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Local Businesses, Civic Leaders Form Group In Opposition Of Community Choice Energy

A sign on SDG&E's headquarters appears in this undated photo.

Photo by Nicholas McVicker

Above: A sign on SDG&E's headquarters appears in this undated photo.

A group of San Diego business and civic leaders announced Thursday they have formed a coalition to question a move toward community choice energy, which would allow San Diego's municipal government to acquire power separately from the local utility.

The Clear the Air Coalition includes former Mayor Jerry Sanders, currently president and CEO of the San Diego Regional Chamber of Commerce, Frank Urtasun of Sempra Energy, and Joe Panetta, who leads the life sciences industry trade group Biocom, among others.

A city of San Diego study released in July found that a community choice program would be a key factor in reaching a goal of generating 100 percent renewable energy by 2035, part of the city's plan to address climate change.

RELATED: 7 Things To Understand About Community Choice In San Diego

Community choice allows local governments to purchase electricity on behalf of customers within their jurisdiction. Locally, that would mean the city would not necessarily have to go through San Diego Gas and Electric to acquire energy.

Sanders said the report raised "several important questions — the most significant being cost. It is impossible to tell right now what the cost would be because the California Public Utilities Commission is still determining fee structures that would impact local governments deciding to launch a CCA program."

The CPUC could make decisions on costs over the next year and a half.

The coalition said before such a program is adopted, city officials need to be sure that it achieves "real and additional" greenhouse gas emission reductions and not burden taxpayers with significant financial risk.

"We want to reduce (greenhouse gas) emissions and increase renewable energy sources, but we want to make sure we're doing it the right way," said Haney Hong, a coalition member and president and CEO of the San Diego County Taxpayers Association.

"The plan before the city of San Diego might be a good idea, but it also might be a bad one," Hong said. "We simply don't know because there are too many unknowns."

RELATED: New Study Finds Use Of Community Choice Energy Feasible

Lani Lutar, who preceded Hong at the taxpayer's group, noted that pending state legislation would require that utilities deliver 100 percent clean energy by 2045, which would accomplish the climate change plan's goal without putting the government in the energy acquisition business.

Climate Action Campaign Executive Director Nicole Capretz, who strongly supports community choice, said the program is time-tested and has "undeniable" advantages for families and small businesses.

"Every single organization in this coalition is supported handsomely by SDG&E and its parent company, Sempra Energy, which spends hundreds of thousands of dollars each year to purchase the enabling silence of business groups so they can maintain their monopoly stranglehold on San Diego customers," Capretz said.

"That's why San Diego families are stuck paying the highest rates in the state, while customers in all of the counties that have adopted community choice energy are enjoying lower bills with more clean energy."

The city of Solana Beach is developing plans for a community choice energy program, while the cities of Carlsbad, Del Mar and Encinitas are studying the idea.

The Board of Supervisors earlier this year declined to study community choice for unincorporated areas.

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