County Supervisors Move Toward ‘Community Choice’ Energy Purchase Program
Tuesday, September 10, 2019
Photo by Andrew Bowen
The San Diego County Board of Supervisors voted Tuesday to take another step toward creating a public energy purchasing program that would aim to provide ratepayers with renewable energy at a lower cost than San Diego Gas & Electric.
The board voted 3-2 to start negotiations with a group of North County cities that are already putting together details of a joint "community choice energy" program. County staffers are expected to bring the results of those negotiations back to the board in October for a final vote.
Community choice allows local governments to take over some responsibilities currently limited to private utilities. Under such programs, they can purchase electricity from power plants on behalf of residents and businesses, but still rely on a private utility to deliver that power through the grid.
Community choice programs can also set their own electricity rates, giving ratepayers a choice between their incumbent utility's plan or the public option.
"To me it's all about giving consumers a choice and bringing competition to the market," said Supervisor Dianne Jacob, who represents East County. "Other cities in the region are moving forward, and this, I think, creates an attractive option for the county of San Diego."
The vote came after supervisors heard the results of a feasibility study that analyzed the costs, benefits and risks of multiple options. The study found the county could opt to create its own community choice program separate from all other cities, but that it would carry greater risks to the county's general fund.
Supervisors Jim Desmond and Kristin Gaspar voted no, expressing skepticism that a government entity could effectively run an electricity program. Supervisors Greg Cox and Nathan Fletcher joined Jacob in supporting the move. However, Cox expressed his own skepticism as to whether the program is worth it, especially given that the discount from SDG&E rates would only amount to around 2%.
"Two percent could be a lot of money on a big bill, but for most consumers this is going to be a couple of bucks," he said. "And I'm not sure I want to take that risk."
Jacob asked county staffers to return to the board next month with information on how much new renewable energy projects community choice programs in California have managed to commission. The county's Climate Action Plan calls for 90% of electricity delivered to the unincorporated areas to come from renewable sources by 2030.
The city of San Diego is moving to create a separate community choice program in partnership with Chula Vista, Imperial Beach, La Mesa and Encinitas. The city councils of Chula Vista, La Mesa and Encinitas are scheduled to vote on the terms of the joint program this week, while a vote at the San Diego City Council is scheduled for next week.
Supervisors rejected joining that plan over concerns that the program would be dominated by the city of San Diego. Instead they decided to approach Carlsbad, Del Mar and Solana Beach — the only city in the county to already have a community choice program up and running.
If the partnership among North County cities also serves the county's unincorporated areas, which have a population of more than 515,000, it would significantly increase in size and influence.
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