Remarks Before the Environment Committee on Consideration of San Diego's Franchise Utility Agreement
By Tommy Hough
For the first time in 50 years, San Diego is renegotiating its franchise agreement with San Diego Gas and Electric (SDGE) in a decision that will have sweeping ramifications for our city, giving the powerful Sempra utility exclusive rights to use the city's public right-of-ways for transmission and distribution of electricity, along with the ability to install wires, poles, power lines, and underground gas and electric lines.
Originally signed in 1970, the 50-year franchise agreement comes to an end on Jan. 17, 2021, presenting San Diegans with an extraordinary opportunity to reboot and set new terms for our region's transition to a renewable energy future, including opportunities for a municipal energy provider.
As usual, I had more remarks prepared than time available, so here are the entirety of my planned remarks before the San Diego City Council Environment Committee:
Good afternoon, my name is Tommy Hough, from Mira Mesa.
I'd like to request this committee and council delay any kind of decision on a future franchise utility agreement until the public has had a meaningful opportunity to consider this matter, and for a public debate and discussion to occur before council again considers this.
So many things have changed over the last 50 years since the current agreement was implemented, an era in which no one thought twice about the use of coal, or coal-fired power plants to power our nation, and an era in which solar and renewable energy was still largely the realm of science fiction, even as manned missions were successfully landing and exploring the moon.
I'm not sure how or why anyone in 1970, at a moment when change and technological innovation was as rapid as the rate change we experience today, thought that 50 years was a reasonable length of time for a city of our size to be committed to one utility vendor, especially without having a full, public discussion over the benefits of a municipal, community-owned utility.
While SDGE engages in generous community philanthropy, has invested in an extraordinary power infrastructure in our corner of Southern California, and does a marvelous job keeping the lights on with a grid that we know needs to be updated, my neighbors and I pay some of the highest power rates not just in California, but in the continental U.S., in a locale where solar and renewables should be the most efficient and the most cost-effective.
Ultimately, SDGE's parent company, Sempra, is no friend to the ratepayer. They are the friend of stockholders paying top executives. Our city should have nothing to do with that kind of arrangement at citizen expense.
Indeed, Sempra has revealed itself on several occasions to be a rather poor community partner. Just recently it formed and deployed a lobbying arm that was dead set on stopping community choice energy even after the utility had pledged to move forward as a partner in the concept. In 2015, when SDGE was making its initial inroads into the San Diego County Democratic Party, a company representative attempted to shift "blame" for rate hikes on the poorest San Diegans away from SDGE and onto those who use solar and renewable energy in a shameful, shocking display of public gaslighting on the floor of a central committee meeting.
This city should not handcuff itself to this utility for any longer than five years at a time, so that we as a community may more fully consider the opportunities of a municipal provider that is answerable to We the People, not Wall Street, that will not leverage the kind of political influence Sempra and SDGE does now, and will not work at cross purposes with energy efficiency initiatives that threatens their bottom line.
Please delay a decision on this matter today.
A former San Diego broadcaster and media personality, Tommy Hough is a wilderness and conservation advocate, communications professional, California Democratic Party delegate, and the co-founder and former president of San Diego County Democrats for Environmental Action. He ran as the endorsed Democratic candidate for San Diego City Council in District 6 in 2018.