SOLANA BEACH — A Sept. 14 update on Community Choice Aggregation programs seemed to result in more questions than answers, with some residents and at least one council member voicing concern about the proposal.
“I think a lot of people are kind of shocked,” Councilwoman Ginger Marshall said. “I think maybe the cart was put in front of the horse as far as the community outreach. I was kind of surprised that that hasn’t already started. It feels like we’re so far down the road.”
Marshall said some residents she talked to thought the city was replacing San Diego Gas & Electric as the energy provider. They also believe if a CCA is formed and they opt out their rates would increase.
“There are a lot of unanswered questions,” she said. “It would be nice to hear all sides.”
Resident Melissa Wilken said many of her friends and neighbors were shocked, although not necessarily opposed, by the proposal.
“In fact, who would be?” she asked. “But after doing my own research online … it’s almost impossible to get straight answers.”
She urged council members to slow down and conduct “huge outreach” before making a decision.
“I really hope that you will do that before you decide for all of us so we know exactly what we’re in for,” she said. “Please take your time Please engage us as a community.”
CCAs, which are governed by state laws, allow cities to buy or generate alternative energy supplies while maintaining the existing power provider —in this case SDG&E — for transmission and distribution services.
The goal is to provide a higher percentage of renewable energy at competitive and potentially cheaper rates while giving customers local choices and promoting the development of renewable power sources.
Many also see it as a way to meet mandatory greenhouse gas emissions reductions.
Solana Beach has been discussing the issue for several years and in June became the first city in the county to formally seek a partner to form a CCA when it released a request for proposals.
But city officials said the community outreach and education has been limited because of a lack of information.
“I actually think it would have been a mistake to do too much community outreach beforehand because we didn’t have any answers to the questions and we are already starting to see what kind of confusion can result if we don’t have answers,” Mayor Dave Zito said.
Earlier this year the city accepted an offer from a firm that conducted a free feasibility study that indicated a CCA is a viable option for Solana Beach.
Although that company was hoping to be hired after the city issued a request for proposals, the city manager said it is “no longer an entity” and did not submit a proposal.
Solana Beach received bids from three companies and is working to determine which one will best suit the city’s needs. According to the RFP, the program must be set up, run and maintained without using, impacting or placing at risk any city funds.
Residents who have been following the process said they support the proposal so far.
“I don’t think SDG&E is the bad guy,” Kelly Harless said. “The problem is that SDG&E is the only choice. … I think it would be irresponsible not to look into other choices.
“It’s a win-win as far as I’m concerned,” she added. “I think a lot of us are really curious about what the benefit might be.”
“I’m really happy that we might have the opportunity to have an alternative to SDG&E,” Vicki Cypherd said. “If there’s any way to lower our rates I’m all in. It’s not some new, off-the-wall idea that’s being hoisted on us by the city.
“I’m glad that the city is taking this opportunity to investigate our options,” she added. “I trust the city. We don’t jump into anything without doing multiple studies and workshops.”
Council members noted that the proposal was brought to them by several residents, including members of the Clean and Green Committee.
The next step is to hire a third-party consultant to conduct an independent review.
At that point the city can work with companies to “answer difficult questions and package it into material that is more readily consumable by public,” Zito said
“This is a complicated topic and we do need to take our time going through it,” he added. “We’re likely talking about nine to 12 months … with a lot of opportunity to have review and input in the interim.”
“Everything may seem rosy and green right now,” Zito said. “There are risks and we need to analyze those. … I am hopeful that most of those risks are mitigable.”
Until recently SDG&E has been unable to fully discuss CCAs because it could result in spending ratepayer funds to lobbying against something that could benefit them.
A recent court decision is allowing the company to form an independent marketing division that could result some questions being addressed by the energy provider.
City Manager Greg Wade said customers will have the option to opt out before or after a CCA is launched.
Marshall said she is still a bit skeptical.
“If something sounds too good to be true it generally is,” she said. “I’ve heard nothing negative. There’s got to be some sort of risk.”