SDUT: Solana Beach takes first step toward community energy

May 25, 2017 –  San Diego Union Tribune – Phil Diehl reports – Solana Beach this week became the first city in San Diego County to launch an effort to provide its residents with a renewable energy alternative to San Diego Gas & Electric Co.

The Solana Beach City Council voted 4-1 Wednesday to enter the first of three phases that would lead to the creation and operation of a community choice aggregation, or CCA, through a partnership with two private companies to oversee its maintenance and operation.

Other council members and more than a dozen residents spoke strongly in favor of the plan, which could begin operating in as soon as two years.

“This is a really great thing for us,” said Mayor Mike Nichols. He said it’s clear the city is protected financially and that customers’ rates are likely to be lower than they are under SDG&E.

Solana Beach has a history of environmental innovation, being among the first to ban smoking in public places, disposable plastic bags, and polystyrene take-out food containers.

One of San Diego County’s smallest cities, Solana Beach would have 7,800 customers in the CCA if no one opts out. Officials say few people have opted out of similar programs elsewhere in the state.

The vote authorizes City Manager Greg Wade to enter contracts with two private companies — The Energy Authority (TEA) and Calpine Energy Solutions — to set up and operate the CCA. TEA will focus on operations, while Calpine’s responsibility will be primarily data management. The City Council would oversee the CCA, even setting the rates based on information provided by staff members.

The companies will receive monthly payments and fees based on the number of customers and amount of energy purchased. The CCA will be a nonprofit with no shareholders, which is one reason its rates are expected to be lower.

San Jose became the ninth California city to approve a community choice energy plan earlier this month, according to an article in the Mercury News. Eight others have been launched since 2010. The closest one to Solana Beach is Lancaster Choice Energy in northern Los Angeles County.

The city of San Diego is expected to review a report this fall on a proposed CCA there.

Solana Beach officials stressed that there is no cost to to the city for the first phase of the plan, which includes publicizing the program within the community, establishing a budget and staff, and planning the implementation.

Former Councilman Peter Zahn, speaking as a resident, said CCAs are “a proven mechanism for reducing costs and increasing renewable energy,” and that it’s one of the best ways for cities to meet their conservation goals.

“This really is innovation, and it’s effective and it’s proven,” Zahn said.

Former Del Mar Councilman Don Mosier encouraged Solana Beach to approve the plan, saying Del Mar and other cities are watching and may be interesting in joining the CCA.

“You are an important example for the region,” Mosier said.

Wade, the city manager, said the CCA is an important tool for helping Solana Beach reach the reduction in greenhouse gases mandated by the state.

Environmental advocates praised the city’s decision.

“You guys are always at the vanguard of environmental decisions,” said Nicole Captrez of the San Diego-based Climate Action Campaign.

Several other San Diego County cities have looked at community choice energy, primarily as part of their state-mandated Climate Action Plan, and activists often speak up for the idea at city council meetings.

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