San Diego Free Press: County Supervisors Vote No on Feasibility Study for Community Choice Aggregation

February 27, 2017 – San Diego Free Press – Op-Ed by CAC Board Member Dr. Don Mosier and CAC Special Advisor Dr. Bruce Bekkar 

What’s the rush?”– Says Supervisor Kristin Gaspar

On February 15, our County Board of Supervisors voted against staff’s recommendation to conduct a feasibility study on Community Choice Aggregation (CCA).

An increasingly popular option throughout California, CCAs (also known as CCEs) provide local residents an alternative to investor-owned utilities and a chance to select a mix of less carbon-intensive electricity at competitive prices.  A San Diego County CCA program would be a big step towards a cleaner, healthier future for everyone.

Community Choice Aggregation programs came into being in California in 2002 with the passage of AB 117 in the California State Legislature.  This Bill created the framework for establishing local, not-for-profit public agencies that would partner with existing utilities to provide additional electricity choices for state residents.

California’s first CCA, Marin Clean Energy, was established in the Bay Area in 2010 and serves over 175,000 customers.  Its electricity mix features solar power, with options of either 50 or 100% clean energy at competitive prices.  The state’s second program, Sonoma Clean Power, offers greener, more local energy sources at lower prices than those of their utility, PGE.  Four more CCEs exist across California, and the trend is clear: 26 of 58 counties operate a CCA, are about to begin one, or are actively investigating the possibility.

In contrast, investor-owned utilities are publically traded for-profit entities.  In most locations, they operate as de facto monopolies offering customers no choice outside their standard contracts.  Of the three state utilities, SDGE is the most expensive for its customers, based on both price per kWh and monthly bills.  Marketing itself as a “green” company, SDGE still burns natural gas to generate the majority of their electricity, which is piped from Texas and New Mexico where widespread fracking often leads to water table contamination and leakage of methane – a far more potent greenhouse gas than CO2.

The burning of fossil fuels is the chief driver of climate change, and electricity generation accounts for the largest source of greenhouse gases in the U.S..  Already, our state has seen worsening heat waves, more frequent and prolonged fires, new infectious diseases like West Nile and Zika virus, and reduced availability of healthy food and water from severe, prolonged drought.  Children under the age of five, according to the World Health Organization, will suffer the majority of the health impacts from our climate crisis.  As physicians, we’re strongly in favor of doing whatever it takes to prevent this kind of avoidable suffering.

In light of these risks and our region’s growing commitment to 100% renewable energy, we believe it’s time to take bold action.   Community Choice Aggregation represents a rare win-win for all of San Diego’s residents: it will help protect our health, expand choice, and create local jobs- all without increasing customer’s utility bills.   Done at the County level, additional cost efficiencies would be realized compared to piecemeal CCAs by individual cities.

The County already purchases its own electricity on the open market without SDGE involvement, saving millions of dollars annually.  By voting against the feasibility study, our County Supervisors are refusing to investigate whether a CCA could accomplish the same for local citizens and businesses.   It should be noted that the study would not have committed them to create a CCA, only to see if it would be of benefit to local residents.  Instead, they chose to remain tied to the past and SDGE, which may well have broken state rules by lobbying against the option to begin with.

Supervisor Kristin Gaspar asked at the meeting, “what’s the rush?”  Maybe she’s just new at her job.  In any case, improving air quality, preventing childhood illnesses, pregnancy complications and premature deaths while helping protect our quality of life are all ample justifications.  And climate science overwhelmingly agrees that moving towards cleaner, cheaper energy at this point, given nature’s declining stability, certainly doesn’t qualify as “rushing.”

To her credit, Supervisor Dianne Jacobs- the lone supporter of the study- brought a successful motion to bring the issue back in a year for a staff update on the progress of CCAs across the state.   Concerned residents are urged to contact their Supervisor (write, call and/or visit!) and remind them that they work for us and must safeguard our health and future above all else.

Bruce Bekkar, M.D.
Donald Mosier, M.D.
Del Mar, CA

See full op-ed here.