Laguna Beach City Council greenlights community choice energy study

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Signs outside Laguna Beach City Hall direct visitors to check-in at the Council Chambers amid a COVID-19 case surge. Photo by Daniel Langhorne

By Breeana Greenberg, Special to the Independent

Laguna Beach City Council voted unanimously Tuesday to look at joining a Joint Powers Agency, which operates the Community Choice Energy (CCE).

If Laguna Beach joins a CCE, rather than purchasing electricity from utility companies, a community choice aggregator would purchase electricity on behalf of residents. This allows residents more choice over where their energy comes from, offering residents the ability to choose cleaner energy sources. However, utility companies would still be involved in power distribution, metering, and billing.

While CCE can offer more competitive rates, depending on the size of the community choice aggregator, the City takes on some level of risk. If Laguna Beach chose to form a CCE on its own, it would take on more financial risk than if it were to join a joint Powers Agency, where it would share the risk with other cities. 

According to California Community Choice Association (CALCCA), “Significant opt-out levels threaten the financial viability of a CCA, as it will have procured more power than is demanded,”

Residents are automatically enrolled in the Community Choice Energy (CCE) but can opt-out and can continue to receive full Investor-Owned utilities services from Southern California Edison. According to the report by the working group researching community choice energy, very few customers actually choose to opt out of the program once a city joins a CCE.

Laguna Beach has been exploring CCE since 2017 and conducted a preliminary feasibility study in 2018, according to a staff report. The feasibility study showed potential savings of 6%. But after a California Public Utilities Commission ruling increased the fees required to offset power companies’ renewable energy investments, Laguna Beach put the investigation on hold to wait and see if the ruling might impact potential savings.

Since the initial study, CCEs have grown with 11 million California residents now receiving their power through Community Choice Energy, according to CALCCA. The City has since reopened its inquiry.

“Over time, it’s very feasible that the bills could go down, because of purchasing more and more new renewable energy, which is cheaper than existing sources of energy,” said Steve Chadima, senior vice president for external affairs at Advanced Energy Economy. “So it’s one of those long-term benefits, it’s not going to show up in your bill in 2022 or 2023. But over time, it’s going to have that effect.”

Councilmembers noted the environmental importance of shifting to renewable energy sources.

“It’s inevitable that we go to renewable power,” Councilmember George Weiss said. “We have to. We don’t have a choice. We have to do it for us, and for our kids, and for the environment. And the first thing we said, you know, there was a choice, but really it’s the carbon footprint is the overriding reason that we’re looking at this, because we need to change that.”

“I’ve done everything I can to do the best I can to help the environment,” Councilmember Peter Blake said. “I want to make sure that when I pull my switch I have electricity, and that’s really, you know when I see what happened in Texas and what’s happening with emails that I’m getting from the state of California. You know with rolling blackouts and everything else. I just want to make sure that whatever we do we do it and we are able to provide the power that we need to keep on living.”

Chad Nelson, CEO of the Surfrider Foundation, noted that the City has led environmental sustainability for decades and can continue to do so by joining a CCE and choosing renewable energy sources.

“As we’ve seen over the last several years from floods, to fires, to hurricanes, to heatwaves, it’s time to take climate change seriously,” Nelson said. “Laguna Beach is threatened, from the east, with wildfires and from the west, with sea-level rise, so it’s definitely in our best interest as a city to really tackle these issues.”

“I very much appreciate the actions that you’ve taken recently to reduce our city’s carbon footprint, investigating, increasing the number of zero-emission vehicles in our city’s fleet, and also exploring which buildings in the city would be best for the installation of solar panels,” said Laguna Beach resident Ginger Osborne. “These measures are very important. At this point, we are urging you to proceed with the study of CCE for our city, with the aim to quickly move our city to clean energy sources.”

David Haake, a UCLA health sciences professor and chair of the Clean Power Alliance’s Community Advisory Committee, reassured residents of their options within a CCE.

“Everyone is offered the opportunity multiple times and really at any time to choose a lower percentage of renewable energy at a lower cost, so they could go down 50%. Or they could go down to the minimum required by the state, or they could opt out and go back to Southern California Edison,” Haake said. “Laguna Beach has the opportunity to educate its citizens and businesses about making sure that they make the right choice for them.”

