San Diego On Verge Of Getting Electricity Choice

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What if you had the option to directly pick and choose exactly where the power you are using in your house came from? Would it matter to you? What would the criteria be that you would use to choose that option? Price? Reliability? “Green” sources? The people of San Diego California are working towards answering those questions.

Solar eclipse as seen from Mira Mesa, San Diego, California, by DWMCFan (some rights reserved)

Community Choice Aggregation, or CCA, is a tool which encourages greater choice and local control for individuals. It’s been driving significant growth in the development and use of clean energy alternative sources in states like California. The California state legislature authorized it back in 2002, but it spent years being delayed (as happens with much legislation). As of January 2018, there were 9 active CCAs in California, with many more in the process of forming.

California state law requires that utilities reach 33% renewables by 2020 and 50% by 2035. As CCAs come into greater existence, there’s a complementary push to raise that target a great deal.

The city of San Diego has adopted a Climate Action Plan that calls for a 50% cut in greenhouse emissions by 2035, as well as 100% renewable electric power generation in the same timeframe, in combination with other transport, waste management, and efficiency requirements. Locals are pushing the city and the county to use the CCA to meet the renewable energy goals. There is, unfortunately, a belief that San Diego Gas and Electric (SDG&E) cannot or will not meet the goals independently.

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Dependent upon perspective, a CCA can both lower electricity rates and use more renewables — renewables are cheaper, after all. If the city fully enforces the CCA via related regulations, then the government will move all electricity customers in the area to the new plan. Consumers must “opt out” if they choose to stay with the previous power supplier. The utilities typically are required to maintain the power grid and billing management for all customers, though.

“Elsewhere in California, in 2018 alone, CCA programs are projected to save more than 2.5 million customers over $90 million,” Scott Borden of Voices of San Diego writes. “UCLA researchers estimate that by the end of 2020, 20 million Californians will receive their power from CCAs. That’s nearly half the state!”

Although lower rates may be forthcoming within the San Diego CCA, there is an “exit fee” that utilities are able to charge departing customers to cover the costs of past contracts. With a high fee, it can affect the overall economics of the CCA, affecting their ability to deliver more renewables at a lower cost. A recent proposal to increase exit fees was indeed approved by the California Public Utilities Commission.

In late October of 2017, SDG&E filed a proposal with the city of San Diego to meet the city’s 100% renewable energy goal. Under the plan, the utility would work with civic leaders to shape their renewables procurement, letting customers choose different levels of renewables above the state-mandated level, just as CCAs do — an à la carte system of power generation, if you will.

Note that SDG&E has changed its ways faster than required anyway, becoming the first investor-owned utility in California to reach the 33% renewables landmark in 2015, a full five years ahead of the 2020 schedule mandated by state law. It has reached 43% by May of this year, not even taking into consideration the 36,000 rooftop solar systems installed by customers.

However, Borden notes, “There’s only one reason we suffer the highest energy prices in the state: Our monopoly public utility, SDG&E, is a subsidiary of natural gas giant Sempra Energy and has a vested interest in continuing to use fossil fuels rather than solar power. But San Diego could easily produce all the power we need from the sun (coupled with storage). We need community choice, and we need it now.”

So, who do you believe? The public action group saying the utility can’t (won’t?) meet mandates? Or the utility that is seemingly making at least a good faith effort to meet or exceed state-imposed laws? My money’s on the folks who have taken matters into their own hands with home-based solar plants, but I’m biased.

Confusing? You bet. It’s taken me weeks of rewrites of this article as well as reviews of my source notes to write this to the point that I even understand it.

It’s not unlike one’s own decision to commit to the use of renewable energy as a source of power for home and transportation. What’s right for you? All of my articles for CleanTechinca to date have been about my own journey into solar home living and EV commuting. Financials aside, how much do you want to do what you believe may help the climate situation in the long run? We’ve seen short-term financial savings beyond our expectations with our 8 kW solar plant and use of the Model S as opposed to a diesel Golf for commuting. It’s too soon to tell what our payback on investment will be since we only have three months of hard data to go by, but I believe I can confidently say that our combination makes up the “greenest” living home for many miles around, and that’s worth something extra.

Attempts to get more feedback from San Diego City Council members or the Institute for Local Self Reliance went unanswered. The San Diego City Council is expected to vote by year’s end to approve the SDG&E proposed plan.

Related: Voices Of 100%: San Diego’s Pathway Forward

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Bob Borsh

is one of those individuals convinced he was born with petroleum products in his bloodstream. Hooked on anything with an engine from his earliest memories, he’s been working hard in recent years to flush the petrol and replace it with electrons. Raised in New Jersey, he and his family have lived in Woodstock, Vermont, in a home he designed back in the early '90s. With a degree in mechanical engineering, he has worked in construction and project management his entire career. An owner of a 2016 Model S 75D, he has also had Tesla Energy install an 8.125 kW solar array and a Powerwall 2 at his home, which has been operational now since 9 April 2018.

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