Encinitas Environmental Commission wants to explore new energy model

Some California communities are turning to Community Choice Aggregations, or CCAs, in hopes of obtaining cheaper and cleaner power. Encinitas may join their ranks.

The Encinitas Environmental Commission voted unanimously Aug. 13 in favor of establishing a work group of city officials to explore whether a CCA makes fiscal and environmental sense. This recommendation will be forwarded to the Encinitas City Council, which will decide whether to set up the group.

A CCA would let Encinitas bypass San Diego Gas & Electric to purchase its energy directly from providers. Proponents of the model say it gives communities the flexibility to boost green energy power, improving upon SDG&E’s model, in which about one-third of electricity comes from renewables.

“Here in California, the focus has generally been on renewables,” said Commissioner Leah Bissonette in a report to the commission on CCAs. She added six other states have legislation allowing CCAs, and in the Midwest, the goal has primarily been cutting energy costs.

In 2010, Marin County launched the state’s first CCA, which claims to deliver more than double the renewable energy than the local utility — and at a slightly reduced cost to customers.

How could a city or county buy energy cheaper than a utility company? Bissonette said one reason is that utilities entered into many long-term power contracts before the cost of alternative energy declined.

“Those contracts may not be as competitive as you could get now in the marketplace with renewables,” Bissonette said. Conversely, she later said, local communities that negotiate good alternative energy deals now could face higher expenses down the road if the markets shift.

“The risks are associated with price and contract,” Bissonette said.

Under a CCA, SDG&E would still deliver the energy over the existing grid. However, the city would be responsible for securing the power, not SDG&E.

California law says customers in a CCA are automatically enrolled unless they opt out. Commissioner James Wang said this reduces the risk of the model.

“Customers are pretty reliable about paying their electricity bills, because they don’t want the lights to go off,” he said.

If approved by the council, the work group would be made up of environmental commission members, one or two council members, the business community, experts and residents. Besides looking at the pros and cons of CCAs, the work group would gauge whether Encinitas and neighboring cities might want to partner on a CCA.

Commissioner Robert Jud Warren said the work group would have to take a close look at whether it’s worth going through all the trouble of forming a CCA to accomplish the city’s Climate Action Plan goal of a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions.

There are three CCAs in California, and many communities are considering the model. Notably, Solana Beach ordered a feasibility study to see whether a CCA would be less expensive than SDG&E.

The city of San Diego has expressed interest in the approach to help meet its Climate Action Plan target of 100 percent renewable energy by 2035. The idea is that more local choice would significantly increase its renewables portfolio, cutting down on greenhouse gas emissions.

Two attempts to form CCAs in San Francisco and the San Joaquin Valley have stalled, with both facing opposition from the utility Pacific Gas and Electric Company. It has argued that the areas face a large financial liability if CCAs are approved.

The commission vote was 6-0. Commissioner Stephan Kempiak was absent from the meeting.

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