All Eyes On Mayor Faulconer As Clean Energy Decision Looms
San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer gave opening remarks on Friday at a forum organized to rally support for community choice energy, a program he is considering as a means for the city to achieve 100 percent renewable energy.
Faulconer stopped short of endorsing community choice and instead used the platform to promote San Diego's overall sustainability efforts to the audience, some of whom had traveled from outside San Diego County to attend.
"In the coming weeks, of course, I'll be making a decision for the city of San Diego on our pathway to clean electricity," he said at the event held at UC San Diego. "And this, along with the other steps that we are taking, really is going to place us with that goal of 100 percent renewable energy by 2035."
Community choice energy is an alternative model created by the state legislature in the wake of the energy crisis of the early 2000s. It allows local governments to purchase wholesale energy on behalf of their residents and businesses, giving them greater control over the share of energy sourced from renewables like wind and solar. Private utility companies such as SDG&E continue to operate the electrical grid and manage customer billing.
San Diego's Climate Action Plan calls for the city to get 100 percent of its electricity from carbon-free sources by 2035. It suggests community choice as one potential pathway but leaves the door open to alternatives that would reach the same goal.
Community choice programs also have the power to set their own electricity rates — an attractive prospect for San Diego, which pays some of the highest rates in the state. Customers are typically enrolled in a community choice program automatically, but can opt out and stick with the private utility's energy portfolio and rates if they so choose.
Shareholders of SDG&E's parent company, Sempra Energy, have been lobbying against community choice in San Diego, arguing the program carries risks to taxpayers and that it unfairly shifts costs onto ratepayers outside the publicly run program. Supporters say no such cost shift occurs, and that state law requires equal treatment of ratepayers in both programs.
Friday's forum was organized by the nonprofit Climate Action Campaign. The group's executive director, Nicole Capretz, said she was pleased with the mayor's remarks.
"He talked about the need for San Diego to continue to pioneer, to be at the cutting edge, and that's exactly what community choice offers," she said. "It's exactly the model that's been demonstrated to be proven successful in 140 other cities in California."
Next week the California Public Utilities Commission is scheduled to vote on a framework for calculating fees that community choice customers must pay utilities to exit longer-term energy contracts. Existing community choice programs in California are generally supportive of the proposal before the commissioners.
The mayor's announcement on whether he will pursue community choice in San Diego is expected sometime after the CPUC vote. The City Council must vote on its renewable energy plan before the end of the year.