By Shawn Raymundo
For Councilmember Chris Duncan, the choice on whether or not San Clemente should join a Community Choice Energy (CCE) program is an easy one.
“It’s an absolute no-brainer for our community to obviously do Community Choice Energy,” Duncan, during a city council meeting last month, said of the renewable energy programs that dozens of California cities have begun to form.
The city inched closer toward Duncan’s desire to join a CCE, as the council on Oct. 19 voted unanimously to initiate talks with Clean Energy Alliance (CEA), an organization comprising the North San Diego County cities of Carlsbad, Solana Beach and Del Mar.
“We know what the trend is … the sooner you get in, the better,” Duncan said. “We have like-minded communities like Del Mar, Solana Beach and Carlsbad, very similar cities dealing with the same issues we are. … We have a chance to jump in with them early.”
Up and down the state, clusters of local governments have begun to create or join already-formed CCE organizations that purchase electricity from utility providers and sell it to residents and businesses, giving customers options—or choice—when it comes to selecting their mix of renewable and non-renewable energy.
Duncan had previously noted that officials with CEA had approached him and the city about having San Clemente consider joining the alliance.
“They felt like San Clemente was similar to the coastal cities that they had within the group,” Duncan said, speaking with San Clemente Times this week.
San Clemente is geographically a good fit for CEA, Barbara Boswell, the Alliance’s CEO explained.
“We think we would be a good partner to (the city of San Clemente) and bring a great service to the community,” Boswell said of the potential partnership. “We look forward to working with the city council and bringing energy choice to the community.”
Late last month, the Escondido City Council voted to become a member of CEA. More cities, including Oceanside, San Marcos and Vista, are also considering joining CEA, The San Diego Union Tribune reported.
Touching on that apparent growth, Duncan took that as a positive sign for the city of San Clemente.
“Now, I think it was important to remember, too, that they have some other cities as well that are joining them soon; they’re growing, and kind of, in a way, that seems pretty positive to me,” Duncan said.
The alliance, which operates under a Joint Powers Authority formed in 2019, purchases power from San Diego Gas & Electric (SDG&E)—the utility provider in San Clemente. Should the council later approve plans to officially join the CEA, councilmembers would have seats on the Alliance’s Board of Directors.
Under a CCE, all residential and business customers within the boundaries of a member city are automatically placed in the new program. However, state law allows the customers to also opt out and return to their previous utility’s service.
With a CCE, Mark Fulmer, the city’s consultant on the subject, explained, customers can select between a variety of energy products that reflect their personal interests or values.
With CEA, for instance, it offers customers three primary choices for their energy supply: a 50% renewable energy option; a 50% renewable and 75% carbon-free option; or 100% use of renewable energy. A fourth option is meant for customers who generate their own power from wind and solar energy.
Some of the benefits of joining a CCE, Fulmer told the council last month, include the potential for rate savings for customers, as well as increasing the city’s reliance on renewable energy—getting ahead of the state’s energy requirements.
Regarding the rate savings, however, Fulmer warned that the city and utility customers should manage expectations. While, on average, customers save about 2% on their electric bills, there are some years where there will be no savings at all, as market conditions can impact rates.
“You can minimize that by good risk management, paying attention to what’s going on at the state and good customer expectations,” Fulmer said.
Councilmember Steve Knoblock, who had acknowledged that he was excited to hear more about CCEs from Fulmer, said he was concerned to learn there’s no guarantee in cost savings if the city made the switch—an endeavor that also comes with some additional costs to the city.
“If we go down this road, we would have created, with the hope of getting some savings, we will have created another bureaucracy, albeit a small one, but another bureaucracy with sort of duplicating services, duplicating costs. That concerns me,” Knoblock said.
Responding to Knoblock, Mayor Pro Tem Gene James explained that the council’s decision that night was to explore the option of joining with CEA and having discussions on what that could look like.
As part of the Oct. 19 vote, the council approved the formation of a subcommittee comprising Duncan and James to lead the engagement with CEA. According to Duncan, they’ve since had an initial Zoom call with CEA Board Chairperson Kristi Becker, Solana Beach’s deputy mayor.
The next step, Duncan said, is for the city to gather its power-usage data from SDG&E to present to the CEA as part of the Alliance’s own evaluations. That data, he noted, won’t be collected until the New Year.
“We’re looking at early next year to get our information from SDG&E, and at that point, we would contact CEA to get an idea of what the next steps would be to explore in potentially joining their group,” he said.
Compared to other CCEs, the Alliance is seemingly a better option for San Clemente, noted Duncan, who, along with James during the late-October meeting, had expressed a lack of interest in engaging with the Orange County Power Authority—a group that includes the cities of Irvine, Buena Park, Huntington Beach and Fullerton.
“There’s not really another group that makes a lot of sense, frankly,” Duncan said of CEA this week. “There’s a limited amount of groups that operate in our area, and this is the main local group that’s working under SDG&E, like us.”
The earliest San Clemente could join the Alliance or any other CCE, Duncan said, wouldn’t be until 2024, as the city would need to go through an extensive application process with the California Public Utilities Commission.
Shawn Raymundo is the city editor for the San Clemente Times. He graduated from Arizona State University with a bachelor’s degree in Global Studies. Before joining Picket Fence Media, he worked as the government accountability reporter for the Pacific Daily News in the U.S. territory of Guam. Follow him on Twitter @ShawnzyTsunami and follow San Clemente Times @SCTimesNews.