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Solana Beach Becomes First In County To Opt For Alternative Energy Program

Fletcher Cove Community Center in Solana Beach, Oct. 2013.

Photo by Alison St John

Above: Fletcher Cove Community Center in Solana Beach, Oct. 2013.

The city of Solana Beach became the first in the county to move forward with a program that allows local governments to bypass San Diego Gas & Electric and buy their energy directly.

The city of Solana Beach became the first in the county Wednesday to move forward with an alternative energy program called community choice that allows local governments to bypass San Diego Gas & Electric and buy their energy directly.

Community choice is meant to help governments use more renewable energy, such as solar, wind and hydropower. Solana Beach and other North County cities — including Del Mar and Encinitas — have committed to eventually using 100 percent renewable energy.

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 Solana Beach City Council voted 4 to 1 to hire two companies, The Energy Authority and Calpine Energy Solutions, to develop a community choice program for the city. Over the next six months, the companies will do local outreach and draft implementation and operations, budget and staffing plans that lay out how community choice will work.

Solana Beach is not yet committed to follow those plans. Under the agreements, the city can back out within the next six months and not have to pay.

Allison Torres, a spokeswoman for SDG&E, said in a statement, "We support the city of Solana Beach’s right to choose its energy supplier. And regardless of where the energy comes from, SDG&E will continue to deliver it on the most reliable power grid in the West."

Environmental activist Nicole Capretz, director of the nonprofit Climate Action Campaign, said she hopes Solana Beach's vote is the first domino to fall in the county.

"It always just takes somebody doing it first to then make the other cities feel like this is OK," she said. "They have broken the seal so everybody will feel like this is the direction we should be going and this makes sense and is going to bring economic and environmental benefits and gives consumers the freedom they deserve."

Several other North County cities are also weighing whether to use community choice, including Del Mar, Encinitas, Oceanside and Carlsbad. Capretz said she always expected Solana Beach to move forward before the other cities, and hopes that eventually they can join together in a collective energy program.

RELATED: San Diego Energy Study Never Finished

The city of San Diego is also currently doing a study on whether the program would be feasible and cheaper than the current system, which is one option the city could use to reach its commitment to use 100 percent clean electricity by 2035. That study is expected to come out this summer.

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