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.

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