The Coast News Group

Call for Community Choice Energy growing louder

CARLSBAD — Those tired of bowing to public utilities are slowly taking on the fight.

Several California cities and counties have engaged in an alternative to combat high cost of using gas, electricity and other utilities.

Last week, Sierra Club Organizer Pete Hasapopoulos helped in putting a panel together for numerous North County elected officials, among others, to discuss the Community Choice Aggregation, otherwise known as Community Choice Energy.

The purpose, he said, is to combat the “monopoly” currently held by public utilities such as San Diego Gas & Electric, which is the only source in the county for residents to purchase gas and electricity.

“In San Diego, as in the region, we don’t have a choice in who provides electricity,” Hasapopoulos said. “We have a monopoly and many people are not happy with it.”

In 2002, AB 117 was enacted to allow cities and counties the ability to establish nonprofit electricity providers.

Several years later, the first ones blossomed in Northern California in Sonoma and Marin counties.

During last week’s panel, officials from Carlsbad, Encinitas, Solana Beach, Del Mar, Oceanside, San Diego and Chula Vista were in attendance, Hasapopoulos said.

Carlsbad councilwoman Lorraine Wood, who helped spearhead the panel, was joined by Mayor Matt Hall and fellow councilmembers Keith Blackburn and Michael Schumacher.

Wood said the turnout was impressive and the speakers were knowledgeable and thinking outside the box. She said one goal for Carlsbad is to “shape a goal” around the topic along with entertaining more discussions.

Wood, who was elected three years ago, said the council might pick up talks at a Jan. 26 workshop. She said CCE is becoming more feasible, although wants to learn more about the issue.

“We had some amazing speakers,” Wood said. “What I could read from the crowd was there was a lot of enthusiasm. Council will be having a workshop on Jan. 26 … setting our goals, and I plan on bringing it up and having some more discussion. It’s becoming more and more feasible.”

The keynote speaker, Ret. Rear Adm. Len Hering, the executive director of the San Diego-based Center for Sustainable Energy, who also holds degrees in meteorology and oceanography, said the most important aspect is allowing a choice for cities.

“I think it is a very smart and interesting way moving forward,” he added. “It has proven itself quite successful in a number of locations.”

His presentation, meanwhile, focused on the global issue of renewable energy sources, population growth and food sources.

Avenues such as CCE strengthen Hering’s position on clean and renewable energy as the world’s population grows.

“For example, from the time of man until 1850, it took going from zero to 1.5 billion (people),” he explained. “From 1850 to today, we went from 1.5 to 7.2 (billion). By 2050, we are projected to go from 7.2 to 9.4 billion. If that is the case, we are going to have to produce more food in the next 40 years than man has in the last 10,000. It’s so much more important that we focus on our resources.”

Hasapopoulos said feasibility studies are currently underway in Solana Beach, with others such as Del Mar, San Diego and Chula Vista nearing taking the next step in forming nonprofits.

Hasapopoulos said the Sierra Club team in Carlsbad has worked with the city for the past year to develop a climate action plan.

“It ties into the climate action plan in terms of this is a tool to help you fulfill your obligations,” he added. “Council member Wood got very excited about this and created an event for the council to learn more about it.”

Hasapopoulos said ratepayers would be offered competitive rates, while cities and counties that have enacted such nonprofits have seen decreased costs by up to 10 percent.

“So far, it’s been offering lower rates to its customers,” he added. “It’s helping cities reduce greenhouse gases. I think another key aspect that is very appealing to people and to elected officials is how ratepayer dollars are being spent.”

In addition, Hasapopoulos said the new option allows those entities to pursue more renewable power sources, rate stabilization and reinvest in clean energy.

In Sonoma County, customers can decide between 33 percent and 100 percent clean energy plans, while Marin County offers 50 and 100 percent options. According to Hasapopoulos, the 33 and 50 percent plans are cheaper than PG&E’s rate structure, although the 100 percent is higher.

As for investment, Hasapopoulos said reinvestment is driver for more clean energy projects. In Carlsbad, he said the McClellan-Palomar Airport would benefit as a site for solar panels.

“It would help the city meet its target in reducing greenhouse gases,” Hasapopoulos said.

But the fight for customers is ongoing, as Hasapopoulos said, SDG&E is appealing to the state legislature to allow the use of shareholder funds to advertise against CCE.