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KPBS Midday Edition

North County Cities Explore Choosing Their Energy Sources

Environmental leader Nicole Capretz speaks at a rally in advance of the San Diego City Council's Climate Action Plan vote, Dec. 15, 2015.
Claire Trageser
Environmental leader Nicole Capretz speaks at a rally in advance of the San Diego City Council's Climate Action Plan vote, Dec. 15, 2015.

North County Cities Explore Choosing Their Energy Sources
GUESTS:Peter Hasapopoulos, community organizer, Sierra Club's My GenerationShawn Marshall, executive director, Lean Energy U.S.Alison St John, KPBS News

This is KPBS Midday Edition. I am Maureen Cavanaugh. In its ambitious climate action plan, the city of San Diego has a target of getting 100% of its energy by renewable sources by the year 2035. Sustainability experts say there is no way to reach that target relying on San Diego gas and electric. The city will explore starting a community choice aggregation plan allowing the city to form a nonprofit to control electricity pricing and determine where the city lies its energy. Forming a CCA is looking like a attractive option. Recently several North County cities expressed varying degrees of interest in forming their own CCA. Joining me is -- Bureau chief Alison St John. Peter Hasapopolous -- power of the sun a power of the Sierra Club. And Shawn Marshall executive director of lean energy US, nonprofit to clean energy through CCA's. Sean welcome to the show. Allison, give us details on community choice energy. How does it work? If you are paying your electric bill right now you are playing at the root -- utility. You still pay the bill through the utility and the utility provides the transmission that brings energy into your house. The consumer would get to choose what the source of your energy would be. The communities that opt in will be a bit to choose solar, gas, do we want to get it from nuclear? You will have a choice where that energy is coming from. That is key in terms of meeting our goals to come by -- combat greenhouse gases. Is that why this concept is coming up? So cities and communities can meet the targets for their climate action plans or their efforts to reduce greenhouse gases? Absolutely. I think some people feel the utilities -- they are not moving fast enough. They say they are moving quite fast and meeting the goals the state has set. But in San Diego, we have set a more ambitious goal in other cities are looking at, this might save us money and get us on the right track in terms of energy. I think the North County's have an interesting point because they haven't collaborated on much so far. If they did collaborate on this, it would provide a sense that the North community region was coming together on something important. Pete, tell us if you worried about the communities in the North County that are expressing interest in community choice energy. Gives an idea of how far they are along in exploring the idea. Sure. I think it is fair to say that there are number of elected officials in the city's -- you might say they are visionary, and I think they are in touch with reality. Nowadays, we are so far from the days of a monopoly. When I was a little boy and had to dial with a rotary phone. That's what we had. They are recognizing we are beyond that in their consisted gas constituents, schools, businesses and residents want something different. So Delmar -- they have interest in have been ready to pass a climate action plan that has reference to exploring community choice energy in it. Solana beach is working with another group to do a technical study. The city of Encinitas is forming a working group with inclusion of a councilmember and others to study it and go deeper with it. The city of Carlsbad, as Allison reported, how they future of energy workshop and councilmember Lorraine with such was electrified by this notion and would like to start collaborating with other cities. No pun intended [ laughter ] They are in various places. They are finding that the more the citizens in group like Sierra Club are out there organizing and doing house parties. People are hungry for a choice. Is elected officials continue to hear that and it gets louder and louder. I believe they will collaborate. Shawn, since you have been down this road several times before. If the city like Encinitas wanted to start community choice as a way to get their energy, how do they start next Mima the city of Encinitas, should start within the following ways. The first of which is to educate themselves on the options they have and how the program works. Learn from other community choice programs about the standards and best practices that have been established over time. The second really important aspect to this is to cultivate political champions and local leadership. Local leadership from an advocacy perspective, the work Peter Hasapopolous is doing in others down there is supportive and helpful. You have to have some city-based champions -- political champions, as well as executive -- executive level staff understanding the options. The third is to conduct a technical analysis to understand what is possible through the program. Can you compete on price? Can you double down on greenhouse gas reduction rapidly fix so far that answer has been yes. On those issues. The last is to make sure the city or County, whoever wants to up pursue this -- hires the most spirits help they can to help them through the formation process. At this point, there is no real reason to completely reinvent the wheel. It is a very helpful group of community out there that is expanding the programs around the state. Does community choice aggregation save ratepayers money back So far we have seen in both PG&E territory in northern California as well as southern California where the city of Lancaster has a program -- so far rates in commercial residential and agricultural municipal customer classes have save money on their electricity bills. Primarily because the electric generation rates have been very favorable here over the last couple of years and are expected to continue to be favorable. Pete, why is your organization perching community choice aggregation? To save the ratepayers money or the planet? It is for the planet because that has to be above all else is protecting nature and ourselves and our children in the next generation. So this is the single best policy tool that local governments have to reduce greenhouse gases. That they have control over and at the same time offer economic development at the local level. Taking ratepayer dollars instead of them going to shareholders, going back into our community like do projects like putting solar on schools and airports and things of that nature -- that benefit us at the same time we are reducing greenhouse gases. Alison , has there been comment from SGA? Someone from ST needs made the comment the company is well on track and is virtually already meeting the state's 2020 targets. So his approach was pretty much if it isn't broke, don't fix it. The utility is not at this point allowed to lobby against this. The state has passed a law to say they cannot use ratepayer money to lobby against something that might benefit ratepayers. I think that's one of the reason why no ST any person wanted to join us for this discussion. They are forbidden from -- by state law from using ratepayer money to do any kind of lobbying against this. Right now they are replying to the [ name unknown ] to get it investor rate commission that would be able to market, and their terms, and created discussion about this. Some people say it would be basically just marketing their own products. In general, I think the way this is evolving is interesting. It is providing some competition -- the American way. And if the utilities are doing better, they might when the competition. But they will be up against alternatives, providing sustainable and cheaper energy. Many people have been looking at San Diego County is a real test. While other California communities represent a fraction of the utilities customer base, San Diego except 40% of SG and ease and that would be a lot to use. -- A lot to use -- a lot to lose. What should proponents of this be expecting in this next I think that, there will be a battle. Whether or not that ultimately plays out in the public domain remains to be seen relative to the gas in the Leicester -- electrics application to form an independent marketing division. We see that as a step in the direction for them gearing up for that sort of thing. I also think the other issue here to remember -- and one that I think adds complexity in San Diego, is the issue of the exit fee. Utility charges to CCA customers leaving their service. Such that CCA customers have to pick up the stranded costs associated with any contracts that S CGN he may have injured into into their behalf. That is not necessarily a bad thing, but the way those exit fees are calculated -- methodologies as well as the total lack of transparency concerning those exit fees, is an issue that needs to be resolved and will impact CCA customers in San Diego. Now Pete, what North County city is expected to make the next move through SCCA? As I mentioned cost Solana Beach is having another group do a technical study. They are at the front of the pack. As we speak, the Sierra Club is helping to play a role in this, there is interest in the city starting to congregate in stock -- start talking about this. How can we explore this together and take the next steps? That's what we expect to see. As you said Allison, -- Alison , that is not typical of North County theory -- cities. They have collaborated with fire. They have collaborated on marketing for economic purposes. There's a bit of a feeling North County cities are looking at whether would be advantageous for them to collaborate on different things like transportation and energy. Because the city's are all fairly small cop at the region is becoming quite important. San Diego city's interest, don't necessarily reflect North County's interest. I want to thank Allison St. John, Peter Hasapopolous and Shawn Marshall . Thank you all.

