In the course of local government meetings, when an elected official wants to speak, they turn on a light attached to their microphone. In too many instances, that light coming on is akin to the warning light on the dashboard of your car — aka, the idiot light — indicating something is about to malfunction.
A significant number of government entities throughout the state are being seduced to join a community choice energy (CCE) program. These programs are akin to parasites that latch on to the electric utility grid in order to utilize the benefits of the same, all the while weakening and draining the vitality of the host utility.
The Santa Maria City Council, thus far, was the only one smart enough to smell a rat. They put off a decision pending more information. I can’t say the same for the county of Santa Barbara, or the cities of Santa Barbara, Goleta and Carpinteria, which have indicated they want to go forward with the plan to decouple the local community energy supply from our normal suppliers.
In our region, the suppliers are Edison in the south and PG&E in the north. What this means in practical terms is that these CCE programs will eventually limit Edison and PG&E to delivering electricity rather than producing it. The citizens in our community will instead be purchasing their electricity from independently produced renewable sources, and the CCE operators will keep the profit that would otherwise accrue to the utility for various slush fund purposes. Ergo, this is, in essence, a socialist takeover of our energy supplies.
The problem with this scheme is that it takes tens of billions of dollars to supply and distribute electricity, including cooperation among 11 other western states that pool together their energy sources to share across state lines. These piddly little CCE programs are not up to playing in this league. And they are fooling themselves, and their customers, into believing there is going to be a perpetual free ride on the backs of the utilities who are forced to maintain and operate the grid, including the current lawsuits that threaten them with bankruptcy as a result of the recent fire catastrophes.
Regarding the experience I had before the Santa Maria City Council, an item that appeared earlier on the very same agenda was a presentation about the dire financial impacts of the pending closure of PG&E’s Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant. The closure of the plant represents the loss of $1 billion annually to the regional economy. That figure does not include the loss of millions of dollars in state taxes, but it does include $20 million in local property taxes and $225 million in local payroll.
The truth is, nobody connected the dots between the closure of Diablo and the CCE proposal. Community choice programs are one of the major factors forcing the utilities to abandon their historic business model, which robs government of tax revenue, eliminates the best-paying jobs in the region, and causes the poor to suffer higher utility bills.