Skip to main content
Visit the Midday Edition homepage

Roundtable: San Diego Alternative Energy Plan

October 26, 2018 1:30 p.m.

Roundtable: How Will Proposed Alternative Energy Program Affect Consumers?

PANEL:

Andrew Bowen, metro reporter, KPBS News

Rob Nikolewski, energy reporter, San Diego Union-Tribune

Michael Smolens, columnist, San Diego Union-Tribune

Alison St John, north county reporter, KPBS News

Related Story: Roundtable: San Diego Alternative Energy Plan

Transcript:

This is a rush transcript created by a contractor for KPBS to improve accessibility for the deaf and hard-of-hearing. Please refer to the media file as the formal record of this interview. Opinions expressed by guests during interviews reflect the guest’s individual views and do not necessarily represent those of KPBS staff, members or its sponsors.

San Diego's mayor endorses a new energy program that features non-polluting power. What it might mean for San Diego consumers.

Prop 6 lags in the polls this week while gas tax opponent mocks efforts seeking more people out of cars on a public transit. And Democrats are pinning some of their hopes for flipping the house on San Diego's forty ninth district race between Mike Levin and Dianne Hartke. Mark Sauer the PBS roundtable starts now.

Welcome to our discussion of the week's top stories I'm Mark Sauer. And joining me at the PBS roundtable today reporter Rob Nicholas SCII of the San Diego Union Tribune PBS metro reporter Andrew Bowen. Alison St. John who covers North County for PBS and Michael Skolnik columnist with the Union Tribune will San Diego may be the biggest city in California to take control over its sources of energy. Mayor Kevin Faulconer announced this week he'll establish how he will push to establish that is a CCJ or community choice aggregation plan. Let's get our obligatory.

That's a terrible name out of the way already. So Rob start with that and we'll call it CCJ from now on how does it work.

Well the traditional utility model the utility does everything transmission and distribution. Also the procurement of power also the billing everything remains the same under SCCA plan except for one thing the procuring of power is up to the local entity that establishes a community choice aggregation plan SCCA. So that's the big difference is that it's the only difference but it's a big one.

And Andrew what was the reasoning the mayor used in throwing his support to this.

Well I think well we have the climate action plan in San Diego it really binds the city to achieve 100 percent renewable energy by 2035. And the mayor essentially had two options on the table at the end of the day. There was community choice or there was this sort of alternative program that was proposed by Estey Giani. An independent study kind of poked some holes in Estey Jeannie's proposal. And the city wasn't really happy with it. So the withdrew its proposal and community choice was really left as the only option that the mayor could potentially pursue.

All right we've got to we're going to hear from the mayor here you've got a bite on him explaining his whole reasoning.

This is what I've been saying for years about our climate action plan. We can leave a cleaner city for the next generation and create economic benefits for our region. The two are not mutually exclusive.

All right. And what is the reward these are going to mean to a typical energy bills are going to go up don't do this.

That is the million dollar question. The backers of SCCA say and point to other SCCA across California there's about 19 of them right now. And they say that CCS can provide not just Precure or cleaner sources of energy but at very competitive if not lower prices than the utilities. One major monkey wrench in this thing will be that a couple of weeks ago the California Public Utilities Commission came out with a new formula for an exit fee. I don't want to get too far into the weeds in this but when you establish a CCJ the customers of SCCA have to pay a exit fee to the legacy utility company.

It's a very complicated formula but these S.P. you see the utilities commission adjusted it upwards a couple of weeks ago. So in each exit fee is different for each territory of an investor owned utility for the San Diego area. It's estimated by the CPC that will come to about four dollars.

I'm sorry four point point four to five cents. So 4.5 cents per kilowatt hour in San Diego. That works out if you're the general rule of thumb for how much a kilowatt hour ridge that residents uses is about 400 kilowatt hours 400 to 500 per month.

So that works out to about 17 to 21 dollars and that's every month they're going to pay every month. So that gives SD Jeannie's some room some wiggle room there to come up with something that might be more competitive than the eventual CCJ.

