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Power San Diego hopes to wrest utility control away from SDG&E

Needs 80,000 signatures to get on November 2024 ballot

Barrio Logan meeting - Image by Irvin Gavidor
Barrio Logan meeting
Video:

Power San Diego hopes to wrest utility control away from SDG&E

SDG&E response read at Barrio Logan meeting

SDG&E response read at Barrio Logan meeting

Many San Diegans already know: we pay the highest electricity rates of any metro area in the nation. That’s an average of 47.5 cents per kilowatt hour, compared to the national average of 17 cents. One in four San Diego residents is behind on their energy bill. Meanwhile, SDG&E paid its top executive $10 million in 2020, and its parent company Sempra Energy paid its CEO $23 million. Rates are set to rise again in 2024.

Non-profit Power San Diego wants the city to fire SDG&E. “We the people,” said campaign manager Dorrie Bruggemann, “should own the power lines and poles.” Power San Diego is working on a 2024 ballot measure so residents can vote on whether the city should create a municipal utility to own and operate city power poles and lines instead of SDG&E. Its main goal: lower rates by leveraging rooftop solar throughout the city.

“A municipal non-profit would eliminate corporate salaries and dividends for shareholders, so rates would be at least 20% lower,” said Adam Aron, volunteer for Power San Diego, at a presentation to the Barrio Logan community planning group on October 18. Cities with public utilities, like SMUD in Sacramento or LADWP in Los Angeles, pay much less: in LA the average is 28 cents per kilowatt hour, Sacramento 17 cents. A municipal energy non-profit would also not be subject to California Public Utilities Commission rules, which recently changed to make solar less lucrative for homeowners. 

“A public power non-profit would be able to build local storage and leverage rooftop solar to generate power,” said Aron, “making supply cheaper by eliminating the need to transmit energy long distances”—one reason why we pay so much in San Diego.

As Aron made the case to Barrio Logan residents, Power San Diego was on the agenda at meetings in Kearny Mesa, Otay Mesa, Mission Valley, City Heights, Ocean Beach, and Linda Vista. 

In Barrio Logan, the October 18 meeting marked the first time SDG&E showed up to contest Power San Diego—the start of an inevitable showdown. SDG&E sent Cory Illeman to say that the City’s public power feasibility study, cited by Power San Diego, was only in Phase I, and voters should wait for final results in 2025 before deciding on municipalization. 

“The results you are referencing today are from Phase I. The report made it clear that the findings were very premature and warned of substantial financial and legal risk for the city to take over the energy infrastructure, and the costs and the financial projections in the report remain ‘highly theoretical,’” said Illeman.

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“In general there’s more skepticism in neighborhoods where folks are older and better off, especially north of the 8,” said Bill Powers, founder of Power San Diego. “Most people think we’re stuck with SDG&E—they don’t realize we have a choice.”

Dennis Will from Rancho Bernardo,  a community council member who worked in aerospace for 40 years, was skeptical of Power San Diego’s plan at first. After doing his research, he agrees that a municipal power non-profit would provide better rates and options than SDG&E—but only if the city hires the right people to run it.

“I wouldn’t just turn over the power company to the city because I consider it to be a bad business person,” Will said. “It will take work, and it will take a lot of risk. They have to get the right people in charge, or the city could really mess it up.” Aside from these personal opinions, Will backed the Rancho Bernardo community council’s endorsement of Power San Diego’s ballot measure in a letter to the city council. Rancho Bernardo community planners think the “initiative holds immense promise in terms of driving down electricity costs for residents.” And Will has solar panels, so he wants to see expansion of solar energy. 

“I’ve not talked to anyone who does not think it’s a good idea,” Will said of his fellow RB residents. “As rate payers we owe it to ourselves to do better.”

Another contention: buying and operating the power utility will cost the city billions. The feasibility study put a price of about $2 billion on the poles and lines, which the city would purchase from SDG&E.  “But,” said Powers, “it doesn’t touch the city’s general fund.” Just like SDG&E finances investments with income from ratepayers, a public utility would rely on its customer base.

SDG&E made another appearance at Ocean Beach’s planning group meeting on November 1. When a Power San Diego presenter took an informal poll of the audience to rate satisfaction with SDG&E, only one person raised her hand for 5 of 5 satisfaction..

“You must work for SDG&E,” the presenter joked.

“Well yes, I do,” said the attendee, who read a prepared statement during the Q&A. Most others at the meeting rated SDG&E one or two. SDG&E did not respond to request for comment.

Despite San Diegans’ dislike of SDG&E—it ranked lowest in customer satisfaction among private power companies in the West—Power San Diego has a long way to go. Bruggemann said volunteers must collect more than 80,000 signatures by May to get the proposal on the November 2024 ballot.

