Our Power, Our Choice

Sempra Cranks Up Misinformation Campaign Against Community Choice (Part 1)

No doubt about it, we are getting noticed. When we started our advocacy Teams for Community Choice Energy, few people had heard of CCEs. Now, CCEs are being carefully considered in San Diego, Solana Beach, Encinitas, Carlsbad, Del Mar, and Oceanside, and are under discussion just about everywhere else in the county.

And with visibility comes pushback. It is unfortunate that Sempra Energy, parent company of SDG&E, sees CCEs as a threat to their business. We all want a healthy electric utility that maintains a reliable grid. What we don’t want is a monopoly that gives us no say in electricity rates or clean-energy sourcing.

In a response typical of a monopoly, Sempra is amping up a campaign of misinformation, disinformation, and half-truths. This is an example of the tactic of swaying public opinion known as FUD—to sow “Fear, Uncertainty, and Doubt” in the minds of the public. The newswires have been crackling with stories about Sempra’s efforts, and we thought it would be good to summarize here some of the investigative journalism that pokes holes in the carefully crafted corporate Sempra narrative. Due to length, we will split up our post into three parts.

Before we get into the recent news stories, it is well to keep in mind that Sempra formed a separate company, Sempra Services, purely to lobby against CCE formation in the SDG&E service region. Sempra Services figures prominently in the reporting.

In Part 1, we look at “Sempra Services Video Leaves Out Key Facts on Community Choice.” Andrew Bowen reports for KPBS that Sempra Services created a website and produced a video on community choice. He picks apart three statements from the video, to which we add our own comments as appropriate:

Sempra claims that CCEs currently operating in California use “swap contracts” and are not really achieving emission reductions. "Swaps" refers to what are known as unbundled renewable energy certificates, or RECs for clean energy already produced; and "unbundled" means that the purchase of electricity is separate from the purchase of the certificate. That unbundled RECs do not achieve emission reductions is demonstrably false. Moreover, the statement is a gross distortion of CCE energy sourcing; the California Community Choice Association reports that CCEs get an average of one percent of their portfolio from unbundled RECs—about the same that SDG&E claims as part of their clean portfolio.

Sempra states that CCEs need to invest in local clean energy, “not trading schemes that give only the appearance of clean energy.” Somehow, Sempra amplifies the 1% that both CCEs and SDG&E use into a vast trading scheme—one that is irrelevant to the City of San Diego: The city does not plan on using them: San Diego's community choice feasibility study assumed the city would not use any out-of-state energy credits toward its renewable goals.

In truth, operational CCEs have a track record of investing in local clean energy projects. MCE Clean Energy, the state's oldest community choice program, has 19 megawatts of local renewable energy projects in the works or already operating. A community choice program in San Diego could theoretically do the same. The feasibility study also discusses ways the city could incentivize more rooftop solar panels and electric vehicles. It estimates the local community choice program could result in hundreds of jobs and millions in economic output — in part because of extra pocket money residents might have if they are paying lower electricity rates than what SDG&E charges.

Sempra claims that the “vast majority of local emissions come from cars and other forms of transportation. Cities must focus on the whole problem, not just electricity.” The San Diego city Climate Action Plan cites the 2010 baseline emissions inventory top-two as 55% transportation, 24% electricity (P.19). We agree that we “must focus on the whole problem,” which is not an argument against a CCE. The same CAP cites the two largest emission reductions by year 2035 as (1) California Vehicle Efficiency Standards, and (2) Community Choice Energy (P. 30). Focusing on the whole problem definitely includes forming a CCE.

The conclusion to be drawn from these facts is that Sempra Services’ arguments against a CCE are no arguments at all.

In Part 2, “Follow the Money,” we will look at the coalition of local organizations and businesses that Sempra Services put together to fight community choice, and how the money that SDG&E donates to, or spends with, these groups figures into their support.