San Diego Community Power, Clean Energy Alliance worry AB 1373 would undercut their ability to procure energy

The Clean Energy Alliance
The Clean Energy Alliance is a community choice energy program that includes the cities of Del Mar, Solana Beach and Carlsbad.
(Luis Sinco/Los Angeles Times)

Board members from San Diego’s two Community Choice Aggregation programs have been concerned about a bill pending in the state Assembly that they say could undercut the autonomy CCAs have to procure energy for their residents and businesses.

Assemblymember Eduardo Garcia, a Democrat whose district includes Imperial and Riverside counties, introduced AB 1373 in February to bolster the electricity supply by consolidating some of its procurement at the state level through the California Public Utilities Commission.

For the record:

4:40 p.m. Aug. 8, 2023Updated to correct the spelling of CalCCA Executive Director Beth Vaughan’s last name.

AB 1373 was approved on the Assembly floor 57 to 17, with six members who didn’t vote. It has been referred to the Senate Energy, Utilities and Communications Committee.

Community Choice Aggregation programs were established to give their communities an alternative to traditional investor-owned utilities such as San Diego Gas & Electric, usually with slightly lower costs and more renewable energy. California has 25 CCAs, including two that cover most of San Diego County: San Diego Community Power and the Clean Energy Alliance.

San Diego City Councilmember Joe LaCava, the chair of San Diego Community Power’s board of directors, said the main concern is about putting the California Public Utilities Commission “in direct competition with the CCAs” to procure energy.

The bill mentions extreme weather events that can disrupt electricity supply.

“The market is delicate as it is,” LaCava said in an interview. “Introducing and forcing the CPUC to preemptively go out and purchase this in anticipation of these extraordinary events, we think, is not productive.”

He added that CCAs should have the first opportunity to secure the renewable energy they need, and the CPUC could serve as a “backstop” if they fail to do so. An amendment to the bill specified that the CPUC would “determine if there is a need for the procurement of additional offshore wind and geothermal energy resources” on a biennial basis.

“There’s been a lot of progress on the language of the bill, there have been a lot of changes that really meet what we have been advocating for,” LaCava said. “So we’re really down to one last issue of not having the CPUC have a primary purchaser of renewable energy sources. Leave it to the CCAs to run that process.”

CalCCA, a statewide advocacy group comprising CCA programs throughout California, has taken a neutral position on AB 1373 following some amendments to the bill that the organization supported. A June 29 letter from CalCAA Executive Director Beth Vaughan said the group supports a “tailored approach to strategic central procurement” that includes off-shore wind and geothermal resources, which was included in the amendments.

The letter also suggested additional language to make sure CPUC doesn’t infringe upon CCAs procuring their own energy.

“We feel this amendment will give regulators the tools to ensure energy reliability and to reach our decarbonization goals while preserving the right for communities to make their own energy procurement decisions in the interest of the ratepayers they represent,” Vaughan said in the letter.

Board members of the Clean Energy Alliance, a San Diego CCA that represents seven North County cities, also expressed concerns about AB 1373 during a July 27 meeting.

“Ultimately this could give the PUC a whole lot of ability to determine where we buy power, and we are supposed to be independent of that as much as possible,” said Del Mar City Councilmember Dave Druker, chair of the CEA.

AB 1373 also has an urgency clause that would allow it to immediately take effect.

Garcia, who serves as the chair of the Assembly’s Committee on Utilities and Energy, was not available for comment before publication.