No risk, no return, no electricity
In my nearly 30 years of serving as a local government watchdog, I would be hard-pressed to recall a more foolish proposition than that which is known as community choice energy (CCE).
CCE is a scheme by which local government entities assume responsibility to purchase electrical energy supplies for the residents they represent. CCE requires our regular utility providers, namely PG&E and SoCal Edison, to use their power distribution network to deliver the power from energy producers purchased via the dictates of the CCE.
The goal of the CCE is not to obtain cheaper or even more reliable energy supplies for customers, but rather to pocket what would otherwise be the profit that accrues to our current utility providers. That is because green energy is neither cheaper nor more reliable. Nonetheless, these fiscally challenged politicians ignore the fact that all business models must risk loss in pursuit of profit.
Here are some of the more remarkable aspects of this scheme. First, local electeds such as County Supervisors Das Williams, Gregg Hart and Joan Hartmann would have us believe that initiating a CCE program is the only way that local consumers can opt to purchase 100% green energy. That is not true. Both PG&E and Edison offer their customers that same option right now. Insult to injury? The county of Santa Barbara could choose this option right now for their own energy consumption, but they declined to do so because it costs too much. Go figure.
The second thing you need to know about this boondoggle in the making has to do with the timing of the same. The county, along with cities such as Santa Barbara and Goleta, are pursuing this new energy paradigm at the worst possible time. That is, both PG&E and Edison are facing bankruptcy by way of lawsuits against them as a result of their operations having a role in any number of wildfires that have plagued the state.
In the meantime, the state is threatening to take over these utility franchises and/or break them up, in part because they are now shutting off power to avoid future liability as it relates to fires. What all this means is that there is a great deal of uncertainty as to what the costs are going to be in the future with regard to power delivery. Nonetheless, our local CCE partners are in essence signing a blank check to purchase power that will have to be delivered by way of these same distribution lines that are the subject of the liability lawsuits.
Simply put, CCE is an energy start-up in the midst of energy chaos. As I mentioned before, this is the equivalent of the Titanic booking more passengers after it hit the iceberg. If the utilities go bankrupt, that means that the stockholders will no longer be partners in the cost of energy distribution, leaving it all to taxpayers and ratepayers, who are one and the same. Our local elected officials are seeing dollar signs in their eyes, by way of becoming energy brokers, in disregard of exposure to catastrophic liabilities.
Andy Caldwell is the executive director of COLAB and host of The Andy Caldwell Radio Show, weekdays from 3-5 p.m., on News-Press AM 1290.