County moving forward on energy choice proposal

SAN DIEGO — County supervisors Tuesday directed one of their lead officials to begin negotiations on a community energy choice agreement.

After a lengthy presentation and feedback from people on both sides of the issue, the board voted 3-2, with Supervisors Jim Desmond and Kristin Gaspar opposed.

Chief Administrative Officer Helen Robbins-Meyer will negotiate a Joint Powers Authority with several cities, including Carlsbad, Del Mar and Solana Beach.

If negotiations are successful, Robbins-Meyer will return to the board on Oct. 15 with an ordinance that formally establishes a community choice program.

Along with directing Robbins-Meyer to begin negotiations, the board also approved a feasibility study.

Community choice energy programs, also known as CCEs, give residents and businesses more options when it comes to purchasing electricity. The board began discussing the possibility of community choice earlier this year.

There are 19 operating CCEs in the state, representing 20% of state energy load.

According to the feasibility study by EES Consulting, a successful CCE could result in $12 million in annual savings, along with renewable sources providing 90% of power by 2030.

Study findings also showed that a CCE would create 145 new jobs in the county, and result in $17.4 million in total GDP growth.

Gary Saleba, president of EES Consulting Inc., told the board that the primary risks to a successful community choice plan would come from state regulations and legislation.

Board Chairwoman Dianne Jacob said residents should have a choice in their energy provider.

Jacob said the county has been “hitting the pause button for far too long on this issue” and urged her colleagues to act.

“We’ve done our homework, taken some very prudent steps in this direction,” Jacob said, adding that San Diego Gas & Electric wants to get out of the power-purchasing business.

Jacob acknowledged there are risks involved, but the county has a solid record of fiscal discipline. “If we don’t move forward, we could end up with the state doing it for us,” she added.

Gaspar said that having studied the CCE concept for 10 years, she “can’t assume this will all just pan out.”

“We’ve seen big promises like this before,” Gaspar said, including the still-controversial 2001 energy deregulation policy in California.

“This county should not be the canary in the coal mine,” she said. “There’s no compelling reason to me to justify (a CCE) at this point “I don’t think that we need to add an energy business to our plate. I’m simply voting to honor our core principles.”

Desmond said based on the study, consumers aren’t saving very much under a CCE plan.

“It seems like we’re in the `lemming line’ of purchasing energy like everyone else,” Desmond said, adding the county should look for opportunities in neighboring counties, including Riverside.

Desmond proposed a motion that would allow the county to produce its own energy supply, but none of his colleagues backed that.

Supervisor Greg Cox said he was willing to support negotiations for now, but agreed with Desmond on the lack of savings to consumers.

“Maybe we should make haste slowly,” Cox said, adding that if there’s no CCE plan by January, “I’m not convinced it’s the end of the world.”

Supervisor Nathan Fletcher said moving forward on energy choice “is not is a decision to be taken lightly,” but later added that he is “eager to see efforts that can achieve regional consumer choice, cost savings, and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.”

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