County To Decide Whether To Begin Pursuing Community Choice Energy
The San Diego County Board of Supervisors will decide Wednesday whether to take the first step toward pursuing the alternative energy program known as community choice aggregation, which would change the way energy is supplied to unincorporated parts of the county.
The supervisors are scheduled to vote on a Comprehensive Renewable Energy Plan of several recommendations, including doing a study on whether community choice is feasible and cost effective. Approving the study would be the first step in moving forward with community choice, which would allow the county government to bypass San Diego Gas & Electric and buy energy directly from the source.
What is community choice aggregation?
Right now, San Diego Gas & Electric provides power through its system of lines and wires to every city in San Diego County and southern Orange County. SDG&E buys the electricity from a variety of sources, including natural gas plants, hydroelectric dams and wind turbine farms.
If a city goes with community choice aggregation, power would still go through SDG&E’s grid, but the city would buy the energy, not the utility. That allows cities to have more control over how much of their energy comes from renewable sources and the cost for that electricity.
The idea behind community choice is that it gives governments more control over how much energy costs and where it comes from, so they can opt for more renewable sources such as wind and solar.
Governments are then on the hook to meet renewable energy targets laid out in legally binding climate action plans, such as the one passed by the city of San Diego in December 2015. The city's plan commits to using 100 percent renewable energy.
The county is deciding whether to study community choice only for unincorporated areas. Several cities in the county, including San Diego, are also studying whether to use community choice.
Nicole Capretz, director of the nonprofit Climate Action Campaign and a major advocate for community choice, said if supervisors approve the feasibility study, it will be another step toward bringing more energy choices to the entire region.
"They have an opportunity to be a leader in clean energy and accelerate clean energy," she said. "If the county decides to move forward, and the city is already moving forward, then we are basically signalling that we believe freedom is a critical component for our entire San Diego region."
But a vice president at Sempra Energy Services wrote a letter to the supervisors urging them to vote against the study.
"Unfortunately, it is apparent that the (San Diego County Renewable Energy Plan) has neither considered all of the available alternatives nor conducted an actual (Return on Investment) analysis of this (Best Management Practices) or any other option," wrote Frank Urtasun. "In order to achieve the County's emission reduction goals with maximum benefits and minimum cost, Sempra Services respectfully recommends that the (San Diego County Renewable Energy Plan) refrain from adopting a (Best Management Practices) on renewable energy procurement until it has considered the (Return on Investment) of all available alternatives, and done so on the basis of quantifiable metrics."
Last month, the California Public Utilities Commission suspended Sempra from lobbying on community choice aggregation. Capretz said it appears Urtasun's letter violates that suspension.
"They are participating in a process they have not been authorized to engage in," she said. "It feels like they're going rogue and they're actually challenging our government and saying they are above our government and they don't have to comply with the same rules everybody else does."
When asked whether the letter violated the suspension, SDG&E spokesman Jeff Powers said in a statement that the utility "has no comment on Frank Urtasun’s letter."
"SDG&E notes, however, that it has a compliance plan regarding (community choice) speech that is effective at the (California Public Utilities Commission). That plan addresses SDG&E’s speech and SDG&E’s relationship to Sempra Energy Services," he said.