ClimateWire: This tiny town has found a new way to cut GHGs

August 10, 2016- ClimateWire- Anne C. Mulkern, E&E reporter – SOLANA BEACH, Calif. — This enclave in north San Diego County is known for its small-town feel, the summer concerts held on a bluff above crashing ocean waves and the non-chain stores in its arts district.  Now it’s considering a landmark move to cut carbon pollution.

Solana Beach is considering taking on the role of quasi-utility. It would form a collective to buy power on behalf of residents and businesses, a practice known as community choice aggregation, or CCA. Under state law, residents are automatic members of the CCA but can later opt out and go back to incumbent utility San Diego Gas & Electric Co. (SDG&E).

The intent is to acquire more power made from renewable sources in order to shrink greenhouse gas pollution. The city is looking at potentially passing a climate plan that would commit to a greenhouse gas reduction. And it would create a CCA in a way that so far hasn’t been done.

“The city has always had residents or a population that is really concerned about improving their community and improving the planet,” said Peter Zahn, Solana Beach deputy mayor and a member of the Climate Action Commission. “Residents have banded together and really used their collective muscle and intelligence and wit to do really whatever they could to make it a better place to live. “That carries over to the environmental initiatives,” he added. “It was something that was really sort of a natural for the city to be at the forefront of these battles and really lead the way.”

It takes place as the larger region is aiming for major action on climate change. San Diego last year adopted a climate action plan that calls for switching to 100 percent renewable power by 2035. Starting a CCA — or what San Diego is calling “community choice energy” (CCE) — is expected to be part of that.

Starting sooner could cut more GHGs

But it could be 2018 before San Diego puts a CCE into place, said Nicole Capretz, executive director of the Climate Action Campaign, a nonprofit watchdog group. She was director of environmental policy for San Diego interim Mayor Todd Gloria (D) in 2013 when he drafted what eventually became that city’s climate plan. Mayor Kevin Faulconer (R) after his election made some changes and endorsed the plan (ClimateWire, April 7).

Del Mar, the city just south of Solana Beach, has also adopted a plan to switch to 100 percent renewable power (ClimateWire, Aug. 8). In the case of that town, it’s a road map and not legally binding. The city will need to consider and adopt individual actions to achieve the goal. It’s also talking about a CCA, and has said the CCA will likely be needed to reach the green power plan.

Nearby, the cities of Encinitas, Carlsbad, Oceanside and others have met to talk about forming a joint powers agreement that would operate a CCA. Solana Beach could be part of that larger JPA if it gets approved.

Solana Beach is moving faster than its neighbors. It’s released a request for proposals (RFP), asking companies to show how they’d help the city run a CCA. It was modeled after the RFP that Humboldt did, King said.

The responses to that RFP are due tomorrow. Depending on whether there are questions that need to be resolved, the City Council could review those as early as Sept. 28 and look at approving a service agreement Oct. 26.

Starting a CCA in Solana Beach and later combining with one in nearby cities is another possibility. A larger JPA would have more purchasing power, Zahn said. But Solana Beach potentially could act more nimbly if it went first.

“Forming our own energy district and keeping it small probably would enable us to move faster,” he said.

If Solana Beach goes for a CCA, there will likely be a battle with Sempra Energy, parent company of SDG&E.

The state now bars utilities from talking about CCA unless it’s done through a separate affiliate, funded by shareholder dollars. SDG&E last November told the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) that it was creating just such an affiliate. SDG&E is the first utility in the state to make the move. CPUC said it’s reviewing the filing.
Solana Beach and Del Mar recently sent a team that told the CPUC the cities have concerns about that SDG&E effort.

“We’re concerned that there could be undue influence from SDG&E into this separate marketing arm,” Zahn said. “It’s really hard to build a wall between the two.” Because Sempra is big with financial resources, “that really could be a disadvantage.”

Full story here.