So one of the main arguments that proponents of CCJ talk about is this concept of choice it's in the name choice. Right now as to tagine and many other utilities in California are essentially a monopoly they're a regulated monopoly but they don't have you know a customer doesn't have really much choice to go to a competitor and say well maybe I can get a cheaper price here. So this idea of choice and competition maybe trying to push the utility towards trimming some of the fat that a bureaucratic sort of fact that it's built up over the years.

That's one of the things that supporters of the CCS say is really great about these programs. Also the fact that CCS can actually set their own rates now they're still overseen by the state regulators. But CCS can choose they hold their rate setting meetings in the local jurisdiction. So right now our rates from mesti gene are decided up in San Francisco where the public utilities commission is headquartered and if San Diego does establish SCCA program those decisions will be made here and that they say that increases transparency.

And as both of you and Rob noted in your stories this week we have among the highest rates in the country.

Well I have a question because yes supposing it turns out that in fact the consumer is not getting a lower rate and it's not such a good deal. The mayor did say that there would be a way to back out of it. But I wonder how would the sustainable energy producers be able to invest in all the investments that have to make to provide that energy if they don't have a solid commitment from the city of San Diego. Yes we're going to stick with you.

Well so most CCS programs automatically enroll all of the customers in that particular jurisdiction to start with. And that's just to kind of build up the customer base and. And then the customers have the option of leaving the CCAR program and sticking with the incumbent utility. I think we should we don't we don't know exactly what the prices are going to be but other sources have been paying these exit fees since the beginning and they found ways to sort of mitigate you know they build up some reserves. They you know maybe find more favorable terms and energy procurement contracts then the utilities have been able to the incentive to the sustainable energy producers to keep their prices low or people that back out.

Certainly Michael. Well.

The question for either of you is that the mare has moved forward on this to set it up. No he's talking about of more of a regional approach than just the city approach which the question of getting out is will this take some time and obviously there's going to be a lot that has to be done after he's termed out of the mayor's office in 2020. But what kind of responsibility does he have. Is this just sort of something that it's really backloaded or is there heavy lifting for the mayor that he's really going to have to do over the next to a bunch of other communities.

Well in order to put together a joint agreement that's going to take about three years altogether. So that takes a little bit beyond mere Faulkner's term but a lot of the stuff a lot of the ground work has to be laid. The vast majority of that groundwork has to be laid within the next two years so I think this ruling the city council goes along with it and it's looking very very likely especially Laurie Zaf came out in favor of the backers SCCA some count of the heads on this thing. They're very confident it's going to get done.

And right now Solana Beach already has a a program that's up and running and there are a number of other cities in the county that are in various stages of exploration or determining the feasibility of a program in their jurisdiction. So if the city decides to form a joint powers authority with Solano Beach and some other cities then that could also create some economies of scale and sort of help streamline some of the administrative costs that that would be associated with.

It's not really starting a square one.

Exactly a short time left on the Sowmya didn't want to get to the idea that you know San Diego is an aggressive climate action plan the county has one too but the state has a law that they have all this green power here by 2041 only for is that going to make CC is moot in the years to come.

Well I don't think so and particularly in San Diego State because we have a tighter deadline. We have until 2035 to reduce it to get to 100 percent renewable energy. And you know the skeptics of CCJ mostly funded by the shareholders and Sempra Energy Jeannie's parent company point to this as well we already have the state law but unfortunately the state law doesn't align with San Diego's own clean energy goals. And the timeline.

All right well this'll be certainly one to watch as we go forward here and a lot of follow ups to do in the story. Well the most contentious proposition on November's ballot is Prop 6 repealing the state's recent hike in the gasoline tax and vehicle fees. Last year the Legislature passed a law raising the gas tax tax by 12 cents per gallon. First such increase since 1994. So what does start with that and what was the reason behind the increase in the jump in the vehicle fees.

Well so I think the state legislature and really all Californians have observed the deterioration of our roads and some other points of infrastructure that are a little less visible like the structural integrity of a bridge let's say. And and as you mentioned the state gas tax had not been raised since 1994. There are a couple things that have gone into this crumbling of our roads. One is inflation. So the gas tax is flat. It was never pegged to inflation. And so the purchasing power of all of that revenue that we're collecting has been depleted over the years.

