San Diego Makes Move to Enter Energy Market

SAN DIEGO (CN) – Keeping in mind local and state mandates to combat climate change, San Diego city and county officials approved measures to explore entering the clean energy market as providers.

On Monday, the San Diego City Council voted 7-2 to pursue a community choice energy program through a joint powers authority. All six council Democrats and Republican Councilman Mark Kersey voted to look into the effort, which would provide electricity to municipalities throughout the region that choose to be part of the program.

Community choice energy is a government-run energy buying program where municipalities can use buying power backed by consumers to choose what kind of energy they purchase, often at a better rate than what is offered by utility companies. The utility companies still deliver the electricity to consumers belonging to a community choice energy program.

In the city of San Diego’s case, the city wants to buy wind and solar energy in order to comply with its legally binding Climate Action Plan, which requires the city to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by 50 percent by 2035 and use 100 percent renewable energy by the same year.

San Diego’s mandate is 10 years ahead of California’s bid for 100 percent carbon-free electricity sources by 2045.

Mayor Kevin Faulconer announced his plan to pursue community choice energy in 2018, with the goal to the have the energy-buying program up-and-running by 2021.

Council President Pro Tem Barbara Bry, a former Los Angeles Times business reporter who covered the California Public Utilities Commission, called the formation of the community choice energy program a “win-win for the environment and for rate-payers.” But she warned if a joint powers authority is established to provide clean energy to cities throughout San Diego County, the city of San Diego should maintain control.

“Other cities in the county need us more than we need them. We can do this without them – so we need to control the agenda of this new organization,” Bry added.

Other cities in San Diego County considering community choice energy include Chula Vista, La Mesa, Del Mar, Encinitas, Oceanside, Carlsbad and Santee.

On Tuesday, the mostly Republican San Diego County Board of Supervisors voted unanimously to conduct a feasibility study to create its own community choice energy program.

The county already purchases its own power for its business operations, an endeavor which has saved taxpayers tens of millions of dollars, according to Board chair Dianne Jacob.

Jacob said circumstances have changed since the Board of Supervisors considered establishing a community choice energy program a couple years ago and didn’t move forward with the plan: Today there are 19 other entities running community choice energy programs across the state that have proven to be successful, and the city of San Diego is on board.

“The timing is perfect for us to engage. We have the ability. Would we rather have the state of California buying electricity for us or have local control of our energy future?” Jacob asked.

Supervisor Jim Desmond expressed some reservations about the program, particularly about a joint powers authority.

“A joint powers authority kind of scares me – depending on who our dance partners are, depending on how voting is going to be handled, how liability is going to be handled,” Desmond said, and suggested the county should have “options to get out of it.”

The study will be presented to the board in October, when they are expected to vote whether to move forward with a community choice energy program. Bimonthly reports will be provided at Board of Supervisors meetings leading up to the October presentation.

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