Our Power, Our Choice

Popular CA Republican Mayor Praises Community Choice Energy

Excerpted from the San Diego Free Press, April 13, 2017; by Tyson Siegele

The Republican Mayor of Lancaster, California, Rex Parris, gives an enthusiastic endorsement of Community Choice Energy, lambasting the high prices of utility power and praising the savings gained through Community Choice. The people of Lancaster first elected Rex Parris in 2008. Since then he has been re-elected 3 times including in 2016 when he received 67% of the vote. One of the main ways he achieved such strong support was by turning Lancaster into a clean energy mecca.

(Left) Lancaster Mayor Rex Parris (source: City of Lancaster); (Right) The 10 MW Western Antelope Dry Ranch solar power facility supporting Lancaster Choice Energy (source: Lancaster Choice Energy)

The biggest win in terms of jobs was bringing Build Your Dream (BYD) electric bus manufacturing to the city. Soon, in addition to buses, Lancaster will begin providing electric trash trucks and other heavy duty vehicles. Parris was also instrumental in reducing permitting times for rooftop solar and introducing building codes requiring rooftop solar arrays. The city was the first in California to require rooftop solar on all new buildings. Better yet, Lancaster hopes to soon be able to announce that it has become a zero net energy community. That means it aims to produce more renewable energy within city limits than its total energy consumption, a goal it has been working toward since 2011. Accomplishing that has involved new and innovative building codes, creative public/private partnerships, and most importantly Community Choice Energy.

While the Mayor is now a strong advocate for the environment, this was not always the case. When introducing himself, Parris said, “I like to call myself a California Republican. You know what that is? We actually read books.” Which is exactly what Parris did when he kept hearing that climate change was real, especially from people he respected. Originally, the Mayor admitted, he assumed the Republican party line on climate change had merit. Now though, not only does he understand climate change is real, but he works hard to combat it.

As a fiscal conservative, Mayor Parris realizes economics are key to finding viable solutions. He expected Community Choice Energy to strengthen his community economically in addition to the obvious environmental benefits. But then, the savings achieved were well beyond expectations. “The money you make on these things…”, he said, “just by becoming sustainable, nobody was prepared for.”

Mayor Parris touted the Lancaster CCE program’s cost savings. “Everyone is saving 4.6% off their electric bill, when you average it out across the city. And they could save a lot more, but I want us to be the leader of the nation in sustainable cities and alternative energy use and that takes money and I don’t want to charge the taxpayers one dime. [The additional savings] doesn’t go into the general fund, it goes into other innovative projects.” The mayor is not the only CCE believer in Lancaster. People are naturally drawn to the cheaper cleaner energy option. Parris stated that the city “had a 94% [participation] rate [in the CCE program] when we opened it up.” Over time, as people become more familiar with Community Choice, they also become more comfortable selecting it instead of the standard utility option.

Parris does not waste time mincing words. To emphasize how extreme the cost differences were between CCE and standard utility rates, Parris said that electricity used to cost more than twice as much as it does under CCE. He noted that some of the city’s power now costs less than 4 cents per kilowatt hour. If anyone was unsure of how seriously the Mayor views the disparity between utility pricing and CCE pricing, Parris, a lawyer by trade, followed that up with, “Someone ought to be in jail.”

Bill savings are just one way Community Choice strengthens a city. The only way Lancaster has managed to make it to the verge of becoming a zero net energy city has been through a tremendous amount of local clean energy construction projects. One of those projects is a city-owned 10 megawatt solar array. An array of that size, in addition to providing well-paying local jobs, can power more than 1,500 homes. As Lancaster ramped up local clean energy, it also ramped up employment. This is another way that CCE changes the dynamic: money paid to Lancaster-based power producers goes right back into the local economy. Out-of-state utility investors cannot suck money out of our region nearly as easily with a CCE in place.

Unfortunately, all elected officials are not as up to date on clean energy initiatives as Mayor Parris. There are still some elected officials who resist Community Choice. For example, in February, San Diego County Supervisor Kristin Gaspar refused to move forward with a CCE study. Her input to the discussion was, “What’s the rush?”

In today’s divisive political climate, it is nice to find an issue on which we can all agree. The majority of people in both political parties believe we should be emphasizing alternative energy over oil and gas. Imagine how popular renewable energy would become if everyone realized that clean energy does not just save the environment, it is cheaper too. CCE should be an easy decision. Democrats want it. Republicans want it. It saves us money. We end up with cleaner air and more jobs. The question is not, “What’s the rush?” The question is, “What are we waiting for?”