Second with population growth and our general trend towards more sprawling development we have longer distances to travel by car and just over more cars on the road. And then third we also have seen a large number of hybrids and electric vehicles on the road and they pay far less in gas taxes. But they essentially put the same stress on the roads and contribute the same amount to the degradation of infrastructure as conventional automobiles. So those three things are really one of the main reasons why the state legislature felt like it was time to raise the gas tax and also vehicle fees.

All right. And this started in San Diego with Kerr MRA we've talked about them in the program before but the increased spending from the gas tax revenues which have been around now for a little bit they've meant a lot to San Diego County specifically right.

Yes so and statewide it collects about a little over five billion dollars a year. A lot of that is going to the state highway system. So the expansion of five in North County with V lanes is getting or it was promised rather one hundred ninety five million dollars from the gas tax increase. A number of other highways are also getting drainage improvements to prevent flooding. Cities and counties are also getting an automatic return on this revenue and most of them are using it for slurry ceiling and other kinds of road repair.

We should also mention public transit up to 800 million dollars I think in the first 10 years as promised to public transit and we're seeing some of those things come into San Diego as well with zero emission buses more fuel efficient coaster trains and just overall increased operations and improvements to operations.

As you know you've written Carl the Mile has said that there's money there they're just not spending it wisely. He refutes the notion that this will be a real hit the road repair Flury that's been going on. Is there truth to that. I guess in terms of the it's certainly a selling point. But do people buy that.

Yeah well the gas tax collection and spending is really really complicated as it turns out. I tried to look into it. So it is true that some of the revenue from the state gas tax goes into things other than just road repair. A portion of it goes to the enforcement of traffic laws and funding the California Highway Patrol. So transportation related but not necessarily related to the infrastructure alone. Think Carl the mayor also had something of a problem with giving money from the gas tax. Public transit. And then there are also administrative costs that the states are allowed to use gas tax revenue to kind of pay the salaries of people who run the whole program.

And Carl has a problem with that as well.

The other thing that has been saying is that the state has plenty of money it can find it somewhere else to do this. I mean how many people do you really believe that the state of California has billions of dollars that it can pull out of its back pocket to backfill if this is taken away right.

Well I think we should also recognize that Carl de Mayo is something of an idealogue when it comes to taxes and government spending. And that's been true for a long time. So. So you know I think that he certainly sees that there is plenty of revenue on the table for the state to spend. But he also says that when he fairly points out that California does have that now the highest gas tax in the country the cost of of infrastructure repairs in California is higher than other states and there are a lot of reasons that go into that like the cost of living here and labor.

But it is true that you know if you look at the gas tax overall that flat per cent fee we are paying more in California than other states.

I did want to we're going to talk in a minute about the 40 93 spoke but Dion hurt the Republican in that race has made the Prop 6 repeal a center a plank of her platform we get a bite from her and that caused a little stir.

Let's hear the this is just wrong. It's. Forcing you to take. Bikes.

Get on trains whose office depot and try to get to work. Now.

That does not work with my heroes. I couldn't. Do that and I will not do that.

Michael I've been on trains didn't really feel the need to hose off I don't know what you mean there but isn't it easier politically. You say tax bad pay too much for gas already. That's an easier argument to try to keep this thing isn't it.

Well that's become sort of the meem of the campaign season. So far the Herzing off here in heels is out hosing off at the depot and I don't take public transportation regularly to work. But I have yet to have to hose off. I've heard anywhere. But yeah I mean what they were hoping is that Prop 6 in addition to hopefully you know for from their side reducing the gas tax would help drive voters Republicans like this there you know under you know kind of siege politically. Things aren't going their way.

They may lose the house they may not. But they were hoping that it was going to spur voters and whether it does or not it doesn't really seem to be helping in races certainly not hers. We'll talk about. You know I mean polls are showing her really lagging and you know would that have made any difference at all. But they are banking on it as a populous motion. You know some polls have been conflicting on it but most legitimate ones have said you know it's trailing quite a bit.

Yeah it's interesting that we have that discussion. Tell us about the polls. Andrew make the point you were about to make.

