SOLANA BEACH — With council members expected to select at the Nov. 9 meeting a consultant to help with Community Choice Aggregation plans, the city has created a link on its website to provide residents with information.
For the past five years Solana Beach has been discussing CCA, a program that allows cities, either on their own or as part of a group or agency such as a joint powers authority, to supply electricity within their jurisdiction.
As a CCA the city wouldn’t own power poles or utility lines, nor would it delivery the energy. That would all remain the responsibility of San Diego Gas & Electric.
CCAs, which buy and build clean-energy supplies, are considered an effective way to reach greenhouse gas emission reductions mandated by the state. Several cities, including most in North County, are looking into CCA involvement.
In San Diego County, Solana Beach is the furthest along in the process, having completed a feasibility study and a request for proposals to find a consultant to help further assess, develop, finance and operate a CCA.
According to the RFP no city money can be used for the development and implementation of the program.
Three proposals were submitted. If council members select a consultant Nov. 9, “a comprehensive community outreach and engagement effort will be implemented to help educate the community on the benefits, and potential risks, of implementing a local CCA,” according to an eblast statement.
During the initial phase of CCA assessment and outreach, city officials can “terminate the consultant services and implementation of the CCA with no financial implications.”
In addition to offering more nonpolluting energy choices, CCAs provide local control over electric rates, according to information on the Solana Beach website link, which is primarily from the nonprofit Local Government Commission.
According to the LGC website, CCAs “should be able to reduce electric rates.” But the organization also notes the “biggest risk is that CCA rates may be higher than utility rates.”
“Well-managed power pur¬chasing and development should mitigate this risk,” the website states. “A well-balanced portfolio of resources that includes short and long-term contracts and CCA financed new generation projects should result in competitive rates.”
It is that type of conflicting information that has some residents concerned.
In an effort to find information, resident Katherine Dickerson said she Googled the three respondents to the RFP and found they are all clean-energy companies.
“Clearly all three of your respondents agree with most of you and have already decided that a CCA is a good idea,” she said at the Oct. 12 meeting. “This is a stacked deck. It’s not an open and honest discussion with the people who will be affected and paying for this about the pros and cons of a CCA.”
“The problem is one side is talking and SDG&E has abjectly refused to,” City Manager Greg Wade said. “What does that tell you, when one major competitor is not saying anything publically and refuses to and is actually taking steps to actively market against CCA? What are they afraid of?”
“California utilities, like SDG&E, are prohibited by (the California Public Utilities Commission) from participating in discussions relating to Community Choice Aggregation,” said Francisco Urtasun, regional vice president of external affairs for Sempra Services Corp.
“Sempra Energy is in the process of developing an independent, shareholder-funded organization that can participate in the regional discourse over how cities can best implement San Diego’s Climate Action Plan and identify ways to accomplish a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions,” he added.
“CCA is just one of many approaches cities can use to accomplish the region’s climate goals,” Urtasun said. “There are important questions to answer before a final decision is made by any city to move forward with any single approach. Cities need to assess risk, financial impacts to their general funds and constituents, benefits compared to perceived benefits, and existing utility renewable energy programs.”
Wade disagrees, saying “the PUC has told us emphatically they (SDG&E) … have every right to say things and have chosen not to.”
He also said it is difficult to find consultants in the energy field who aren’t “in some way connected to or have some involvement” in CCAs.
“That isn’t to say that they’re all working for or getting money from it,” Wade said. “But because it’s new you’re going to have a lot of people who have been somewhat involved. That’s the only way really to get expertise so that we know that the people who we’re asking for opinions know the industry and know what it is and can provide us with what the risks are.”
He said the city is working with “two people independent of the CCA … to evaluate the proposals and advise staff and council.”
They are Barbara Boswell, retired director of finance for the city of Lancaster, which formed a CCA last year, and Stephen Hall, an Oregon energy attorney.
Another criticism Solana Beach has about CCAs is that if formed, residents are automatically part of the program but can opt out. Some say it would be better the other way around, but state law precludes that.
“Customers within the CCA’s boundaries may choose to continue their utility service, to ‘opt-out’ of the CCA program,” the city website states. “Customers will have, at a minimum, four opportunities to opt-out of the CCA and remain with the CCA at no additional cost during the CCA formation process. Customers that remain in the CCA can switch back to SDG&E at any time in the future.”
“This all information we’ve put forward time and time again and nobody seems to be listening to it,” Wade said. “That’s the frustrating part.”
No matter what council decides, “implementing a CCA program will take several years,” according to the Local Government Commission, which according to its website, works at “advancing transformative policies and implementing innovative solutions for sustainable communities.”