The San Diego City Council voted Tuesday to join a group of cities in the county that will team up and buy electric power and sell it to residents at a cheaper rate than San Diego Gas and Electric.
The council voted 7-2 in favor of joining the Community Choice Energy or Community Choice Aggregate (CCA) program which the cities of Encinitas, Solana Beach, La Mesa and Chula Vista have already signed up for.
The program already exists is more than a dozen cities across the state and is modeled on similar public agencies that have displaced their local, investor-owned utility in favor of a public-purchase model.
Advocates say the community choice will generate savings of between 3 and 5 percent on electricity purchases, compared to San Diego Gas & Electric. Supporters also predict that San Diego will purchase more clean, renewable electricity faster than if SDG&E continues to make those purchases.
"We have a real opportunity to take control of our energy destiny and provide an energy democracy for our residents," said Matthew Vasilakas, an advocate for the Climate Action Campaign group.
The mayor’s office said the creation of a Community Choice system is a years-long process. After forming a Joint Powers Association to purchase the electricity and appointing a board of directors, that board would then hire a leadership team and seek approval for an agency from the state Public Utilities Commission. The mayor’s office set a tentative goal of 2021 for purchasing its first supply of electricity.
Councilmembers Chris Cate and Scott Sherman were the two dissenting votes.
"Having the ability to have a board set rates, that may have a political slant to it because the rates being charged may not be just covering the costs of providing electricity to that individual," Councilman Cate said.
Sherman cited an overbilling fiasco with the city's water department as evidence the city can't successfully manage a utility company.
SDG&E would continue to operate the transmission grid that moves electricity to customers’ homes and businesses. The utility would also continue to provide customer service and billing.
An SDG&E spokesperson told NBC 7 in February the utility was committed to maintaining cooperative relationships with cities regardless of whether they choose the CCA.
The San Diego City Council will meet once more in October to finalize the vote. On Wednesday, Imperial Beach's City Council will vote on whether it will join the CCA.