney at The Utility Reform Network .

Are CCAs really cleaner?

One of the raps on CCAs centers on what is called “resource shuffling” — that the power being purchased from existing resources really doesn’t result in more sources of clean energy but simply moves them around to appear to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Earlier this year, Voice of San Diego reported that Marin County’s MCE and another CCA in Sonoma purchased power from a utility in Washington state that operates two hydropower facilities, a clean source of power.

But the Washington utility increased its own amount of coal and natural gas, indicating it may have replaced the hydropower it sold off to MCE and Sonoma with dirtier energy sources.

Dawn Weisz, MCE’s chief executive officer, said her company has no control over decisions a seller makes regarding its own power supply.

“Any load-serving entity, including SDG&E or PG&E, that buys green power to their load doesn’t have control over what the seller chooses to do for their own procurement purposes.”

Another criticism? That CCAs are just purchasing power from existing sources and not creating new generation, or putting “steel in the ground.”

CCAs push back on that and say as the community choice movement grows, so will the number of their energy projects.

Earlier this year, MCE unveiled a 60-acre, 10.5-megawatt solar farm in Richmond.

“We have under contract more than 900-megawatts of new California based renewables,” Weisz said. “We ventured into long-term power supply agreements for wind, solar, geothermal, biomass in California, and that’s not resource shuffling. That’s building new power supply.”

Relatively few CCAs have entered into long-term supply commitments for substantial volumes of new clean energy infrastructure but community choice advocates say that will change as CCAs mature.

What do regulators think?

CCAs are part of a much larger change in the way customers in California receive their energy — whether from community choice, rooftop solar panels or private groups called Direct Access providers who re-sell electricity.

The changes are coming so fast it makes regulators nervous.

CPUC president Michael Picker sees similarities to the bad old days of the California Energy Crisis in 2000 and 2001 when failed deregulatory measures resulted in rolling blackouts across the state.

“If we don’t have a better plan than we currently have, then I worry we could end up in the same pickle,” said Picker, who also voiced his concerns in an extensive CPUC report released last month on the evolving electricity market. “If you’re a smaller provider, you don’t always get what you need.”

CPUC rules have been established making sure entities have purchased sufficient capacity, or resource adequacy.

“I find that not all CCAs are created equal,” Picker said, with some better run than others. “I’m not trying to judge them; I just know that there’s potential for failure there and we have to think that through and take steps.”

Some critics worry if there are big shifts in the market, CCAs in their development stages won’t have amassed the capital needed to withstand a financial shock.

CCAs have bristled at any comparisons to the energy crisis. The trade group representing community choice, CalCCA, challenged the CPUC report, saying in comments filed in Junethat safeguards are in effect to prevent a replay of what happened 18 years ago.

“The deregulated market was a free-for-all and this is completely different,” Capretz said. “Community choice programs are part of the long-term resource planning processes. They have to have resource adequacy. They have to prove that they have enough power for everybody … It’s not like the lights are going out.”

Going forward

All eyes are on the upcoming decision by the CPUC on the exit fee/PCIA.

San Diego’s city council is not expected to make a decision until that’s resolved.

A feasibility study released last year predicted a CCA has the potential to deliver cheaper rates over time than SDG&E’s current service, while providing as much as 50 percent renewable energy by 2023 and 80 percent by 2027.

SDG&E’s counter proposal to get to 100 percent renewables by 2035 has so far produced a rough outline for a “tariff” program that would charge ratepayers the cost of delivering more clean sources of energy over time.

Some council members have expressed frustration more specifics have not been sketched out.


CCA 101: How does Community Choice Aggregation work? What you need to know, by Rob Nikolewski, The San Diego Union-Tribune, September 9, 2018.