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Protests Filed Over SDG&E’s Move To Lobby On Energy Choice

Photo caption: A roof with solar panels installed is shown in this undated photograph.

Photo credit: Flickr / Elliott Brown

A roof with solar panels installed is shown in this undated photograph.

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SDG&E recently took steps to form an independent marketing district that would allow it to lobby against community choice aggregation, an alternative energy program. It's the first utility in the state to take this step.

Environmentalists and San Diego County political leaders are protesting SDG&E's decision to take the only legal option it has to allow the utility to lobby on the alternative energy program called community choice aggregation.

State law says utilities must form independent marketing districts — separate from ratepayer funds — to lobby on community choice. The energy program would give the city of San Diego energy purchasing power instead of SDG&E. The program is being considered as one way of reaching the city's goal of using only renewable energy in 20 years.

Other cities in the county, including Del Mar and Solana Beach, also are considering the option.

Last month, San Diego Gas & Electric sent a notice to the California Public Utilities Commission saying it wants to create the marketing district. It's the first utility in the state to take this step.

On Wednesday, the environmental nonprofit Climate Action Campaign said it would file a letter with the commission protesting the utility's move.

The letter says SDG&E isn't following state law for several reasons, including not demonstrating it has the correct procedures in place to follow lobbying rules around community choice and not setting up its independent marketing district outside the headquarters of Sempra, SDG&E's parent company.

To form an independent marketing district, SDG&E has to show it has a plan to prevent information being exchanged between it and the marketing district.

"For many rules, SDG&E has failed to demonstrate that it has any procedure in place to ensure compliance," Climate Action Campaign's letter says. "Instead, regarding these rules SDG&E has provided only the vague, unsupported assertion that it intends to comply with the requirement in question, without identifying or describing any concrete procedure for ensuring this compliance."

The letter also says SDG&E officers will sit on the marketing district's board, which is also prevented by state law.

"There's supposed to be a firewall so that this independent marketing arm wouldn't be colluding with the experts at San Diego Gas & Electric to undermine and undercut the ability of cities to offer choice to their residents and businesses," said Nicole Capretz, Climate Action Campaign's director. "Unfortunately, in their application, SDG&E is not providing a sufficient firewall and, in our opinion, is setting up to act unethically and prevent cities and communities from moving forward with this innovative program for clean energy."

SDG&E spokeswoman Amber Albrecht said Sempra is following the law by setting up the marketing district, and said SDG&E customers will not fund the district. She said the district needs to be physically separate from SDG&E, not Sempra, which it is.

Albrecht added that SDG&E supports San Diego's Climate Action Plan, which includes community choice aggregation, and wants a separate district so it can participate in the discussion.

"The way in which the Climate Action Plan is written, a lot of times when we try to engage in the discussion about how do we best meet its objectives, our viewpoint is being viewed as limited to just one subject in which we're limited in what we can say," she said. She said the plan is for SDG&E to set up a division that "can fully engage in these discussions."

Del Mar's City Council voted this week to send a protest letter over SDG&E's independent marketing district.

Councilman Don Mosier said Del Mar's climate action plan is dependent on community choice aggregation, and he views SDG&E's move as blocking that choice.

"This looks like a profit-motivated move, and something that will block us from reaching our clean energy goals," he said.

Mosier said Del Mar wants the city of San Diego to set up community choice because that will make it possible for smaller surrounding cities like his to join their community choice organization. But, he said, if San Diego doesn't move forward with the program, Del Mar, Encinitas, Solana Beach and maybe Carlsbad will set up their own community choice program.

San Diego County Supervisor Dianne Jacob also sent a protest letter on Dec. 4, stating she believes community choice "provides the best prospect for keeping energy costs down," and that SDG&E's independent district "is an obvious and clear way to skirt state law just as (community choice aggregation) is gaining momentum throughout the state."

Protest letters must be received by the California Public Utilities Commission before Thursday.

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