By Tommy Hough
Two years ago this body gave its support to the city of San Diego's landmark Climate Action Plan. In doing so, it gave Democratic lawmakers on city council the confidence to move forward with advocating for that plan, knowing the party's "rank and file" had their back.
Ultimately, the Climate Action Plan was passed on a unanimous vote by San Diego City Council. Democrats and Republicans, seeing the environmental writing on the wall of a warming planet, and perhaps seeing things through the political filter of necessity – but seeing the future nonetheless – understood this city must do its part to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions in conjunction with the rest of the state, the rest of the nation, and the rest of the world.
This body created the opportunity for our elected officials to succeed, and move the ball down the field to a cleaner future. We are all components in making this happen – every person here. In 2015, we did that.
The city of San Diego's Climate Action Plan is a legally binding plan. It's ambitious, and it's not going away. Community Choice Energy, or Community Choice Aggregation, is a crucial component of that plan. The mayor must begin to meaningfully move forward on implementing it, and in a manner that is more substantive than simply painting bicycle lanes onto busy city streets and creating P.R. and press events.
Community Choice Energy provides consumer choice by expanding your energy purchasing and energy consumption options. It enables cities and counties to purchase cleaner power provided to consumers at a competitive or lower price. It is a partnership between the city San Diego, and the lone utility that serves this county: San Diego Gas and Electric.
Community Choice Energy – or CCEs for short – will provide you, your friends, and your families with choice. CCEs create competition between energy providers, some of whom may utilize one source of energy, some of whom may utilize multiple sources.
But you will get to determine who you want to buy from, and the idea is you may go with the greenest options available. Or not. It's up to you – it's your choice. But, over time, standard Community Choice Energy options based upon renewable sources have been demonstrated to beat the rates of competing utilities.
San Diegans pay the highest electricity rates of anyone in California. Part of the reason for that is we are currently subject to a power monopoly which doesn't allow other options. Without competition, there is no other market-based mechanism to provide a counterweight. Community Choice Energy enables local control and accountability for electricity rates, while reducing our region's carbon footprint by providing a greater mix of clean energy sources on our grid.
The city of San Diego is legally bound to get to 100 percent renewable energy sources by 2035, and we can't get there without clean energy provided by a multitude of Community Choice Energy providers. Over time, local community choice programs may be able to purchase increasing amounts of solar, wind or geothermal power from local sources, thereby supporting local, union jobs and local economic development in a burgeoning green-collar economy.
There are already eight operational CCE programs covering 70 cities in the Golden State, some with several counties joining together under joint operating agreements. In each case, they're offering residents competitive if not lower rates, more clean energy, and exceeding state climate goals – with more scheduled to launch in 2018.
When this body gave its approval to the Climate Action Plain in 2015, we were in the vanguard in San Diego. But over the last two years, the rest of the state saw what we were doing, and picked up the ball. Now, we're getting lapped. We were first, but among large California cities we're now being passed by.
CCEs are going on-line in next year in Los Angeles County, Riverside County, the Coachella Valley, Alameda County and the city of San Jose. These areas represent a wide swath of the state's political spectrum, and no one is going to mistake Riverside County as a hotbed of progressivism. But all see the value for their residents and constituents, and the promise of cleaner air and more renewable energy on the grid.
The city of San Diego recently published a technical study that concludes the CCE program is not only feasible, but will:
The next step is for the City Council to vote to enable staff to move into the second phase of CCE evaluation in January.
We're on track, and we're pushing for this resolution so our city officials see the support for CCEs are as strong now as they were in 2015 when this body helped greenlight the city's Climate Action Plan. We need the implementation of CCEs to get underway now so that by 2035 we won't be reacting to a deadline, but instead, will be comfortably arriving at our destination with a portfolio of functional renewable energy options available to consumers.
We can do this. We have the opportunity to move this process along tonight.
Now, I want to make this next point perfectly clear – and our club says as much in the language of this resolution. This is not a resolution that is aimed at harming anyone. This is not an anti-this or anti-that resolution.
You and I all have friends, colleagues, and family members who work for SDGE. These are dedicated professionals who love and value this community, and with our union brothers and sisters work hard to keep the lights on. They are our neighbors and they have an extraordinary volume of institutional knowledge about this region's energy needs. They have been assets to this community, and we need them more than ever. We need that knowledge. We need that aptitude. That's part of the reason SDGE has had a seat at the table on Community Choice Energy since Day One.
For CCEs to be successful, we need to utilize SDGE's transmission lines and transmission network. We need their billing capabilities. These aren't asides or minor items or small asks. SDGE has an opportunity to play a significant role in making CCEs successful as our city meets our Climate Action Plans by 2035. And as is the case with other utilities in the state, SDGE will remain whole.
You and I have a chance to get this right – tonight. We have a chance to demonstrate leadership – tonight. We have a chance to do right by our families and our neighbors and people who believe competition is inherently American and essential for a fair marketplace. And that 100 percent renewable energy, powered by good-paying, union jobs is not only attainable – but is necessary if we are going to be planning a future beyond 2035 at all.
The tipping point is here. We're on it. We've arrived. We are at the very early stages of coming to grips with rising sea levels affecting our beach communities, and wildfires that kill people and destroy lives when they dash in from the county's interior. We are fighting a two-front war against climate change in this county that grows more intense each year. Let's show the state that we know where San Diego's energy and environmental priorities are by supporting the resolution before you.
The time is now. We're not going to sit on our hands as others would prefer we do. Delay is death. Our leaders need to hear us from Downtown to Sacramento to Washington. We're not going to wait. San Diego is not only doing its part, we're leading, we're paving the way, and with your help, support and your vote in favor of this resolution we will continue to be leaders in this state and this nation in arriving at a green, renewable future.
We can do it, and we're going do it tonight.
Photo courtesy of the city of San Diego
A San Diego County planning commissioner and former radio host and media personality, Tommy Hough works as an environmental consultant and communications professional, and is a California Democratic Party delegate and the co-founder and former president of San Diego County Democrats for Environmental Action.