Ayn Craciun, Orange County Policy Advocate at the climate action campaign encouraged the City Council to choose a CCE that “centers on transparency and demonstrates good government practices.”

“We have a ways to go,” Weiss said. “We’ve done our first round, and the risks and financial rewards. I think we need to delve into those a little bit more… we may not make it this year. But I think we can if we re-engage the group, determine what the criteria are, work off those criteria, and talk to people, both the JPA and their members as well.”

With the Orange County Power Authority, a Joint Powers Agency which operates the CCE, Laguna Beach has until the end of the year to join, if the City wants to start service next year. The City Council aims to come back and report on continued research by November.

In other business, the Council also voted to cancel the Welcome Home Concert at the Festival of Arts to instead hold an Aug. 29 concert at Bluebird Park.

During the June 28 Arts Commission meeting, cultural arts manager Siân Poeschl presented approved summer concerts. Music in the Park, usually held at Bluebird Park, would instead be held at the Festival of Arts grounds “partly due to reduced budget from Covid-19 impacts and public safety”, according to the minutes from the meeting.

Shuttles will be available to transport attendees from Bluebird Park to the Festival grounds. City Council voted to approve the partnership with the Festival of Arts with Music in the Park at its May 18 meeting.

Summer concerts will still be held at the Festival of Arts on July 18, Aug. 25, Aug. 8, and Aug. 22.

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Daniel is currently managing editor for the Laguna Beach Independent. He first started reporting on Laguna Beach in 2018. Daniel moved to Orange County from his hometown of Santa Barbara in 2008 to attend Chapman University. He wrote for the college newspaper, The Panther, for nearly four years before obtaining a Bachelor’s degree in Political Science and English with an emphasis in journalism. While attending Chapman, he started interning at the Orange County Register as a community blogger in Orange. In 2012, he was hired as a staff writer covering Orange and Villa Park. He went on to cover the Nixon Presidential Library & Museum as well as housing, development, education, water, and local politics in other Orange County cities. Since leaving the Register in 2015, he has written for Law360, the Foothills Sentry, the Newport Beach Independent, the Laguna Beach Independent, Los Angeles Times Community News, BehindtheBadge.com, and the California Business Journal. When Daniel isn't busy covering Laguna Beach, he serves as ​engagement editor for a nonprofit newsroom, The War Horse. He lives in Irvine with his wife and son.

2 COMMENTS

  1. The time has come.

    Wealthy nations recently witnessed property destruction from catastrophic storms and fires caused by the intensity of weather patterns brought by climate change -NASA. This occurred concurrently with persistent drought in poorer nations (Africa and the Middle East). To meet the UN carbon reduction goal of 7-percent per year, the time to adopt cheaper renewables has arrived. Europeans are committed to reducing their carbon footprint to mitigate climate change -IPCC (and so should the world).

    An Opt-out option to CCE (CCA) would be short-sighted and misses the whole point of CCE. Geographically Laguna is well situated for Opt-in to CCE, with a seven-mile south-western coastline and favorable solar arc, on-shore winds and hills for hydro capture, Laguna could even develop a municipal power system to sell energy back to utilities or other CCE members.

    Clean fusion power is a fairy tale, unaffordable and will always remain 30-years away, nuclear power remains horribly expensive harboring unknown unknowns and externalize costs. Distributed renewable power costs have fallen to 10-cents per KWh, CCE is the way to go.

    The time for CCE (CCA) is now.

  2. In 2015 the California State Senate passed SB-350 to regulate all retail and publicly owned utilities to procure 50% of their electric power from renewable sources. In 2018 SB-100 passed requiring “Load Service Entities” (electric power generators) to meet these eligible renewables:
    • 50% eligible renewable energy by 2026
    • 60% eligible renewable energy by 2030
    • 100% carbon free by 2045
    The added regulation specifies what kind of energy generation is allowed (no beast of burden). Notice by 2045 “carbon free” substitutes for “eligible renewables” and opens the door for nuclear power. Adopting CCE aligns municipalities with these State mandates.

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