Several North County cities and the city of San Diego are considering switching to an alternative energy program that would give them the power to choose where their electricity comes from, instead of allowing the utility San Diego Gas & Electric to make those purchasing decisions.

Environmentalists say the program, called community choice aggregation or community choice energy, would help cities switch to using more renewable energy from sources such as solar and wind.

San Diego recently became the largest city in the country to set a goal of using 100 percent renewable energy by 2035. That goal is part of Mayor Kevin Faulconer's climate action plan. But the city has not committed to achieving that goal through a community choice program.

Carlsbad, Del Mar, Encinitas and Solana Beach are exploring community choice and how it would work for them. The only North County coastal city not yet exploring community choice is Oceanside.

Del Mar's climate action plan references exploring community choice, Solana Beach is launching a technical study of the program, Encinitas is forming a working group to explore community choice and Carlsbad elected officials are interested in the concept, said Peter Hasapopoulos, a community organizer with the environmental nonprofit the Sierra Club.

"People are hungry for a choice, and when those elected officials continue to hear that, and it gets louder and louder, I believe they will collaborate," he told KPBS Midday Edition.

Hasapopolous said he next expects to see North County cities coming together to collaborate on forming a community choice program. However, it would be easier for those cities to move forward with community choice if the city of San Diego, which represents 40 percent of SDG&E's customers, leads the way.

Community choice has saved ratepayers money in other California cities and counties, said Shawn Marshall, the executive director of the nonprofit clean energy advocacy group Lean Energy U.S.

But Marshall said there are signs SDG&E will fight moves toward community choice in the San Diego region. The utility has applied to the state to form an independent marketing district that would allow it to lobby on community choice.

Under state law, it is prevented from using ratepayer funds to lobby for or against the program.

The utility also sent a comment to the city on the Climate Action Plan that said eliminating natural gas completely is not possible.

Marshall also said the utility can charge exit fees to customers leaving its service to switch to community choice.

"There will be a battle, whether it is played out in the public domain remains to be seen," Marshall said. "The way those exit fees are calculated, the methodology as well as the total lack of transparency is an issue that needs to be resolved, and will impact potential (community choice) customers in San Diego."

SDG&E could not comment for this story because of the state law on lobbying on community choice.

The utility previously sent a statement saying it fully supports the climate plan and is committed to delivering 50 percent renewable energy by 2030. But that’s only half the required amount under the Climate Action Plan.

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