Dozens of residents from across San Diego County gathered inside city hall in Solana Beach on Monday evening, October 13. They were there for a presentation by local clean-energy activist Lane Sharman concerning a push to establish "community choice aggregation (CCA)", a method of sourcing cheaper, greener electricity than that currently provided by local energy monopoly San Diego Gas & Electric.
The San Diego Energy District, of which Sharman is a founding member, has been exploring the CCA model locally since 2005. He envisions possibly having a functional system in place locally as early as 2015.
Sharman called a switch to clean power "the biggest change you'll never notice," emphasizing the importance of consumers remaining "on the grid" and within the jurisdiction of SDG&E as an electricity supplier.
"Exiting the grid turns out to be a very unfortunate phenomenon because it eliminates a lot of potential storage capacity," said Sharman. "It's kind of like you plugging into the internet, but the internet's closed off, because someone has cut off your connection…. So, we want to avoid what we call 'grid defection,' which has been on the minds of more and more people as they're forced to pay more for their power."
Similar community-choice operations are already active in two Northern California locales; in both cases they've been able to increase local energy portfolios to include 50 percent energy consumption from green sources while reducing the electric bills of Pacific Gas & Electric customers. Debate exists as to whether such figures are simply "green-washing”; however, the total energy mix is calculated including credits purchased from out-of-area generators such as wind farms in the Midwest, even though that energy is not actually being consumed by the CCA district.
Community choice is also designed to be set up as a nonprofit operation — Sharman noted that Marin Clean Energy, a CCA district established along the coast north of San Francisco, had established a $7 million surplus in a three-year period through 2013 by collecting approximately $50 annually per customer above the cost of actual energy purchases.
"SDG&E is a stellar company at producing bottom-line profits," said Sharman, noting that in the same 3-year period the company generated more than $1.3 billion in profits for shareholders by charging ratepayers an average $940 more than the cost of power delivered.
The push to expand community choice in several other districts statewide avoided a setback when state Assembly Bill 2145 died in the senate over the summer. If passed, the bill — supported by all of the state's energy monopolies including SDG&E — would have prevented community-choice districts from automatically enrolling customers instead forcing them to "opt in" to the program, despite participation offering a benefit to consumers. Community-choice advocates argued the utility-backed bill would have killed any future programs, as the extensive investment necessary to establish a new district wouldn't be possible without a guaranteed client base to entice energy suppliers to negotiate power purchase agreements.
"We fully support customer choice, and we'll cooperate with any aggregating authority that's formed," said SDG&E spokesman Warren Ruis, one of a handful of the utility's employees attending the meeting.
"We disagree," was the only response offered to an audience member who questioned the prior statement, suggesting a conflict between the alleged support and the utility's support of AB 2145, universally termed a death blow for community choice by the program's supporters.
If community choice is implemented, in 2015 or beyond, consumers will have several opportunities to opt out of the program and continue receiving an energy blend as selected by SDG&E. The utility noted that it expects to source 33 percent of its energy from renewable sources by year end, an accomplishment that would be six years ahead of state mandates for green energy conversion.