Supervisor Jacob proposes finding competitor to SDG&E

SAN DIEGO - People in many large cities around the country have multiple options to choose between for utilities like electricity.

The San Diego County Board of Supervisors voted unanimously Wednesday to accept a seven-point Comprehensive Renewable Energy Plan that has been in the works since 2013.

The plan will give industries and communities an idea of where renewable energy projects would be best suited, reduce costs and alleviate some of the conflicts between property owners and developers, according to board Chairwoman Dianne Jacob.

"Our region continues to have some of the highest energy costs of anywhere in the state or the nation," Jacob said. "I had brought this issue forward to the board to try to find some opportunities for consumers -- individuals and businesses -- to reduce energy costs and move toward greater energy independence."

The first phase of the energy plan approved by the board includes establishing a sustainability task force; tracking solar and wind initiatives in the county; increasing the generation, transmission, use and storage of the county's renewable energy; implementing an education and outreach strategy; and supporting legislation that benefits the county.

Jacob proposed funding a study to determine if community choice aggregation would work in the region. It was a plan for people in unincorporated areas of the county to choose an alternative to SDG&E for their power.  The proposal would affect nearly 500,000 people in those areas.

“It gives consumers choices about where they buy their electricity and it brings competition to the market. Whenever you get competition, you lower price," Jacob said. “Our monopoly utility SDG&E is afraid of that – they’re afraid of the competition. They’re afraid of giving people choices because they just might lose out."

Jacob motioned for a feasibility study to determine if such a program would be cost effective, but she did not get any support from the rest of the board. The vote was 4-0 with Supervisor Ron Roberts absent. Twenty speakers signed up to testify in favor of the plan, while only one speaker opposed it.

"We are beyond disappointed that the county chose to keep its families in the dark, away from energy freedom and choice, and dependent on a monopoly to provide its power -- the opposite of the American way," said Nicole Capretz, executive director of the nonprofit energy watchdog Climate Action Campaign, following the vote. "We will not give up our quest for energy freedom and clean air."

"The Boulevard planning area is predominantly low income, 100 percent reliant on limited groundwater resources and located in the highest fire hazard severity zone," said Donna Tisdale, chair of the Boulevard Planning Group and president of Back Country Against Dumps. "We've already been disproportionately impacted by industrial-scale wind, solar and transmission infrastructure."

Supervisor Greg Cox praised the progress the county has made over the past few years regarding renewable energy, and indicated that it might be time to pivot toward the county's efforts to tackle climate change.

"We've got to do things a lot differently in the years ahead in the way that we deal with energy and all focus on the efforts to reduce the greenhouse gas emissions and the impact that it's having on our climate," Cox said. "I don't think there is any question about that."

Staff was directed to monitor community choice feasibility studies throughout the region and report back to the board in one year.