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Barrio Logan meeting - Image by Irvin Gavidor
Barrio Logan meeting
Video:

Power San Diego hopes to wrest utility control away from SDG&E

SDG&E response read at Barrio Logan meeting

SDG&E response read at Barrio Logan meeting

Many San Diegans already know: we pay the highest electricity rates of any metro area in the nation. That’s an average of 47.5 cents per kilowatt hour, compared to the national average of 17 cents. One in four San Diego residents is behind on their energy bill. Meanwhile, SDG&E paid its top executive $10 million in 2020, and its parent company Sempra Energy paid its CEO $23 million. Rates are set to rise again in 2024.

Non-profit Power San Diego wants the city to fire SDG&E. “We the people,” said campaign manager Dorrie Bruggemann, “should own the power lines and poles.” Power San Diego is working on a 2024 ballot measure so residents can vote on whether the city should create a municipal utility to own and operate city power poles and lines instead of SDG&E. Its main goal: lower rates by leveraging rooftop solar throughout the city.

“A municipal non-profit would eliminate corporate salaries and dividends for shareholders, so rates would be at least 20% lower,” said Adam Aron, volunteer for Power San Diego, at a presentation to the Barrio Logan community planning group on October 18. Cities with public utilities, like SMUD in Sacramento or LADWP in Los Angeles, pay much less: in LA the average is 28 cents per kilowatt hour, Sacramento 17 cents. A municipal energy non-profit would also not be subject to California Public Utilities Commission rules, which recently changed to make solar less lucrative for homeowners. 

“A public power non-profit would be able to build local storage and leverage rooftop solar to generate power,” said Aron, “making supply cheaper by eliminating the need to transmit energy long distances”—one reason why we pay so much in San Diego.

As Aron made the case to Barrio Logan residents, Power San Diego was on the agenda at meetings in Kearny Mesa, Otay Mesa, Mission Valley, City Heights, Ocean Beach, and Linda Vista. 

In Barrio Logan, the October 18 meeting marked the first time SDG&E showed up to contest Power San Diego—the start of an inevitable showdown. SDG&E sent Cory Illeman to say that the City’s public power feasibility study, cited by Power San Diego, was only in Phase I, and voters should wait for final results in 2025 before deciding on municipalization. 

“The results you are referencing today are from Phase I. The report made it clear that the findings were very premature and warned of substantial financial and legal risk for the city to take over the energy infrastructure, and the costs and the financial projections in the report remain ‘highly theoretical,’” said Illeman.

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“In general there’s more skepticism in neighborhoods where folks are older and better off, especially north of the 8,” said Bill Powers, founder of Power San Diego. “Most people think we’re stuck with SDG&E—they don’t realize we have a choice.”

Dennis Will from Rancho Bernardo,  a community council member who worked in aerospace for 40 years, was skeptical of Power San Diego’s plan at first. After doing his research, he agrees that a municipal power non-profit would provide better rates and options than SDG&E—but only if the city hires the right people to run it.

“I wouldn’t just turn over the power company to the city because I consider it to be a bad business person,” Will said. “It will take work, and it will take a lot of risk. They have to get the right people in charge, or the city could really mess it up.” Aside from these personal opinions, Will backed the Rancho Bernardo community council’s endorsement of Power San Diego’s ballot measure in a letter to the city council. Rancho Bernardo community planners think the “initiative holds immense promise in terms of driving down electricity costs for residents.” And Will has solar panels, so he wants to see expansion of solar energy. 

“I’ve not talked to anyone who does not think it’s a good idea,” Will said of his fellow RB residents. “As rate payers we owe it to ourselves to do better.”

Another contention: buying and operating the power utility will cost the city billions. The feasibility study put a price of about $2 billion on the poles and lines, which the city would purchase from SDG&E.  “But,” said Powers, “it doesn’t touch the city’s general fund.” Just like SDG&E finances investments with income from ratepayers, a public utility would rely on its customer base.

SDG&E made another appearance at Ocean Beach’s planning group meeting on November 1. When a Power San Diego presenter took an informal poll of the audience to rate satisfaction with SDG&E, only one person raised her hand for 5 of 5 satisfaction..

“You must work for SDG&E,” the presenter joked.

“Well yes, I do,” said the attendee, who read a prepared statement during the Q&A. Most others at the meeting rated SDG&E one or two. SDG&E did not respond to request for comment.

Despite San Diegans’ dislike of SDG&E—it ranked lowest in customer satisfaction among private power companies in the West—Power San Diego has a long way to go. Bruggemann said volunteers must collect more than 80,000 signatures by May to get the proposal on the November 2024 ballot.

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