Well you know it depends on the question you ask in the poll if you asked do you want to repeal the gas tax or do you want cheaper gas of course. A lot of people are going to say yes. The ballot title doesn't say repeal the gas tax and there's some controversy over that as well. But it says you know repeal transportation revenues and these are transportation revenues of course. And that is something that a lot of voters may be a little bit more hesitant to support. I do want to bring back though.

One important point that I think is sometimes lost in the debate over Prop 6 which is climate change. California we have we know now that transportation is the biggest source of greenhouse gas emissions in the state. And so there is no real tackling of climate change without shifting a huge number of people out of cars and toward biking walking and public transit. And so what I think we heard from Diane Harkey is that there's a lot of resistance to that in certain communities in California. We feel very wedded to our automobiles.

We feel like it's our right to drive. But if we're really serious about tackling climate change then we have to be okay with it.

With no efforts at the state level to try and encourage people to use greener forms of transportation and I have that I've heard dialogue you say you're appealing to the soccer moms in this world and not everyone wants to take the bus to take their kids to soccer practice. But as someone who comes from Europe where the kids take the bus to soccer practice then you wouldn't have to be a soccer mom if you had public transit you know seems to escape a lot of people's notice as they can get around the.

Well it's going to be very interesting and I know there's a lot of money weighing in and a lot of yard signs and ads and everything both way. Another fascinating reason to vote on November 6 and to watch our coverage of the vote. And we're going to move on to another political element today. Let's turn to the forty ninth congressional district Republican Darrell Issa decided not to run. That followed a relentless weekly attacks by the flipped the 49ers group. They made national news going after Isom and also in the race to replace him because of that kind of symbolic importance.

Well it does. I mean Darrell Lysa gained a certain amount of notoriety during his term as head of the House Oversight Committee and he went after Clinton over Benghazi Fast and Furious campaign. He basically went after the Democrats in a way that was so aggressive that some of his own colleagues in the Republican side of the house thought he was overstepping the line. So he has he had built up a certain amount of animosity that I think might have been part of the reason that the 49ers came out and he looked to the polls and looked to the registration trends and decided to step back.

All right we got a peek of Diron Harkey in the previous segment to start start with.

Give us a little background a thumbnail and we can get done Harkey has spent most of her life in banking. That was her profession. She served on the California State Assembly for a couple of terms so she has held elected office and represented California. She represents eight million Californians on the Board of Equalization which is somewhat obscure a board that deals with taxes. And so this relates to the fact that taxes I think is one of her her main platforms is to keep taxes low. She is not in favor of health care for all.

She basically says that the wall is something that Donald Trump wants but she's not particularly interested in the wall but she is interested in comprehensive immigration reform. I think she would say that she takes a lot of the positions that the more established Republicans were taking on climate change. She is definitely in the camp of the doubters as to whether manmade climate change is the cause of stark contrast from her opponent Democrat Mike Levin. So Mike Levin is an environmental attorney which I think has stood him in really good stead in this campaign.

He also is from Orange County both from Orange County. She lives in Dana Point he lives in San Juan Capistrano. He has not held elected office but he's been very involved with politics as the head of the Democratic party up in Orange County. He has connections in Washington D.C. which I think have helped him a lot in his campaign. Adam Schiff House Intelligence Committee who's also very visible. His neck of the woods is very much in support of him and he has won a lot on you know being very aware of environmental issues he's talked a lot about of no fray which people in his district are very much involved with.

He is in favor of health care for all eventually says this is one of the moral issues of our time. And both of them I would say are talking about jobs and the fact that this district is one which on the coast there has a lot of very high tech a lot of good companies that pay really good wages and high tech and biotech. So they're there ahead of the game already in terms of jobs in that I think this district is generating some very well-paid jobs for its residents.

Now we've seen health care micro play out a little bit in some of these congressional races around the country here. And what about here because Harkey in a lot of folks are saddled with Republicans who voted scores of times to repeal that provision and the risk provisions and the other protections that Obamacare.

