ENCINITAS — The city of Encinitas is the first in San Diego County to start offering 100% renewable energy as the default option for both its residential and commercial customers.
Just this month, Encinitas residents started receiving letters notifying them of their automatic enrollment into San Diego Community Power’s new alternative energy program greenlighted by state officials in 2020.
Customers are also beginning to receive enrollment notifications in the cities of Imperial Beach, La Mesa, San Diego and Chula Vista.
The community choice aggregation program has two tiers. Municipalities can either enroll their residents in the standard PowerOn plan, which is made up of 50% renewable energy; or customers can be enrolled in the more premium tier, Power100, where the energy supply is guaranteed 100% renewable.
According to Karin Burns, CEO of San Diego Community Power, the program’s energy will be purchased as a portfolio composed of solar power, wind, and hydroelectric dams, with no oil or natural gas sources involved.
Encinitas is the only city in the county enrolling its residents into Power100. Plans in this tier will be 2-3% more expensive than the PowerOn tier, per SDCP price comparisons, and 1-2% more costly than SDG&E’s standard package.
Residents can still opt into the cheaper PowerOn plan if they wish, or can entirely opt out of the program altogether and continue to receive their energy from SDG&E, which offers consumers a standard bundle that is 31% renewable energy. Customers will continue to receive their electricity bills from SDG&E as before.
“I’m very proud of our city for this,” said Mayor Catherine Blakespear. “It’s one of the most impactful decisions that we’ve made, to set 100% renewable as our default standard…it gets us aligned with our environmental goals and that just really matters in how environmentally-oriented we are in reducing emissions and fighting climate change.”
Energy costs for consumers have two major components – power generation and energy transmission.
San Diego Community Power’s program has to do with the generation component, but SDG&E will continue to be responsible for the transmission of energy into residents’ homes, providing customer service and regular maintenance, Burns said.
“As this service rolls out, people will be automatically enrolled, so you don’t have to do anything to take advantage of these great rates and great energy, just by enrolling in this service they’re participating in this green energy feature,” Blakespear said. “The easiest thing every customer can do to ensure the promotion of clean energy is to simply stay enrolled in this for less than the price of a cup of coffee more per month.”
According to Burns, the Power100 plan will allow Encinitas to reach its renewable energy goals set by the Encinitas City Council eight years sooner than it would have if it had stayed on SDG&E’s power supply.
The city’s move to the Power100 plan not only will significantly reduce the city’s carbon footprint and greenhouse gas emissions but also sets an important example for the rest of the region in the overall movement towards clean energy, according to Joyce Layne, board president of the environmental organization San Diego 350, which advocates for a county-wide Community Choice Energy program.
“The fact that Encinitas has opted to have the default of 100% clean energy, that’s wonderful news and means they’ll really be able to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions, it really does mean a lot for the environment,” Layne said. “Encinitas is demonstrating its commitment to leading the way in reducing its carbon footprint and that’s very exciting for the whole of the San Diego region.”
San Diego Community Power is what’s referred to as a community choice aggregator, or CCA, a government-run, nonprofit entity that is becoming more common in California. Almost 40% of California’s electricity will be serviced by municipal aggregators this year, according to the trade group Cal CCA.
While SDG&E has made efforts in recent years to push toward more renewable sources, Layne asserted the investor-owned utility company is still ultimately geared toward profit margins and not necessarily achieving clean energy goals.
Layne argues that community choice energy programs, such as San Diego Community Power, are specifically focused on building green energy solutions for commercial and residential customers.
“CCAs are a really important way for communities to have energy choice and for cities and communities to ramp up their renewable energy portfolios, in fact, we’ve determined that the only way San Diego is going to get to 100% renewable is to have community choice energy,” Layne said. “Utilities are simply not going to do that — they’re so heavily invested in natural gas. If we want a world that’s going to be livable for human beings, for our children and grandchildren, we absolutely have to be moving as quickly as possible to reduce our carbon emissions.
“And utilities have the profit motive that is simply not set up that way, their reason for being is not to help us get there. So CCAs have been the vehicle throughout the state to get us to 100% clean electricity, and so what Encinitas is doing here is really important.”
Blakespear agreed, arguing that the city’s move to 100% renewable sets a high regional standard in the push for green energy.
“To create renewable energy in the pipeline you can’t just have oil and gas, you have to have the demand to create that supply chain, and driving the supply chain is ultimately the point,” Blakespear said. “There are lots of reasons to move to community choice energy, the local control, the low cost, and there are no investors to pay instead we can reinvest in our community, but ultimately the main reason is the environmental reason, and I’m proud that we did not ever lose sight of that and that the council unanimously supported this.”
While some customers will probably opt out of Power100 in favor of one of the cheaper plans, Layne expressed confidence that the vast majority of residents will likely choose to stay in the plan.
“I think that people here are very concerned about climate change, so as time goes on I think more people will choose Power100,” Layne said. “At the end of the day, a 3% surcharge is a very small premium and a very reasonable cost to help save the planet.”
SDG&E released the following statement regarding the SDCP program rollout.
“SDG&E is working collaboratively with San Diego Community Power (SDCP) to transition residential customers in five local cities to SDCP — a community choice aggregation (CCA) program formed by the cities of San Diego, Chula Vista, Encinitas, Imperial Beach and La Mesa to procure electricity to serve residents within their boundaries.
“While SDG&E will no longer be responsible for buying electricity to serve SDCP customers, we will continue to operate and build the infrastructure needed to deliver clean, safe and reliable electricity to them, as well as provide billing, meter reading and other customer services. We are committed to doing everything we can to ensure a seamless transition.”