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Solana Beach takes step toward SDG&E independence

Solana Beach recently became the first jurisdiction in San Diego County to formally provide ratepayers an alternative energy provider to San Diego Gas & Electric.

The City Council voted 4-1 to start the three-phase process of establishing a community choice aggregation (CCA), as part of a partnership with two companies that would partner with the city to operate and maintain the entity.

CCAs, which are also referred to as community choice energy, are entities formed by public agencies that buy power on the open market, choosing the source of the power based on the community’s choice. The power would still be delivered via SDG&E’s infrastructure.

For example, the community could choose that it wants all of its power from solar or wind farms, or it wants the most cost-effective energy source possible. CCAs have emerged in Northern California — most recently in San Jose — and one city in Southern California, Lancaster, also has a CCA. But much of Southern California is still wading in the discussion and exploration phase.

If everything goes according to plan, Solana Beach’s CCA could roll out as early as 18 months from now.

The May 24 vote authorizes City Manager Greg Wade to ultimately contract with two private companies — The Energy Authority (TEA) and Calpine Energy Solutions — to set up and operate the CCA.  TEA will operate the CCA, while Calpine’s responsibility will be primarily data management.

The City Council would oversee the CCA, even setting the rates based on information provided by staff members.

The first phase includes publicizing the program within the community, establishing a budget and staff and planning the rollout.

The second phase, which could cost the city about $156,000 if they opt out, could take six months to a year and includes setting rates, obtaining power sources and implementing the plan.

The final phase includes the contract with the two companies for the operation and maintenance of the CCA for up to five years and potentially enrolling additional communities in the program.  Each phase is subject to the City Council’s approval.

Councilwoman Ginger Marshall voted against the proposal, expressing concern that the CCA would add an additional layer of government that would cost taxpayers money. The other council members were effusive in their support of the fledgling CCA, which they said would save ratepayers money compared to what they currently pay with SDG&E.

A number of residents and environmental groups — including the Climate Action Campaign — urged the council to approve the project. They reportedly erupted in applause when the council passed the vote.

“It is an incredible moment in San Diego’s history,” said Nicole Capretz, Climate Action Campaign’s executive director. “Solana Beach is setting the stage so that families can enjoy the freedom of energy choice, benefit from stable and likely lower rates, choose more clean energy options and ensure the city can reach 100 percent clean electricity. It’s a win for all.”