Supervisors vote to establish community choice energy program

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SAN DIEGO — The Board of Supervisors voted 3-2 Tuesday in favor of establishing a community choice energy program for San Diego County’s unincorporated areas.

For now, that program will not include a joint powers agreement with any municipality, as the board wants more time to explore other options. The county’s goal is have a community choice energy program, or CCE, in operation by 2022.

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.

Supervisors Greg Cox, Nathan Fletcher and Dianne Jacob voted in favor of an ordinance to establish the CCE. Supervisors Jim Desmond and Kristin Gaspar cast the dissenting votes.

Jacob, the board chair, described the decision “as a huge victory for consumers who are sick and tired of getting ripped off by (San Diego Gas & Electric) and are hungry for an alternative.”

She said the county has come a long way in gathering the necessary information to create a CCE — including holding several meetings and a workshop — and believes “the time is right to move forward.”

“This is all about giving consumers choice,” Jacob said. “Finally, we have an opportunity to do that.”

County staff will continue negotiations with potential JPA partners and present options before Oct. 1, 2020.

There are 19 operating CCEs in the state, representing 20% of the state energy load. According to a recent 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. According to the study, the county’s energy costs for the first year would be $77 million and $114 million for the second year.

Jacob said that a JPA agreement is like a constitution: “a founding document with a set of principles that should not be easy to change.”

It’s critical, Jacob added, that the board get any JPA deal right before moving forward.

Cox said it was important for the county to figure out how to incentivize and fast-track renewable energy projects.

Gaspar said there’s not enough information to convince her the CCE business model is sustainable. While clean energy and saving residents money are both laudable, she said she didn’t believe that “going into the energy business is a good idea.”

Gaspar also told her colleagues, “Our vote today is the point of no return … where we say `yes’ or `no’ to a (CCE).”

For Desmond, issues related to energy supply were a problem.

“I don’t think we’ve got a business plan,” he added. “If we go into this, I want us to be an energy producer, so we can rely upon that.”

Before they voted, supervisors heard from several speakers both in favor and in opposition to a CCE.

Joe Gabaldon, SDG&E public affairs manager, told the board that the energy company “appreciates its longstanding relationship with the county and will serve as backup energy provider of last resort.”

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