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San Diego Community Power prepares for major expansion

California regulators are holding off on considering a proposal that would upend the state’s solar marketplace. KPBS Environment Reporter Erik Anderson says the delay likely means changes to the controversial plan are in the works.

Tens of thousands of residents in Encinitas, Chula Vista and San Diego will soon be enrolled in San Diego Community Power (SDCP), a local government agency that is gradually taking over the responsibility of procuring electricity for homes and businesses.

The expansion over the next two months represents an elevenfold increase in the agency's customer base. Currently the program provides power to roughly 70,000 businesses and government buildings, plus homes in Imperial Beach and La Mesa.

Encinitas homes switch over to SDCP on April 1, while homes in Chula Vista and San Diego will switch over on May 1. Homes in National City and the unincorporated areas of San Diego County will be switched over next year, at which point the agency expects a customer base of about 950,000.


Residents likely will not notice any difference. San Diego Gas & Electric will continue to bill customers, and most of those bills will be made up of taxes, fees and the utility's charges for transmitting electricity from power plants to homes and businesses.

RELATED: San Diego Gas & Electric's parent company reports millions in earnings, prompting questions about high rates

But the line item for "electricity generation" will be slightly different. SDCP has been signing contracts with solar and wind farms to offer its customers a minimum of 50% renewable energy.

"We only control the electricity generation piece of that bill, which is maybe a quarter of your bill total," said SDCP Chief Operating Officer Cody Hooven. "In that piece that we control, our rates are about 2% cheaper this year (compared to SDG&E rates). But they're also about 19% cleaner."

Customers can opt out of SDCP and continue to purchase electricity from SDG&E.


Hooven said an online tool can help customers calculate how much they might save under SDCP — and how much more it will cost to get 100% of their electricity from renewable sources.

RELATED: California's solar marketplace could see some major changes soon

A presentation to SDCP board members in January showed the average home can expect savings of less than $2 per month. Opting up to 100% renewable energy will likely cost a few dollars more than SDG&E's default rate, which includes about 31% renewable energy.

Hooven said customer savings could increase as SDCP builds up its fiscal reserves — or SDCP could keep its rates comparable to SDG&E's and invest more money in environmental initiatives like electric vehicle charging stations, rooftop solar subsidies or incentives for switching from gas heating to electricity.

Critically, Hooven said, those decisions will be made by local elected officials in public meetings.

"We'll talk a lot to our customers and balance that out," Hooven said. "And over time, every year, I think we'll have that discussion again."