ENCINITAS – While it’s not the first program of its kind in North County, San Diego Community Power will be one of the largest community choice energy programs in the state with Encinitas as a key member.
In 2019, Encinitas joined with the cities of Chula Vista, Imperial Beach, La Mesa and San Diego to form San Diego Community Power, a new community choice aggregation to serve those cities as a locally-controlled alternative to the regional investor-owned utility, SDG&E.
Clean Energy Alliance, which launched in May 2021, is a similar power provider for neighboring North County cities of Carlsbad, Del Mar, Solana Beach, Escondido and San Marcos.
Like other community choice energy programs, San Diego Community Power will work to procure its own sources of energy for its customers while SDG&E still maintains the current infrastructure to deliver the energy to customers.
Residents are able to opt out of the community choice program should they choose but Deputy Mayor Joe Mosca, who also serves as the chair of San Diego Community Power, believes the nonprofit municipal utility should be the easy choice for Encinitas residents.
“I’m not sure why you would stay with SDG&E,” Mosca told The Coast News. “If I’m going to give you more renewable energy at a discount, even at 100% renewable, our rates currently would put you at the same bill.”
While that would be true if San Diego Community Power was available to customers today, the rates could change by the time the program launches in Encinitas this coming April. However, Mosca said it could make community choice energy more of a discount.
“SDG&E just sent out notices that they are looking at increases in the neighborhood of 18%, so perhaps even by the time we launch, 100% (renewable) will be even more discounted than the rates at SDG&E,” Mosca said.
San Diego Community Power will have several options for customers, including 50% renewable, the base for most customers, or a 100% renewable energy option that is a premium product.
Encinitas residents will automatically be enrolled in the 100% renewable option with the chance to either opt down to 50% or opt out of the program entirely and stay with SDG&E.
Customers automatically being entered into a 100% renewable option was decided by the Encinitas City Council in its effort to fulfill its climate action plan.
“In terms of our climate action plan it is absolutely working, it is absolutely going to be successful and it’s going to help us move to 100% renewable energy faster than we would have ever been able to do without it,” Mosca said.
San Diego Community Power will have around 1 million customers between its members cities and the unincorporated parts of the county which have also joined the program. Due to its size it has started its rollout in phases.
Municipal and commercial accounts have already begun to be phased into San Diego Community Power but residents will be notified via mailers and other advertising of their options as the fledgling utility prepares to roll out services to cities one at a time, starting with Imperial Beach.
Where energy comes from and how it is delivered to customers is a complicated subject that can be hard to explain. But keeping a high retention rate is key for any community choice energy program to remain fiscally viable. Without the resident accounts phased in yet, San Diego Community Power has seen an opt-out rate of about 1.5%, according to Interim CEO Bill Carnahan.
“Probably the most volatile group is the residential because people tend to jump around,” Carnahan told The Coast News. “So we’re expecting that percentage to probably go up but we do have some head room. We hope it doesn’t go up and we’re going to try like hell to keep it going up. But we’re realists and know that might happen.”
Through further education about community choice energy, San Diego Community Power hopes to keep the opt-out rate at or below 5%, the average for community choice programs in the state, .
“If we can do that we would consider that to be successful,” Carnahan said.