BY LEORAH GAVIDOR
The name actually doesn’t say it all: the most important thing about community choice energy—coming soon to five cities in the San Diego area—is that it incorporates larger amounts of power from renewable sources. Customers will have a choice to purchase 50% or 100% of their electricity from renewable sources, hence the name “community choice.” Community choice aggregation (CCA) is an idea gaining popularity in California, and San Diego will soon have the second-largest CCA program in the state. Most coastal California counties have adopted CCAs, serving over 10 million people statewide.
Formation of a CCA program means that local residents and businesses can band together to purchase the types of power they want to offer residents, instead of leaving that decision to the utility company—in this case San Diego Gas & Electric. The utility company still maintains the lines and provides power transmission, but the community choice aggregation uses its collective purchasing power of the people to buy renewable energy to run over those lines and deliver to customers. The CCA is a non-profit organization publicly accountable to ratepayers.
The largest CCA in the area is San Diego Community Power, which will serve the cities of San Diego, Chula Vista, La Mesa, Encinitas, and Imperial Beach—totalling about 770,000 accounts when the roll-out is complete. SDCP purchases renewable energy and feeds it into the electricity grid. Current SDG&E customers in the service areas will be automatically enrolled at the 50% renewable level, and can choose to opt out completely or move to 100% fossil-fuel free. SDCP rates are competitive with SDG&E; but the long-standing Sempra-owned utility only offers 31% renewable sources. The average monthly cost for SDCP’s PowerOn (50% renewable ) is $87.92; for Power100 (100% renewable) it’s $90.18. Enrolled customers will continue to get one bill, but it will look a little different: SDCP’s power generation charge will replace SDG&E’s charge.
SDCP contracts for wind and solar provide the majority of its power, with large hydroelectric, geothermal, and biomass also in the mix. Any revenue generated by the non-profit goes to developing the growth of renewable energy projects and training to support local clean energy jobs. SDCP must file detailed reports on the content and origins of its power. About 1,000 municipal accounts come online in March 2021; 70,000 commercial and industrial accounts in June 2021; and 700,000 residential accounts in January 2022. Libraries, police stations, and water pumping stations are some of the first on the list.
The Clean Energy Alliance is a second, smaller San Diego-area CCA serving about 58,000 accounts in Del Mar, Solana Beach, and Carlsbad. Launching in May 2021, Clean Energy Alliance aims to set rates about 2% below SDG&E. It will merge with Solana Energy Alliance, in operation since 2018.
Both SDCP and CEA plan to invest in new wind, solar, and geothermal power generation projects, along with electricity storage facilities. The chief operations officer of SDCP, Cody Hooven, was also San Diego’s first chief sustainability officer.
“‘Most people won’t even know we’re here,’” Hooven told local news station KPBS. For residents and businesses, community choice energy is an effortless way to reduce carbon footprints. But right now only 55% of SDCP’s power comes from renewable energy—because that’s what is available to meet demand. The goal is 100% of SDCP’s electricity from renewable sources by 2035, with a 50% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions from power generation.