Community Choice Energy is coming soon to San Diego, and there seems to be alot of confusion surrounding what it actually entails. To learn more about it, we interviewed SunPower by Stellar Solar Co-Founder Michael Powers to figure out what it's all about.
Q: Community Choice Energy in a nutshell
A: A program that allows local control, freedom of choice and competition into the electricity marketplace. In other words it allows cities and counties to purchase power on behalf of their residents, and business to provide cleaner power options at a more competitive price.
Q: Community Choice is different from Community Solar right?
A: That's right. Community solar is sort of like a Co-op, it's a way for people to participate and buy into a percentage of a solar array that's been built by a third party. So people like renters, for instance, could go solar by joining in a community solar garden, and it's totally different than Community Choice.
Q: Ok, so if I understand this correctly, it basically gives people a choice of energy providers.
A: Right. Up until recently, San Diego Gas and Electric basically has a monopoly, and you have to buy your power from them. Up in San Francisco it's been PG&E; the investor owned utility has been given a monopoly over the marketplace, and the only that got controlled was through the Public Utility Comission up in Sacramento. Community Choice, it allows the local clean energy company, which is a non-profit that the city or county puts together, and they get to make those decisions about where the power is going to purchased on behalf of the residents. You have a choice now between the clean power group that will be operating locally, or your local investor-owned utility. You can choose between those two, so it introduces competition into the marketplace and really kind of drives the price down of the utility power too in the long run.
Q: Nice, so it applies to homeowners and renters, this is for everybody right?
A: Home or business owners, anybody who uses electricity in San Diego County.
Q: As I understand it, there is a track record of this California already, correct?
A: That's' right, it's kind of new for San Diego, we really just started having this conversation in the last 6-9 months and you're hearing more about it. But, over three years ago, Marin County, up in Northern California, decided to start a Community Choice Program called "Clean Energy Marin", and so they've been doing it for three years, they have track record. Sonoma and Mendocino counties have done it, Lancaster did it two and a half years ago. The city of San Francisco voted to go Community Choice last May, so they're just now starting to gear up. But whenever this has been done for at least a couple of years, what happens is that the energy costs for the customer go down, and the percent of clean energy goes up, and really that's one of the benefits of it.
Q: So there are communities in San Diego that have been looking to switch to Community Choice as well, right?
A: That's right. The process is that there has to be a feasibility study, there has to be discussions in the city council or the county council, whoever the governing body is. So here locally we've already seen Carlsbad, Del Mar, Encinitas, Oceanside, Solana Beach, San Diego City and County are all looking at it. Recently San Diego got it's feasibility study back, and it said it would be feasible, it would work, it would do the things it's supposed to do, and in general, I think the vote is scheduled for January, so between now and January there's going to be a discussion about this, and then the city council will vote whether to go Community Choice or not.
Q: So when a city decides to go with Community Choice, what does that transition look like?
A: It's gonna be different for each community or groups of communities, the smaller ones like Oceanside will certaintly get together with some of the other ones like Del Mar, Carlsbad, and so on. But in general, there's a transition period once the county council decides to do it, there will be a date when it's actually implemented, and at the point all the residents of the community are automatically opted into get your energy through the clean energy program. You can opt-out of course if you want and stick with SDG&E. The Community Choice group is making the decision about where the power is purchased and what percent of it is clean energy, the rest of that process is still done by the utility. The utility still transmits and distributes the power and collects the money and the bills but they're reporting back to a non-profit that's operated as a clean energy group through the city.
Q: So they can stay with SDGE if they want to?
A: Right, it's gives you a choice, so you can stay if you want.
Q: So tell us the top 3 benefits of Community Choice Energy
A: Certaintly greater choice, and you know, in some communities like Texas you can choose between 5 and 6 energy providers, and in this case there's going to be at least two. One is going to be a non-profit, and one is going to be an investor-owned utility that has to pay back their investors so it's going to make a difference in what the actual cost of energy is. The big benefit is that it's more clean energy. Most of the communities have climate change plans that they have had to do: how are we going to reduce our carbon footprint in various communities? The only way to do that really is to have a higher percentage of clean energy as quickly as possible. The City of San Diego wants to get to a really high number, 50% by 2030 and eventually 100%. The only way to do that really is to incentivize and make the decision on behalf of the communities that we're going to go into a higher percentage than we're willing to let the utility make the decisions for us. Those are legal obligations, so if communities don't meet their climate action plans it's going to cost people serious money because there will be penalties imposed if they don't do it. This is the quickest way to do it at the lowest possible price, to invest in clean energy groups and not rely on the investor owned utility.
Q: So why does SunPower by Stellar Solar support community choice and how will this effect future and present solar customers of ours?
A: Well David, just like CALSEIA, we've always supported the work they do in Sacramento because they've always lobbied on behalf of the solar customers, present and future to make sure they always get the highest value for the solar power they can get. What customers have noticed is that over the last several years, the utilities have continued to try to chip away at that value that the solar customer gets from their system. So really we want to see people get the highest value for their solar energy when they sell their power, whether it's back to the utility or to the clean energy group, it looks like they'r'e going to get more money for their solar energy through the clean energy group, and if nothing else we have local control. You know, people who produce solar energy and producing 100% clean energy, it's considered premium power, and yet the best you can do with SDG&E right now is to get retail value, and what we say is this is worth more than just regular electricity because it's 100% clean energy so you should get more. That's what's happening with the clean energy programs.