Cher Gilmore: Community choice energy—a golden opportunity

Opinion - santa clarita news

Last month, the Santa Clarita City Council wrote letters to California Senators Dianne Feinstein and Kamala Harris and Representative Steve Knight in support of national policies that “acknowledge the threat posed by climate change, reduce greenhouse gas emissions and take into account the impacts, causes and challenges of climate change in a clear, transparent and effective way.”

This endorsement puts the city in alignment with the scientific community, the majority of its residents, the march of history and they should be commended for this proactive stance.

Now, the council has another related issue to resolve—whether or not to enlist the city in the Clean Power Alliance (formerly known as Los Angeles Community Choice Energy). Their recent endorsement letter stated their commitment to action at the national level; this is an opportunity to demonstrate their local commitment to clean energy and further addressing climate change.

The Clean Power Alliance is an aggregation of cities in L.A. County—currently over 25—which would negotiate contracts for power and offer renewable electricity at competitive prices. More than 70 cities and counties in California are already participating in various Community Choice Aggregations, and almost every city has reduced its residents’ utility bills as a result.

Across the board, these CCAs are offering a combination of lower rates, more renewables and more local power than investor-owned utility companies. They can do this, because they have less overhead and, as nonprofits, they aren’t required to make profits for shareholders.

According to a 2017 L.A. Times special report, California energy rates are too high (nearly double the national average) because of an over-reaction to the energy crisis of 2000-2001. To ensure that the state wouldn’t get caught short again, it allowed power companies to over-build, so that by 2020, California is expected to produce over 21 percent more energy than it needs—not counting electricity from ever-increasing rooftop solar panels. Experts say just 10 percent is enough surplus production capacity for emergency situations.

Consequently, regulators have approved higher rates for years so utilities can recover the cost of their new plants and equipment.

This will cost customers billions of dollars over the next twenty years.

Allowing cities to buy power at competitive rates—with a choice of varying percentages of renewable energy in the mix—the Clean Power Alliance can somewhat reduce the burden of these unreasonable rates and at the same time significantly reduce the greenhouse gases driving climate change. With a choice of 50 percent renewable energy, the savings through the CPA would be 12.87 percent over the comparable Southern California Edison rate, and greenhouse gas emissions would decline by 9 percent. With a choice of 100 percent renewable energy, the savings would be 11 percent, and greenhouse gas emissions would decline by 27 percent, according to LACCE.

Besides lowering electricity bills and reducing greenhouse gas emissions, another benefit of joining the alliance would be stimulating investment in local energy programs, which would in turn increase quality jobs in Santa Clarita.

It would also allow individuals to contribute to economies of scale for clean energy in a way they couldn’t do alone. Most people would probably prefer to have their electricity supply provided by someone accountable to them rather than staying with an investor-owned utility accountable to stockholders. If not, they could opt-out and return to Edison at any time.

At a minimum, the citizens of Santa Clarita should have a voice in whether or not the city joins the alliance, which they have not had to date. If the city is hesitant because it’s afraid decisions will be dominated by L.A. County, no need to fear. Decisions will be made by the CPA Board of Directors, and every participating city will have one seat on the board, as will L.A. County.

And, a public Community Advisory Committee will advise the board. The city could even elect to become a single-city CCA, as did Lancaster—although that could be more costly.

My question is: why hasn’t the city jumped on this before now, if it’s genuinely concerned with reducing pollution and making the city more pleasant, prosperous and forward thinking?

California estimates that by the mid-2020s, more than 80 percent of Investor-Owned Utilities will get their energy from non-IOU providers like Community Choice Aggregations. Perhaps if more citizens begin to speak out in support of this golden opportunity, the City Council will be motivated to take action sooner rather than later.

Cher Gilmore lives in Newhall, holds an advanced degree in Urban and Regional Studies from USC and is a member of the Santa Clarita chapter of Citizens’ Climate Lobby.

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