OCEANSIDE – The Oceanside City Council voted to join several other North County cities in a regional community choice energy program that aims to lower consumer costs and advance the region’s renewable energy goals.
The city will join Clean Energy Alliance, or CEA, a community choice aggregation program that provides an alternative power source to investor-owned utilities, such as San Diego Gas & Electric. CCEs can be formed by several local communities, which then aggregate their purchasing power to provide a more cost-competitive choice of renewable energy.
CEA purchases the power generation contracts while SDG&E provides transmission, maintenance and billing services.
The cities of Carlsbad, Del Mar and Solana Beach formed the CEA, which is San Diego County’s second community choice energy provider. The first program, San Diego Community Power, includes the cities of Encinitas, La Mesa, Chula Vista, Imperial Beach and San Diego.
Last October, the council pledged to join CEA as long as other cities along the state Route 78 corridor participated, namely Escondido, San Marcos and Vista. One month later, the cities of Escondido and San Marcos joined CEA.
The Vista City Council will vote to join the program later in June. The city of San Clemente in Orange County is also interested in joining CEA.
Under the CEA, residents will be automatically opted-in with advanced notice. Still, they can opt-out of the program at any time if they prefer to stay with SDG&E, though both city staff and the CEA project cost savings of about 2.8% for residents who remain with the aggregation program.
Councilmember Christopher Rodriguez, the lone vote against joining CEA, questioned how the public energy aggregation group could obtain renewable energy at a lower price than an experienced utility like SDG&E.
Barbara Boswell, chief executive officer of Clean Energy Alliance, explained that SDG&E is locked into older contracts arranged when renewable energy was more expensive, whereas CEA is not, which allows it to buy renewable energy at lower costs.
“SDG&E procured renewable energy at a higher cost than we can procure today,” Boswell said.
Rodriguez also questioned the legitimacy of CEA’s renewable energy source, suggesting the program buys renewable energy certificates to get the credit rather than the actual energy source.
“When you say it’s 100% renewable, it’s shuffling of papers, it’s greenwashing, and it’s not 100% renewable,” Rodriguez said.
Boswell assured Rodriguez and the rest of the City Council that CEA is purchasing both certificates and the actual energy.
“We are not just buying the certificate, which is also a negotiable item that people do sell… but we buy the energy produced by the facilities,” Boswell said. “The way we demonstrate that is through the certificates.”
As energy costs continue to climb and more alternative energy programs crop up statewide, SDG&E has indicated to California officials it intends to leave the power purchasing business.
Deputy Mayor Ryan Keim noted his concerns about how the state will supply 100% renewable energy to every community choice energy program and the city’s future potential savings.
“I’ve heard from the beginning years ago that we’re going to have 3 to 4% savings, and now it’s down to 2%,” Keim said.
Environmental Officer Justin Gamble explained the cost savings dropped from 3.5% to 2.8% due to rising wholesale energy costs spurred by inflation and supply chain issues in the global market.
The council majority named Keim as the primary representative on the CEA board of directors, with only Mayor Esther Sanchez opposed. Councilmember Kori Jensen was named the city’s alternate representative.
“There are a lot of things going up (in cost) right now – it’s nice to know some things are going down,” Jensen said regarding CEA’s rates.
San Diego County residents currently pay some of the highest electricity rates in the country.
Oceanside’s participation will officially launch in 2024, accounting for roughly 23% of CEA’s service load. The alliance currently has a 93% participation rate with 60,000 accounts, but that number is expected to grow to 160,000 by next year.
The city must choose a default product for residents by December 2023. The three choices include a baseline package with a 50% renewable energy supply expected to grow to 100% by 2035, a plus package that has 50% renewable energy and 75% carbon-free energy, and the top tier package providing 100% renewable energy.
Joining the Clean Energy Alliance helps the city reach its Climate Action Plan goal of using more than 75% renewable energy by 2030.