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Community choice energy programs provide an alternative power source to investor-owned utilities such as San Diego Gas & Electric. Photo by Jordan P. Ingram
Community choice energy programs provide an alternative power source to investor-owned utilities such as San Diego Gas & Electric. Photo by Jordan P. Ingram
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Oceanside pledges to join community choice energy with inland cities

OCEANSIDE — The City of Oceanside will join its coastal neighbor cities in a community choice energy partnership but only if inland cities along the state Route 78 corridor join as well.

During a council workshop on Sept. 29, the Oceanside City Council unanimously approved partnering with the cities of Vista, San Marcos and Escondido to collectively join the Clean Energy Alliance (CEA), a community choice energy model involving the cities of Carlsbad, Del Mar and Solana Beach.

Despite having his own reservations about community choice energy (CCE) programs, Councilmember Peter Weiss made the motion to only join the alliance if all three state Route 78 corridor cities join too.

The city still needs to get word if those cities are actually willing to join, but Mayor Esther Sanchez said they appear to be on board as long as Oceanside leads the way, based on her conversations with mayors and city officials.

“They’re waiting for us to be the leader in this,” Sanchez said.

These types of programs, also known as community choice aggregation (CCA) programs, provide an alternative power source to investor-owned utilities like San Diego Gas & Electric.

Municipal aggregation entities typically consist of several member cities or counties through partnerships, or joint power authority (JPA), allowing more localized control to purchase, create and manage their community’s energy supply rather than leaving it up to the utility. A utility company, such as SDG&E, continues to deliver energy, maintain power lines and bill customers.

Possible benefits from this system for residents and businesses include lower electricity rates, more local control and more use of renewable energy.

Justin Gamble, environmental officer with Oceanside’s Water Utilities Department, said CCEs are the “principal means” of cities achieving their renewable energy and emission reductions goals typically found in their Climate Action Plans.

“CCA or CCE appears to be the best way to increase the percentage of renewable, emissions-free power while maintaining rate structures equivalent or less than those offered at SDG&E,” Gamble said.

Oceanside’s Climate Action Plan commits the city to source at least 75% of its power from renewable, emissions-free sources by 2030. According to staff, if the city were to refuse to join or create a CCE and simply stay with SDG&E, it would only reach about 60% of renewable energy sources by that same year, possibly creating legal liability for the city not meeting that goal.

In 2018 and 2019, the city conducted a CCE feasibility study along with the cities of Encinitas and Del Mar. The report showed startup costs would have been about $8.7 million for Oceanside. In May 2019, the Oceanside City Council directed staff to explore CCE partnerships with other cities such as Vista and Escondido.

According to Water Utilities Director Cari Dale, city staff continued exploration before a joint CCE feasibility study between Vista, San Marcos and Escondido concluded earlier this summer.

In the meantime, the cities of Carlsbad, Del Mar and Solana Beach linked up to create CEA, and Encinitas recently joined San Diego Community Power (SDCP) alongside San Diego County and the cities of La Mesa, Imperial Beach, Chula Vista and San Diego.

Staff presented four options to the Oceanside City Council during its most recent workshop. The first scenario examined starting a new community choice program with the state Route 78 corridor cities, the second considered establishing Oceanside’s own alternative energy program, the third looked at joining existing programs and the fourth would not pursue a community choice program.

Creating a joint powers authority with the inland cities would have cost each city $375,000 in startup fees whereas if Oceanside created its own authority, launch costs were estimated at $11.1 million.

Joining preexisting programs would cost the city less than $80,000, and not joining or creating a CCE left “unknown costs,” considering the potential effects of not reaching its 2030 renewable energy goals.