SDUT: Commentary – Why San Diego plan for community choice energy is a blueprint for bipartisan climate action

November 9 – San Diego Union Tribune – Nicole Capretz, Joyce Lane, and Eddie Price comment – Mayor Kevin Faulconer’s recent announcement of support for community choice energy marks an unprecedented step toward a cleaner environment, greater customer choice and local renewable energy development.

Whether it’s called community choice energy or community choice aggregation (CCA), it’s a mouthful that’s really something simple: SDG&E will no longer have a monopoly on providing our electricity. Customers like us will have a choice, with the community leading the way.

That choice will include the lower rates and greener electricity that come from a nonprofit public utility, or the option to stick with our hyper-profitable private natural gas subsidiary.

The mayor’s support for community choice energy — followed by an expected affirmative City Council action — will provide us with the best tool for reaching San Diego’s goal of 100 percent clean energy by 2035.

Around the state, nearly 20 community choice programs serve millions of customers with renewable electricity options at costs that inevitably wind up lower than the private utility. Across the board, the lights have stayed on, the electricity choices have gotten cleaner and consumers have saved money.

If that wasn’t enough reason to pursue community choice, these programs increasingly invest in their own regions by building clean energy projects that provide high-quality jobs for local workers, as well as devote resources in communities of concern to ensure everyone can participate in and benefit from the clean energy economy.

As the biggest city to embrace community choice in the state, San Diego can make an enormous positive impact with its community choice energy program. Potentially including more than 1 million customers, it can eliminate more than 1.5 billion pounds of carbon from our skies every year. Ultimately, the mayor’s support for community choice energy may prove among the most important decisions he has made.

As plans begin to organize the program in partnership with other cities in our region, those of us who advocated long and hard for community choice will shift our efforts to ensuring families, workers and communities play a role in designing the best possible program and ensuring its accountability — including prioritizing investments in communities on the front lines of the climate crisis.

Choice means exactly that. Even with a fully operational community choice energy program, every electricity customer in the city will retain the option to choose SDG&E as his or her purchaser of electricity. The utility will also continue to handle monthly billing for everyone so switching is fast and easy.

It also makes sense to have just one electricity grid and one grid operator, so the state of California has determined that, when community choice programs come online, utilities like SDG&E retain ownership and maintenance of our electricity “highway.”

For the first time, SDG&E will have a competitor in part of its business — and consumers should reap the benefits of that competition. In the more than 160 California jurisdictions with community choice, consumers are expected to save more than $90 million this year alone, while also having new options for reasonably priced 100 percent clean electricity.

For over a century, SDG&E has profited handsomely as a monopoly. Over roughly the last decade, regulators have allowed payouts to shareholders to more than double while increasing our rates over 50 percent, even though electricity demand has remained flat. Going forward, SDG&E proposes further steep rate hikes.

It is not surprising, then, that the private utility spent millions and fought hard to block community choice. But our broad-based coalition of environmental, business, social justice, worker and faith-based organizations tirelessly made phone calls, emailed, testified and marched in support of community choice. We met with local political leaders and made a compelling case: community choice is a key tool in fighting climate change, while also providing families choice and savings.

In these challenging times when our future is on the line, adoption of community choice represents a game-changing victory for the climate and for San Diego families. Our success, with a big assist from the mayor and council, should be a source of inspiration. It shows that, even in this divided climate, we can work together across party lines to do what’s right. Despite long odds, reason can prevail, people power can win and we can fight to keep this planet livable for generations to come.

Read the full commentary here.