The author lives in Santa Barbara.
Given all of the daily distractions that most of us deal with as taxpayers, property owners and rate-payers, most probably overlooked the pronouncement by the City Council in mid-October that the council would proceed with the formation of their own utility company. The decision to proceed with this multimillion-dollar project passed on a 6-1 vote. The title of the project at this point seems to be Community Choice Energy Santa Barbara.
In speaking with Alelia Paranteau, Energy Development Programs supervisor, the city split off from the county consortium effort in July of this year and proceeded to draft a program plan for the city to be approved by the council. She advised that the cities within the county, and the county itself, have been meeting on this issue for some four to five years. The stated purpose of this effort is to be energy independent by 2030 for the city, with the state goal being 2035. To clearly understand the “what and why” of this effort and expenditure of tax dollars, it’s presumably about climate change and the Green New Deal. However, as has been candidly stated by some of the proponents, it’s really all about power and control, and changing the structure of our economic system.
Keep in mind that along with your local government now becoming your utility company, the state and locals have pronounced a ban on natural gas for all new construction. This ban, of course, will just be the beginning and ultimately will extend to retrofitting existing structures.
This effort will be back before the City Council in December for finalization of the plan to be submitted to the California Public Utilities Commission (PUC) after the first of the year. The expectation is that the PUC will approve the plan and the city will implement it by 2021. The reservation and buy-in fees appear to be about $3 million. That does not include all the prior staff time and related costs.
There are a number of troubling questions related to this entire process and the short time frame that has been established, without any public exposure to speak of. Staff has indicated that the public outreach and PR program will be conducted during 2020.
Question 1: Whatever happened to individual choice, since both power and natural gas sources are now going to be dictated by government?
Question 2: What are the immediate and projected costs for the operation and maintenance of the utility?
Question 3: Since this will be a city utility, does staff have the expertise and professional knowledge to operate the utility and make the necessary decisions?
Question 4: Since solar and wind power energy cannot be stored for later use, is that energy lost?
Question 5: The solar and wind power generated will be distributed over Southern California Edison’s lines. When those lines are turned off, how do customers get power?
Question 6: The city utility company will be subject to the same rules and regulations dictated to existing power entities by the PUC, so how is a separate entity a better option than the existing one?
Question 7: The intent is for city staff to manage and operate the utility. What number of staff will be dedicated to the project, and what will be the cost factors projected out ad infinitum? What are the pension and health care cost projections for the life of the project, plus salaries and administrative overhead?
Question 8: With the intent by the city to solely rely on solar and wind power by 2030, what fall-back source of power will the city have when weather conditions don’t produce sunshine for solar panels and winds are at a velocity that require the shutdown of the turbines?
Question 9: Will the “clean” energy be less expensive than regular energy? That does not appear to be the case in San Luis Obispo with solar. If the plan is subject to the PUC rules and regulations, rates will increase. (Can you name a government program that ever went away, or diminished in expense and cost over the years?).
Question 10: Should the state or a consortium of cities take over the power utilities as is presently being discussed, who ends up footing the bill for the takeover and maintenance? How would that affect all existing and proposed CCEs?
The recent experience in large areas of California of shutdowns and total lack of power due to wildfires should provide a classic lesson in the fallacies of human knowledge. We take so very much for granted in this wonderful country that we lose sight of the many luxuries available to us, such as energy for such necessities as power for medical devices and charge stations for electric cars.
Several questions remain:
Question 11: Were taxpayers informed that their tax dollars would be spent in this manner, perhaps at the sacrifice of other program costs, when these particular council members ran for election?
Question 12 : Will the voters of the community be allowed to vote on this proposal?
Question 13: Staff does refer to state law as to the establishment and procedures of these entities, but where in the state Constitution, or anywhere else, do these elected officials have any authority to extinguish or change individual choice of power sources?
Regardless of your feelings or position on the weather, a healthy skepticism should be foremost in all evaluations of why any government entity would want to undertake the liability and responsibility for delivering power to any constituency. The only rationale that comes to mind is for the “power” to turn the lights on and off at will. Competitive pricing as the rationale doesn’t sell. Also keep in mind that the City Council, with your tax dollars, will be liable in the event of any power-related lawsuit. This is whether you are in the program or not.
The imposition of Community Choice Energy Santa Barbara will include all structures and residents within the city limits. Each individual will have to officially opt out of the program if they choose to do so. Otherwise, you have no choice.