Solana Beach has for years flirted with an energy program that would give its residents and businesses a government-run alternative to San Diego Gas & Electric. On Wednesday, it could launch official steps toward becoming the first municipality in the county to do so.
While the City Council’s planned vote on a resolution Wednesday wouldn’t legally bind Solana Beach to what’s known as community choice aggregation, or CCA, approval of the measure would trigger a formal process that could lead to roll-out of the program within 18 months.
Amid controversy with traditional utilities, a growing number of cities and counties in California are embracing CCA or moving toward it.
Under such programs, municipal government officials — or their appointees — decide which power providers to contract with on behalf of ratepayers in their jurisdiction, from natural gas plants to solar and wind installations. Ratepayers can opt out of the program if they prefer to deal directly with the utility, which in either case continues to maintain the pipes and wires that deliver the electricity.
In California, most local governments that have adopted CCA aim to aggressively ramp up use of renewable energy as a way to counter climate change — by reducing emissions of greenhouse gases linked to fossil fuels.
They also have worked to keep CCA electricity bills at or below what’s offered by private utility companies.
Solana Beach is no different in its approach. It has negotiated with two private companies — The Energy Authority and Calpine — to possibly set up and operate its CCA. Under that agreement, the city’s officials can back out within the first six months of approving Wednesday’s resolution with little financial consequence.
“The council has directed staff to not rush this and evaluate all the possibilities and risks and benefits as we move forward,” said City Manager Greg Wade.
To permanently launch the program, the council would need to approve an ordinance, a step that could occur this winter.
If the city votes to moves forward with CCA this week, it would be “huge,” said Nicole Capretz, executive director of the San Diego-based Climate Action Campaign. “It builds the momentum and sets the stage for what’s hopefully possible throughout the region.”
San Diego Gas & Electric’s parent company, Sempra Energy, has set up the state’s first shareholder-funded lobbying group on CCA.
“We will point out that there is much regulatory uncertainty both at the California Energy Commission and California Public Utilities Commission for the new retail energy markets,” said Frank Urtasun, a top official with the lobbying group, known as Sempra Service Corp.
“We believe it is our responsibility to engage in a robust dialogue that enhances transparency so that customers can continue to count on the clean and reliable energy that they deserve, without greater financial risk,” he added.
Currently, there are eight fully operational CCA programs in California: Marin Clean Energy, Sonoma Clean Power, Lancaster Choice Energy, CleanPowerSF, Peninsula Clean Energy, Redwood Coast Energy Authority, Silicon Valley Clean Energy and Apple Valley Choice Energy.
Following closely behind are entities such as Central Coast Power, East Bay Community Energy, Monterey Bay Community Power, San Jose Clean Energy and South Bay Clean Power.
Los Angeles County voted in April to form a CCA that would pull in roughly half a million residents and 200,000 businesses in unincorporated areas. Cities in that region, including Long Beach and Torrance, are considering whether to join the program.
The city of San Diego is expected to review a report this fall comparing rates for a proposed CCA compared with what SDG&E currently offers.
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