In the ’70s, it was not uncommon to be approached by free-spirited enviros wearing tie-dye shirts and Birkenstocks preaching the benefits of solar energy, getting off the grid and saving the planet.
Today, bureaucrats wearing suits working out of shared office space in Pershing Square soon will be offering almost 1 million residential customers in 29 cities and unincorporated communities in Los Angeles and Ventura counties a way to reduce their carbon footprint while keeping the lights on and air conditioners humming.
To reach 50 percent renewable energy, or if they prefer, 100 percent, residents in the CPA service area don’t have to install solar panels or buy a battery wall. They literally have to do nothing.
The Clean Power Alliance, a government-operated community electricity provider, will automatically enroll 950,000 residential customers in February and 100,000 businesses in May in green energy plans.
Within that service area, it will replace Southern California Edison, the investor-owned utility based in Rosemead and monopoly holder on electric power in Southern California.
“We are not asking you to ride a bike, take public transit or buy an electric car. Here with the flip of a switch or by doing nothing, people will be reducing their greenhouse gas footprint,” said Ted Bardacke, executive director of the Clean Power Alliance.
How it works
Just like choosing cable or streaming TV, electricity customers can pick from one of three CPA energy plans, each delivering electricity to their homes from portfolios containing varied amounts of clean energy, from 36 percent to 100 percent.
The CPA uses SCE’s transmission lines and sub-stations to deliver the power, and SCE still sends out the bills. But CPA buys all the energy and sets the rates.
Only the source of power changes, explained Diana Mahmud, a member of the South Pasadena City Council and chairwoman of the CPA board of directors.
— The Lean Power plan contains 36 percent renewable energy at rates 1-2 percent lower than SCE’s standard product, which includes between 32 percent and 34 percent renewable energy.
— Clean Power delivers 50 percent renewable energy at about the same rate or slightly lower.
— Green Power, labeled as “environmental champions,” delivers 100 percent renewable energy but at a rate about 9 percent higher than SCE’s base rate, Mahmud said.
Each city council and county board of supervisor has already chosen a default plan for their residents. Each resident is automatically enrolled in the designated plan but can switch to one of the the other options.
Also, a resident can elect to return to SCE for a small fee, Bardacke explained.
Most governmental bodies voted for the middle choice — Clean Power plan — that would bump up renewable energy 16 percent to 18 percent per household as compared to SCE’s base rate.
Cutting carbon footprint
“This is the easiest way for any individual to mitigate the impact of climate change,” Mahmud said. “We are trying to increase the pace at which our communities become sustainable.”
Most cities chose the 50 percent plan. Ten entities chose the Green Power/100 percent renewable plan.
They are: Culver City, West Hollywood, Santa Monica, Rolling Hills Estates, South Pasadena, Ojai, Ventura, Oxnard, Thousands Oaks and unincorporated Ventura County, Bardacke said.
If all customers were to stick with their pre-designated plan, by the end of May, they would receive 66 percent of their electricity from renewables (mostly solar, wind and geothermal) and 78 percent carbon-free, Bardacke said.
“We could say your electricity-based carbon footprint would be cut in half,” he said. “If you are at our 100 percent green rate, your electricity-based carbon footprint would be zero.”
Part of the plan to slow down climate change is to reduce the amount of carbon dioxide and methane being released from electricity plants running on fossil fuels.
Climate change has been associated with longer droughts in California, fiercer wildfires and hotter temperatures. The changes have melted ice caps in the Arctic and caused rising sea levels, threatening coastal real estate.
The state mandates all utilities reach 60 percent renewable energy by 2030. CPA customers would get there 11 years earlier.
Mahmud said the agency’s very low overhead, combined with the plunging cost of solar and wind power, make it possible to procure more clean energy than the for-profit utilities while still offering rates comparable or cheaper than those of SCE.
Besides securing long-term contracts from renewable energy, such as large-scale solar utility projects in the Mojave Desert, the CPA is making deals with developers to build more clean energy power plants. It inked its first contract for wind energy on the Kern-LA County border in October, Bardacke said.
“If we keep getting good deals on long-term renewable energy contracts, we see the prices of such renewables continuing to be lower than our average cost of power,” he said.
The CPA formed in 2017 as a result of a 2002 law and was formerly known as the Los Angeles Community Choice Energy.
Other community choice aggregation (CCA) entities include Lancaster, which formed its own CCA four years ago, followed more recently by Pico Rivera.
The city of Irvine is organizing a CCA for Orange County as is San Diego, Bardacke said.
Residents of cities with their own municipal utilities, such as Los Angeles, Glendale, Burbank, Pasadena and Azusa, cannot participate in a CCA .
Since last summer, the Clean Power Alliance has enrolled 34,000 businesses in unincorporated LA County and the two original cities, South Pasadena and Rolling Hills Estates.
Of those already enrolled, the opt-out rate is less than 1.5 percent, said Bardacke, who said more corporate businesses are inquiring how to join.
Former South Coast Air Quality Management District communications director Bill Kelly, who has served on the city’s Natural Resources and Environmental Commission, says residents are poised to pay a little more for 100 percent clean energy.
“I think people will largely accept it. In general, people seem supportive of this,” he said.
You might be one of the nearly 1 million people automatically enrolled in renewable energy plans Feb. 1, by Steve Scauzillo, San Gabriel Valley Tribune, January 8, 2019.