Well Mike Levin has pointed that out and even in her tenure up in Sacramento there were certain votes that were counter to I think popular opinion in terms of you know expanding house health coverage. It is an interesting dynamic. It's an issue that is hurting Republicans how much it's resonating with all the other noise going on right now don't noise. But you know regarding immigration the bombs being sent through the mail so far there's a lot of things people are paying attention. But you see certain Republicans are really sort of almost not almost quite frankly adopting democratic rhetoric in their campaign about preexisting conditions when some of these very people in Congress not Dan Harkey have voted against like many many existing commission I mean conditions.

You know this is the party that had voted how many times against Obamacare and we found that while initially Obamacare really wasn't very popular it seemed like it sort of has grown and people know that it's been in and that's become a big problem for Republicans I think. But you know we had talked about Alison had talked about the you know the ice a factor and so forth. Trump played into this district an awful lot played into a lot about the way the Democrats were very upset with isoa for his aggressive behavior towards Democrats as she said.

But also he really tied himself very closely to Trump and that really backfired on him and that had a lot to do along with his votes on health care. That was sort of one of the real things that lit the fuse. In addition to all this stuff that really drove him out of the race and it's kind of interesting. He's endorsed Harkey. He's been kind of a high profile supporter. That was probably an ok thing in the primary. I don't know that that's such a good political.

Rain about that.

No there is in fact you know from the President Obama came to town and Bernie Sanders is due tonight. So the Democrats I think have been very mobilized by the fact that there's a connection between Obama and Levin. And one of the points that I want to make was perhaps that in the primary the Republican who looked like he was going to win was Rocky Chavez who was a much more moderate Republican especially on climate change. I mean I think he really recognizes that climate change is real and he made some compromise votes in Sacramento based on the understanding that we have to cut down on greenhouse gases.

And an important with so many constituents in California.

Yes. I mean people along the coastline there are very aware of sea level rise. And so that's an issue that affects their property values in fact. So in the end it's hard to say whether the Republicans messed up by not voting in drug habits because I think he was knocked out of the race by a Democratic ad. The Democrats realized he was by far the most threatening candidate and would be the hardest to beat.

But it could have been a different race if we're okay with the climate climate change denier what's the what are the polls showing 10 days out from there.

Well the polls are showing that Lebanon is well ahead of course Hockey's campaign is coming back and saying if these polls didn't take as many Republicans as Democrats so I don't think it's a slam dunk. You know I don't I don't think either side can sit back and say this is a done deal. But at the moment Levin is quite substantially ahead in the polls.

All right. We've got a short time left here to touch on this a moment ago and I wanted to get into politics this week frightening number of multiple crude bombs were sent to a number of Democratic leaders and Democratic outspoken Democrats like Robert DeNiro and George Soros have an arrest today in this case the federal authorities have announced. Michael how do you think that is playing out not just in California but across the country as we get just in the last few days of this.

It's another head snapping thing very disconcerting. Obviously the more we find out about this person the early indication are is that he is had record. He's threatened people he you know comes sort of from the right wing perspective apparently again it's all very early. Things will play out but so that's going to play into the politics of this. Does Trump seem to be trying to change the subject from various things we had been talking about particularly health care and the environment to immigration with this caravan coming up. I mean he's sending troops to the border he's got the homeland security adviser secretary out at the border today on Friday.

So those things you know he was hoping that that's worked for him. This is going to at least give pause to that and his initial take on it has been very kind of schizophrenia. He's talked about unity in one hand. We've got to stop this stuff and all other things you would expect the president to say and then he sort of has belittled it and tweet that this bomb thing and he put quotes around the term bomb so yeah.

And then even in the White House today the crowd there for him talking about this issue saying CNN socks and blasting the media and also we will see how it plays out. I think stay tuned because another show before that and of course we encourage everybody to vote. And it's going to be a wild ride in the next ten days. But we are on the time that those wrap up another week of stories at the PBS roundtable. I'd like to thank my guest Rob Nicholas ske of the San Diego Union Tribune.

Andrew Bone of PBS News Ollison St. John also a PBS News and Michael Samoans of the Union Tribune. And I urge you to go to KBB dot or check out our comprehensive voter guide and be sure to vote a week from Tuesday. That is coming right up. Hard to believe all the that we've talked about it on the show it's going to be here. And I'm Mark Sauer thanks for joining us today on the roundtable.