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Where does Oceanside stand on Community Choice Energy?

OCEANSIDE — After a draft technical feasibility study released in February revealed Community Choice Energy is financially possible and could benefit four North County cities, all but Oceanside have taken the next steps to consider an alternative power provider as an option.

That may change soon as staff prepares to recommend that City Council give staff the green light to continue exploring CCE as an option for Oceanside.

The four cities originally partnered to determine if a CCE, also referred to as CCA (Community Choice Aggregation), was a viable option for them together and as individual cities. The study, conducted by EES Consulting, Inc., found a CCE is feasible in each individual city except Del Mar due to the its small population.

The study’s total cost was $104,515.20, of which $41,689.60 was paid by Oceanside.

Russ Cunningham, principal planner in Oceanside’s Planning Division, said Oceanside has held a “hesitant stance” on community energy programs compared to neighboring cities.

Del Mar councilmembers have directed staff to continue participating in CCE discussions. Both Carlsbad and Encinitas city councils have approved staff exploration of governance options and Carlsbad drafted a statement of the city’s intent to pursue CCE.

Meanwhile in Oceanside, City Council is only now catching up to speed on CCE, according to Cunningham.

“Up to this point Oceanside has taken a somewhat more weary, more cautious, maybe less eager approach to this issue and there are good reasons for this,” Cunningham said during a March 21 community meeting on CCE in Carlsbad.

He pointed out “two principal factors” for Oceanside’s cautious approach, the first being that Oceanside’s in-house municipal water utility is an enterprise operation funded through program revenues and not through taxpayer revenues.

“CCAs are enterprise operations that rely on rate payers, not tax payers, to stay solvent,” Cunningham said. “This is a very important distinction that we understand very well in Oceanside.”

This understanding, he continued, has led staff to “press for more detail on how a CCA may operate, how it would stay in the black in the face of changes in the energy market and how it would ensure competitive and stable rates.”

The other reason for Oceanside’s hesitation is because unlike the three other cities, staff hasn’t received the word from its elected officials to move forward with exploring CCE. Instead, Cunningham said city management has provided funding and time for staff to collaborate with staff from neighboring cities in the study.

Also unlike the three other cities, Oceanside has yet to adopt a Climate Action Plan. Now that it is in the process of doing so, Cunningham said City Council is only now getting caught up to speed on CCEs.

Cunningham said staff delivered fact sheets on CCE to City Council the same day and is conducting one-on-one briefings with council members on CCE this week. During those meetings, staff may request formal direction to explore options to successfully implement an energy program in the city.

Cunningham said other nearby cities like Vista, San Marcos and Escondido have reached out to Oceanside with questions about CCE.

“There’s a lot of interest and momentum here (behind CCE) and we are glad to be part of it,” he said.

Even if Oceanside goes forward, the city may not partner with other North County cities, according to Water Utilities Director Cari Dale.

“We’re recommending exploring who else might be interested in partnering with us,” she said.

Dale also noted she thinks the city should be cautious in its approach because of ongoing state-level legislation.

Dale said San Diego Gas & Electric has expressed a desire to stop buying and selling electricity entirely, suggesting that a separate entity should take on that business instead.

“That might change a lot of things for CCEs so want to see what happens with that,” Dale said. “There’s no urgency for the city to implement a CCE within the next six months.”