Renewable Energy Grid: Will Utilities Opt Out?

San Diego's energy grid is being targeted by environmental activists who want to offer customers a menu of renewable sources.

That grid is mostly fossil-fueled. Is San Diego Gas & Electric Co., its owner/operator, committed to "going green"?

State and local government agencies are noticing a climate of economic and political infighting over initiatives to address climate change.

Clean power startups are trending throughout California, touting "community choice aggregation" (CCA) options that challenge the business models of carbon-based electricity providers.

"SDG&E has had a monopoly in this community for over 130 years, and so they're used to being the only game in town,” said Nicole Capretz, founder and executive director of Climate Action Campaign, a grass-roots advocacy group.

“What community choice offers is competition,” Capretz explained during a Friday recording session for Sunday’s edition of NBC 7’s “Politically Speaking” program. “And it offers the option for residents and businesses to have a different energy provider."

In response, SDG&E spokeswoman Amber Albrecht offered this observation: “Competition is good … and we have gone on the record several times that we support customer choice and that includes community choice aggregation. And if the city finds that community choice aggregation is feasible, we'll work with them to implement a CCA."

But SDG&E's public support for renewable energy has been accompanied by private lobbying with lawmakers and government policy shapers -- in one case, seeking to have customers go through the paperwork of "opting in" to community choice providers.

"We're disappointed by that decision on behalf of the community,” Capretz said, “because last year they did support legislation that would have undermined our ability as a city to move forward with community choice as a program. At a local level, we're cautiously optimistic that we can work together in partnership."

SDG&E points out that nearly 50,000 customers have chosen to "go solar" and that there are big threats to the climate beyond the grid.

"Forty percent of our emissions come from our vehicle traffic -- what can we do about that?” said Albrecht. "There are a number of areas where SDG&E is truly a natural partner -- just like Nicole is saying."

San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer's fairly well-received "Climate Action Plan" is undergoing public review -- and may be amended or appended -- before the City Council weighs in on a final version.

Much of the outcome figures to be linked to a feasibility study of projected ratepayer costs to sustain an all-renewables energy grid within 20 years.

“Politically Speaking” airs Sunday morning at 9 a.m. following NBC’s “Meet the Press."

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