Community Choice Energy: It’s Economical and Environmental
Living as we do in America’s front-running environmental state, California, it comes as no surprise that our state’s cities and counties are increasingly turning from investor-owned utilities (IOUs) to cheaper, cleaner electricity provided by Community Choice Energy. According to CalCCA, more than 180 California cities (including at least 39 in LA County alone) and numerous counties serving some 10,000,000 customers have adopted CCE agreements. Laguna Beach should join them.
In 2017, our city paid Good Energy to conduct a feasibility study to investigate whether a CCE alternative to Southern California Edison would provide sufficient savings to help finance undergrounding of utilities. The upshot of the consultant’s 2018 report was that CCE would save slightly less than two percent, which City Hall thought was too low to help fund undergrounding. Unfortunately, the issue was shelved. As best I can tell after having spoken with a City-staffer several years ago, in the absence of any evident political will to forge ahead in the process of adopting CCE, our City officials felt no need to go further with the matter. That fact, coupled with the narrow context within which CCE was considered—financing undergrounding—led to the decision.
As we’ve seen how wildfires and other sources of carbon emissions have polluted the air we breathe, now is a good time to reconsider our City’s possible adoption of a cleaner energy mix for both the sake of our health and our pocketbooks. Just last year the Orange County cities of Irvine, Fullerton, Huntington Beach, Lake Forest, and Brea formed a Joint Power Agreement to deliver CCE. Laguna Beach could enter their JPA, which would manage the business arrangement.
If Laguna Beach did this, how would it work? At the start, all ratepayers in our city would automatically be provided with a higher mix of clean electricity delivered through existing IOU powerlines. If for any reason a ratepayer decided they preferred to return to Edison, for example, that ratepayer could opt-out. In fact, our entire city would be able to do that without penalty. As a matter of fact, not one city has withdrawn from a JPA in California. City staff would not be burdened with administering the arrangement as the JPA does that. As the cost of sustainably generated electricity continues to drop and battery storage technology improves, ratepayers’ savings are expected to rise. Homeowners who have solar rooftop would suffer no losses.
Recently, I asked an engineer/business consultant who worked with the City of Irvine on CCE, “What is the standard argument against adopting a CCE?” He said the few opponents complain that CCEs take profits away from IOUs. At bottom, then, this is an ideological objection. I responded that capitalism is widely understood to be based on competition in the marketplace and IOUs, being monopolies in effect, represent an anti-market, anti-capitalist enterprise. He did not disagree with me. I next asked him if our city’s split utilities’ jurisdiction between Edison and San Diego Gas and Electric presented an insuperable obstacle to adopting a CCE. Acknowledging that our situation would be more complex, he responded “no,” and offered that Monterey has made it work with two IOUs.
Lastly, CCE agreements are totally consistent with our City’s adoption of its Climate Protection Action Plan in 2009 and endorsement of The Energy Innovation and Carbon Dividend Act in 2020. Until California places a higher price on carbon emissions, it’s hard to imagine a more effective way to lower emissions at the local level than turning to a cleaner mix of energies.
In sum, CCEs have been tried and found to work, providing lower-cost, cleaner electricity. Nearly half-a-dozen Orange County cities have opted for CCE. From the ratepayers’ perspective, there seems to be no serious downside. City Hall needs only to hear from Lagunans; please contact Councilmembers and urge them to pursue CCE adoption.
Tom Osborne is an environmental historian who, with his wife, co-leads the Laguna chapter of Citizens’ Climate Lobby. Email: [email protected].