ATASCADERO — The Atascadero City Council will not be making time at their Aug.13 meeting to hear again from the Monterey Bay Community Power (MBCP), a timetable set by the alternative energy provider for the City to join all other San Luis Obispo County municipalities in enrollment.
The decision was taken at the end of the Council’s regular July 9 meeting in a special item set aside to decide if they’d agendize the item for discussion and an official public hearing.
It was a distinction that members of the public who’d waited through nearly three hours preliminary items for a chance to speak found difficult to understand, as noted by John Smigelski of the SLO Climate Coalition who said he’d tried to explain the situation to people in other parts of the County but was met with, “so they’re voting to decide if they’re going to vote?”
Referring to Councilwoman Roberta Fonzi’s comment after a previous presentation by MBCP that she thought a citizen’s referendum might be a better fit than asking for a majority vote of three out of five Councilmembers, Smigelski said he started fielding questions wondering what elected representatives were for if not to make choices in the best interest of their constituents, but the position of his organization was that, “This is a simple benefit to take out of the hands of PG&E and give to your residents.”
Mayor Pro Tem Charles Bourbeau held a similar view noting that, “this council is willing to say ‘no’ sometimes, but we do owe the public the formal consideration and discussion. You know me, I always have questions and I’ll have some more in August. This is not a rush job, it’s a choice and an opportunity to save money which we owe formal discussion.”
Councilwoman Susan Funk added that to refuse further consideration was to back up the image of the City as being recalcitrant, not her own word choice, but one mulled over after being introduced by public commenters, “it’s tough to defend a position that says we’re not going to agendize. That says we’re not willing to do homework and that’s not us. I don’t see anyone here unwilling to make the effort.”
Indeed, said Mayor Heather Moreno, she’d spent a lot more hours in research than she’d thought she would on the subject of community choice energy, and spoke with two other mayors in SLO County. Riffing off of Fonzi’s complaint that she felt pressured as if the City were on a used car lot, Moreno said there wasn’t enough of a track record or information out there to compare brands, “this history goes back to 2002 after the energy crisis in 2000. But the first [Community Choice Energy Aggregator] was established in 2014, all others came along in 2017.”
The monopoly power utility and provider for this region PG&E, is also precluded by regulation from offering a fight against the community choice programs, she added.
“I know you’re all really angry at the three of us right now,” Moreno told the public gathered in support of MBCP, adding that she hoped they’d be able play devil’s advocate to see her position.
“It’s not ‘no’ forever,” she said to soften the blow.
As the other incorporated cities in the region will be signing up to become voting members in MBCP’s Joint Powers Authority in September 2019, Atascadero will be the lone holdout in joining, the provider which would appear as a line item rebate on resident’s energy bills. Individual customers would have been allowed to opt-out of participation, noted Moreno, but the City would still be participating in the JPA for the foreseeable future.
MBCP CEO Tom Habashi who waited with the public through the earlier meeting items to answer any Council questions, noted that any future decision to join would necessitate splitting the $22,000 cost between Atascadero and any other entities up for consideration.
Talks with MBCP on hold, by Camas Frank, Atascadero News, July 12, 2019.