San Diego's Next Steps for Achieving 100% Renewable Energy

The city of San Diego is taking its first steps toward running entirely on renewable energy.

The city passed a Community Choice Energy program, or CCE, in late February. CCEs are a city-run energy provider for residents. It is set to lower energy rates by five percent and help the city achieve its renewable energy goals, according to Mayor Kevin Faulconer’s office.

The CCE is the first piece of San Diego’s Climate Action Plan, or CAP, to be implemented. The CAP is a program working to run San Diego on 100 percent carbon-free electricity by the year 2035, about 10 years sooner than the state requires.

The CAP has set goals for San Diego to accomplish in their attempt to run entirely on renewable energy. The city wants to both increase the number of zero emission city owned vehicles to 50 percent, as well as decrease total greenhouse gas emissions by 15 percent by the year 2020, according to the CAP. By 2035, the CAP aims to “create new jobs in the renewable energy industry, improve public health and air quality, conserve water, more efficiently use existing resources, increase clean energy production,” according to the city’s CAP website.

Prior to its implementation, San Diegans only had one energy provider, San Diego Gas and Electric, or SDG&E.

“This will bring good old fashion competition and choice to the electricity businesses in San Diego,” said Masada Disenhouse, executive director and co-founder of the environmental organization San Diego 350, which advocates for a county-wide CCE . “And we know that we need it, right? Our rates are among the most expensive in the country.”

However, the CCE does not remove SDG&E from the equation. Regardless of which energy provider consumers opt for, SDG&E will still deliver energy to residents and retain responsibility for customer billing, according to city’s sustainability website.

“We don’t make money on the sale of electricity,” said Joseph Britton, the communications manager for SDG&E. “If the city or other jurisdictions choose to form a (CCE) we support that choice and we’ll assist them in the transition process. We anticipate that anywhere from 70 to 80 percent of our customer load will probably be on a (CCE) in the coming years.”

While city residents may now choose between energy providers, SDG&E still monopolizes the energy market in San Diego County, said Jim Desmond, the county supervisor for District 5, in a Feb. 26 board meeting about a county-wide CCE option.

San Diego County voted on a CCE one day after the city did. Their vote resulted in a 5-0 agreement to pursue community choice energy as an option for all 18 cities in San Diego County. The board of supervisors agreed to commission a business plan. It will be presented to the county in October, with updates occurring every two months.

“I think I would rather see a county wide (CCE) than one done by the city of San Diego and one done by Solana Beach and all of the other cities that are pursuing this…,” said Greg Cox, county supervisor for District 1 during the board meeting. “And at the same time, I think it’s important to make sure that there’s no one agency that’s going to be the proverbial 900-pound gorilla that’s basically going to dominate whatever’s going to happen.”

While no decision regarding county-wide community choice energy will be made until late 2019, this did not stop dozens of county residents from voicing their support during the public meeting. The extra time means the county can more thoroughly examine the impacts of a county-run CCE program.

“We can search far and wide for someone in opposition, there was no one here today, but probably we could find somebody if we dig around the bushes enough,” said Nathan Fletcher, county supervisor for District 4 during the board meeting. 

This report was a collaboration between NBC 7 and the SDSU School of Journalism and Media Studies.

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