The Santa Barbara City Council approved a community choice energy plan on Tuesday and adopted an ordinance establishing a program called Santa Barbara Clean Energy.
The council voted 6-1, with Randy Rowse dissenting, to approve the plan and submit it to the California Public Utilities Commission for review and certification,
The vote was held after a report by program supervisor Alelia Parenteau, who was joined by Assistant City Attorney Sarah Knecht and John Dalessi, president and CEO of Pacific Energy Advisors.
Community choice energy, or CCE, is an alternative to traditional investor-owned energy utilities in which local entities aggregate electricity contracts to purchase electricity as a group.
Community Choice would allow the city to purchase energy directly or generate power and set the rates charged to customers. This system would give the city the flexibility to invest in renewable energy sources.
The City Council has a 100 percent carbon-free goal for the program.
“I have three key takeaways that I want you to really remember after today’s presentation, and we’ll likely bring them up at every subsequent presentation because they are the main facts about CCE that we want you to hold onto,” said Ms. Parenteau.
The first is that the CCE is an opt-out program, meaning the entire community, except for direct access customers who already get to choose their provider, would be brought into the community choice program with the option to opt out of the utility.
The second is that the CCE is about choice. Local customers would have the option to either stay in the CCE at the 100 percent renewable default, could “opt-down” to a cheaper rate, or opt out and return to the utility.
Lastly, Southern California Edison would remain responsible for the delivery of the power and the maintenance of the electrical distribution infrastructure.
Assembly Bill 117 requires the city to submit the plan to the state Public Utilities Commission by the end of the year so service can begin in January 2021.
The plan must include the organizational structure of the program, rate-setting practices, customer notification and opt-out procedures, among other criteria. The law also requires the city to include a statement of intent containing commitments to universal access, reliability, equitable treatment of customer classes, and compliance with state law and regulations regarding greenhouse gas emission standards.
“One thing that really excites me with this is that we keep the Santa Barbara name at the forefront of the clean energy. Our name’s going to be out there and when people ask what is Santa Barbara doing, we’re saying we’re moving forward. We’re not part of Monterey. We’re not part of Los Angeles. We’re Santa Barbara,” said Councilman Eric Friedman.
Start-up costs will include a $150,000 financial security deposit, due to the Public Utilities Commission 90 days after the implementation plan is filed; a $160,000 implementation agreement fee due by February to the California Choice Energy Authority; and more than $1 million in service agreements for technical energy services, data management and regulatory and legal services, according to city staff.
The city can terminate the CCE implementation process at any time prior to serving electricity to customers in 2021, Ms. Parenteau said.
The process for termination is included in the implementation plan and if used, customers would remain with Southern California Edison. However, termination comes at increased costs as the program is implemented over the next year and the city continues to invest in the process.
Mr. Rowse said that, although he has a lot of faith in city staff, he was not ready to commit to the program as he is not convinced it would be in the best interest for all ratepayers.
“There are going to be extraordinary expenses, extraordinary start-ups, so as a council member looking out for what my ratepayers need and want, which is reliability, independence, and the best rates possible, there’s going to be some pain upfront for this,” he said.
“CCE is a huge part of our strategies in our climate change action plan, which we adopted back in 2012,” said Mayor Cathy Murillo, “We need to move forward addressing that very important issue. It’s a social issue, it’s an environmental issue. We need to move forward.”
Also Tuesday, the council established a subcommittee to support city staff’s development of a relocation plan for the Santa Barbara Farmers’ Market from the Cota Commuter Lot. The council selected council members Kristen Sneddon, Meagan Harmon and Mr. Friedman to serve on the subcommittee. The commuter lot has been selected as the site of a new police station.