Santa Barbara Clean Energy launch muddled with confusing letters from competition
The Santa Barbara City Council authorized City Attorney Ariel Calonne to send a demand letter to Southern California Edison during its meeting Tuesday. The letter outlines confusing and potentially unlawful actions the company took during the auto-enrollment period for the city’s community choice energy program, Santa Barbara Clean Energy.
On Oct. 1, SBCE took over as the main generator of electricity in the city — one piece of SCE’s business — while customers receive that electricity through SCE’s delivery and billing. Customers are automatically enrolled in SBCE.
In August, while SBCE was sending its first informational mailer, SCE sent a letter titled “Rescheduling of Community Choice Aggregation Service Request” to 9,000 residents. It confused recipients because the service is auto-enrolled, not requested, and they wondered why it would be rescheduled, Alelia Parenteau, acting sustainability and resilience co-director told the Council.
Customers called the phone number provided, the SCE hotline, and were met with representatives unaware of the situation.
“Many customers were directed to Clean Power Alliance, which serves Los Angeles County, or even up north to a variety of PG & E area community choice aggregators. And this caused a lot of confusion and, as you can imagine, a lot of frustration and was not the way that we wanted our program to be promoted,” Ms. Parenteau said.
SCE told SBCE the letter was automatically sent after a glitch in the system. It struggled to fix the issue.
“We did request Southern California Edison cease release of all automatic auto generated letters. They only agreed to do this for some and only for a limited amount of time, so we’re still working through that,” Ms. Parenteau said.
Despite the confusion, 97% of Santa Barbara residents remain enrolled in SBCE. Officials thought 20% would opt out initially.
Ms. Parenteau thinks a larger bounce rate would have provoked action from the California Public Utilities Commission, which declined to act after seeing a small number of opt outs.
CPUC Code of Conduct rules that the community program, not the utility company, has the exclusive right to contact customers and communicate opt-out procedures.
“We did find a fairly significant number of instances where call center agents were telling SBCE customers to just call City Hall and opt out of the program, which is a violation of the code of conduct and so we’re continuing to work towards that,” Ms. Parenteau said.
She also mentioned another SCE action she is worried will be attributed to SBCE: higher rates.
“Southern California Edison did increase their delivery energy delivery rates substantially the same day that we launched our program. So Edison raised their rates by two cents per kilowatt hour which is over double the premium for 100% green and would have an average impact of about $10 per month on the average customer,” she said.
SCE is responsible for delivering the energy to SBCE customers. Those who receive a paper bill should have an explanation of the charge, as explained by SBCE.
“It’s hard to believe that these (letters) were mistakes and then for them to raise the rates on the day that our program launched is very disappointing,” Mayor Cathy Murillo said. “I’m hoping that everybody in our corporate world and in our business and commerce world can become part of this solution related to changing our energy use.”
The second phase of the rollout will affect commercial customers. The demand letter seeks that SCE pause automatic letters to commercial customers.
SBCE has established programs alongside local businesses that give customers discounts on green technology.
More programs will be introduced when SBCE has profits it can use to establish incentives.
Most residential customers are on SBCE’s 100% green energy plan, which increases costs just above SCE’s. Just .6% have opted down to power their home with at least 50% green energy at or below SCE rates.