Make SDG&E compete, like other businesses do

As a business owner, day in and day out I strive to provide the best service and the best product at the lowest possible price. My customers could easily go elsewhere, so it’s the competition from other businesses that pushes me to improve.  And that’s the way it should be. Competition helps both businesses and customers. But there is no competition in our region’s monopolistic electricity system.  Businesses, and their customers alike, don’t have a choice about who provides their electricity. Because of that, the business community is eager for a change. Businesses have to compete, so should SDG&E.

Across California, nearly 70 cities have tossed out the status quo and offer their businesses, schools, and residents a choice. It’s called Community Choice Energy, a non-profit electricity provider that a city or group of cities can create to gain control over their energy sources and the rates paid for that energy.  And it’s truly a choice:  Customers may easily opt out before or after it is operational and return to their old monopoly provider.

 Businesses are enjoying many advantages with Community Choice.  First, there is rate competition that did not exist before. SDG&E rate hikes are pushing some businesses to the edge. Second, rates are set annually, bringing predictability to budgeting.  Third, decisions about rates and energy sources are made in public meetings by local elected officials who can be held accountable.  This is in stark contrast to SDG&E’s closed boardroom and the unelected commissioners of the California Public Utilities Commission who have a poor track record of looking out for us.  

 To me, a greener footprint for my businesses is also very important. Climate change will have increasingly harsh effects on coastal communities like ours, so I don’t want the energy my shops use to be drawn from sources that drive sea-level rise and its associated flooding and coastal erosion. What’s more, I worry about how the energy I use is affecting community health, such as the quality of the air we all breathe.

Community Choice providers in California have been beating the monopolies by 5 percent to 20 percent on clean energy content and offer their customers better rooftop solar programs.  And customers who want a 100 percent clean energy plan are able to get it for a small additional charge. Community Choice has the power to prioritize local clean energy options such as energy efficiency programs, rooftop solar, and energy storage.  These are an investment in our communities, which help businesses like mine save money while creating good paying jobs in a fast-growing industry that serves the common good. This is what I expect a future Community Choice provider to accomplish.  

 SDG&E, on the other hand, ignored clean energy options and pushed two new fossil fuel power plants on us, including the Carlsbad gas plant. The two power plants will cost all of us close to $4 billion. Owning and running a business is challenging, and SDG&E is making a difficult line of work even harder.   

 Oceanside, Carlsbad, Encinitas, and Del Mar are in discussions about the possibility of establishing a Community Choice provider together.  The next move is for them to jointly conduct a technical study, which, it’s important to state, would not obligate them to go all the way with this.  The Del Mar City Council said ‘yes’ to the study and Encinitas is ready to participate.  The Oceanside and Carlsbad city councils are question marks at this time.  Our city leaders should not be content to leave us out here competing hard every single day while SDG&E enjoys guaranteed profits and zero competition. I am calling on them to place the interests of local businesses first by joining the study.

Craig Levitt is the owner of Poor Boy Subs in Carlsbad.

3 Comments
  1. Dwain Deets 5 months ago

    I feel this article is one sided. My comments pertain to three issues that came to mind.

    Why press the point of our region’s electricity being provided by a monopolistic supplier? It was set up that way by the state with the support of the populous, called an Investor Owned Utility (IOU), because it was thought to be the best overall approach. The state has modified that approach in the case of sourcing the electricity, now allowing for Community Choice Aggregation of the electricity. Community Choice Energy (CCE) is an approach to packaging that electricity for local use. It may make sense at the local level, or it may not.

    SDG&E has the responsibility for delivering the electricity, whether provided by CCEs, or by the utility itself. It’s a much greater responsibility than just delivering the electricity. The utility must balance the delivery in the face of uncertainty and randomness in the many suppliers and the demand variability across the system. SDG&E has the responsibility of developing new technology and/or investing in load leveling devices such a large storage batteries. I suspect, if CCEs save some money by avoiding payment into SDG&E’s profit line (which partially pays for R&D), those savings to CCEs will come back to the end user in the form of increased costs for transmissions.

    There is an expense in local government’s use of CCEs in the form of increased city staffing requirements. Lancaster, for example, has a significant demand on the city staff due to the oversight of it’s CCE, which the city calls Lancaster Choice Energy. This means, less staff and Council time is available for the many other issues, such as housing.

  2. Linda Breen 5 months ago

    CCE makes sense to me. SDGE’s rates are among the highest in the country, and competition could help . If we can improve compensation for rooftop solar, it would really help our climate action plan. We need more Carlsbad residents to speak up and let the council know we would like them to support community choice energy.

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