Proponents of community-choice energy programs are rallying opposition to a proposal from the California Public Utilities Commission that they say would kill or seriously hamper efforts to expand community-choice programs throughout the state.
Community choice has been lauded by supporters as a means of not only hastening a switch from reliance on fossil-based fuels to renewable sources for energy generation but also as a means to lower electricity costs at the consumer level. Marin Clean Energy, launched in 2010, and two other Northern California providers have been operating successfully for several years. In the past two years, another dozen communities — including the cities of San Diego and Solana Beach and a joint effort between Del Mar, Carlsbad, Encinitas, and Oceanside — have taken steps toward implementing their own electricity programs that would compete with the current monopoly provided San Diego Gas & Electric.
"If a community-choice program hasn't filed their resource plan prior to December 8, when the resolution was initially made public, they're going to be waiting a long time," explained Tyson Siegele of SanDiego350. "There are a lot of communities that are going to be held up by this," including all three of the local plans currently in development.
Under existing protocol, community-choice aggregators (CCAs) are eligible to submit registration packets to the utilities commission and begin operating in potentially as little as 90 days. If the commission — which community-choice advocates argue is highly biased in favor of privately held utility monopolies — gets its way, the process could be delayed for two years or more, both for the establishment of new community-choice districts and the expansion of existing ones.
The commission says the delayed timetable is necessary to properly calculate payouts from those leaving investor-owned utilities like SDG&E for community programs: energy-purchase contracts inked before customers have an option to leave could affect utilities’ profitability and create higher rates for those who opt out of community choice
"Advocacy groups are seeing this as simply another [utilities commission] action that is trying to hold up community-choice adoption," says Siegele. "We believe it's just a biased decision by the [commission]. And in addition to that, it's very strange how this resolution came about — it was made public December 8, and initially the timeline for public comment ended December 29. It wasn't announced to stakeholders that this was happening, it was done during the holiday season; that makes it incredibly suspect."
Following outcry over the timing of the announcement, the commission expanded the comment period on its proposal to January 11 and pushed back a scheduled vote on the matter from January 11 to a February 8 meeting. Despite the expanded timeline, community-choice backers say the commission is going about things wrong.
"Typically, this wouldn't even be done via resolution," Siegele continued. "This is something that really should be done through a standard proceeding in front of the [commission]. In fact, there is a proceeding that should be dealing with this issue, and it allows for not just public comment but for stakeholders to be part of the proceeding, to issue evidence and data for the [commission] and all the involved parties to consider."
SanDiego350 has launched a petition calling on the commission to scrap the resolution in its entirety. As of mid-day Saturday (December 30), it had garnered just shy of 450 signatures.