Our Power, Our Choice

SDG&E counter proposal to public-energy alternative still incomplete as elected officials call for vote

Excerpted from the San Diego Union Tribune, July 12, 2018; by Joshua Emerson Smith

City officials said at a public hearing Thursday that they are continuing to work with San Diego Gas & Electric to overhaul the utility’s proposal for getting San Diego to 100 percent renewable energy by 2035 — a target mandated by the city’s ambitious climate action plan — but SDG&E’s pace frustrated some elected officials who are anxious to vote on whether to adopt the utility’s blueprint or embrace a government-run power program known as community choice aggregation.

“We have a plan in place that we want to execute on, and we cannot wait around forever if this continues to be pushed and pushed and pushed,” Councilman David Alvarez said at Thursday’s meeting of the city’s Environment Committee.

Last summer, an independent review of community choice found the program, as compared to SDG&E, would deliver more green energy to San Diegans while costing residents and businesses less over time. Then in June, the city’s Sustainable Energy Advisory Board issued a harsh review of SDG&E’s plan, saying the investor owned utility’s pitch “lacked sufficient detail.” (see that review's summary section here) So far the utility has laid out a rough sketch for a “tariff” program that would charge ratepayers the cost of delivering increasingly more renewable energy over time. The utility has signaled it will issue a more detailed blueprint in August.

Power lines and the 400 foot smokestack tower of the Encina Power Station in Carlsbad. (photo: Hayne Palmour IV / San Diego Union-Tribune)

At the public hearing, Councilwoman Georgette Gomez questioned whether the city should be spending resources to help SDG&E iron out its proposal. “How much time are you spending on trying to define what San Diego Gas & Election wants you to consider?” she asked staff.

The city first became interested in community choice several years ago while drafting its climate plan. Since then cities all over California looking to green up their power grids have adopted Community Choice Energy programs, most recently Solana Beach and Los Angeles County. “We’re looking at how to get to 100 percent, but equally as important is what is the cost to the city, what is the cost to ratepayers?” Cody Hooven, the city’s chief sustainability officer, said at Thursday’s hearing.

In the last year, shareholders of SDG&E’s parent company, Sempra Energy, have formed a lobbying group that has argued fluctuating state regulation make it impossible to know for sure whether community choice will be cheaper than the utility’s proposed tariff program. (see our re-post of the New York Times' article on Sempra's fearmongering campaign)

Utilities and advocates of community choice all over the state have been anxiously waiting for the state Public Utilities Commission to overhaul a so-called exit fee. The charge is paid by community choice programs to compensate utilities for the energy contracts they have signed on behalf of ratepayers who subsequently get enrolled in the government program. The commission has said it will issue a preliminary ruling adjusting the fee by the end of this month.