By CHRISTIAN WHITTLE
NEWS-PRESS STAFF WRITER
Santa Barbara City Council authorized the city to join the California Choice Energy Authority Joint Powers Authority during Tuesday’s regular meeting.
The council also accepted city staff’s design for an official logo for Santa Barbara Clean Energy, which is the next step to establish a Community Choice Energy program. The council voted unanimously to adopt an ordinance authorizing the city to enter into an agreement with CalChoice to help launch and maintain Santa Barbara’s Community Choice Energy program.
CalChoice is a Joint Power Authority of agencies operating Community Choice Energy programs in Southern California Edison’s service territory. It was created by the cities of Lancaster and San Jacinto as a way to assist fledgling CCEs with their launch and ongoing operations.
In October of 2019, the Council established a CCE program called Santa Barbara Clean Energy.
Staff recommended the city join CalChoice in order to gain access to their roster of highly experienced consultants, while benefiting from economies of scale resulting from sharing various overhead costs with a group of other single-city CCEs.
“If we join CalChoice, we’ll be able to develop and operate our own CCE quickly using this established expertise. We won’t need to hire any full-time employees in order to launch, which is a good thing and is saving us, because CalChoice will be fulfilling that function for us,” said Alelia Parenteau, the city’s Energy Program Supervisor.
According to a staff report, “each individual CCE joins CalChoice as an Associate Member and maintains its autonomy and authority in rate setting, project and program development, revenue allocation, and renewable electricity content.”
The JPA’s single function is to provide an opportunity to share administrative, regulatory and procurement services in order to minimize cost, maximize efficiencies, and provide technical expertise.
“What we’re here to ask you for today is to enter into the Associate Membership Agreement, which is attached to the JPA’s bylaws,” said Ms. Parenteau in her presentation to the council.
The bylaws define mechanics for adding or removing JPA members, procedure for termination, and financial protections.
“The Associate Membership Agreement is what explicitly joins the City to the JPA,” said Ms. Parenteau. “It’s how we have access to the services.”
There is no cost to becoming an Associate Member of the CalChoice JPA and the city will avoid the need to hire additional Energy Program staff. CalChoice anticipates that Fixed Fee Services will be approximately $260,000 per year, but city staff expects the cost to go down as more cities join the JPA.
Reimbursable services, which include energy procurement, rate analysis and load forecasting, data management and call center management are estimated to be just below $700,000 per year.
The program will also involve startup costs in excess of approximately $2 million, according to City Administrator Paul Casey.
“That we can recoup over time and reimburse ourselves, but we do have to identify a funding source for those startup costs,” said Mr. Casey.
According to Mr. Casey, the Finance Committee suggested using the funds awarded to the city in its lawsuit settlement with SCE over the Thomas Fire.
“I think that’s a great source to help fund the startup cost for Community Choice Energy,” said Mr. Casey. “We’ll come back with recommendations on how to do that.”
In a past decision, the council decided to maintain the several low-income qualified programs Edison currently offers.
“All current enrolled, or future enrolled that are eligible, low-income constituents or customers will maintain that same discount rate,” said Ms. Parenteau.
The JPA agreement term is for three years, after which the city can choose to leave at any time after a 90-day notice to CalChoice and some negotiations.
Councilmember Eric Freidman said the vote was an exciting day for him personally, and thanked all those involved for their persistence.
“I’ve been working on Community Choice Energy since 2006, when I worked at the county and the first discussions came back when I worked for then Supervisor Salud Carbajal,” said Mr. Freidman.
He said the recession put the project on hold, but over the years it finally made its way to the council.
“To see everything come forward is just really rewarding.”
The next step for the program will be Earth Day, April 22. The city will partner with the Community Environmental Council to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Earth Day with the inaugural CCE Marketing Campaign launch. Santa Barbara Clean Energy will have its own booth at the annual celebration.
“This will be the first time we’ve really interacted with the community in terms of our new program and what it will mean for them,” said Ms. Parenteau. “This will really focus on Community Choice Energy background information and benefits for city residents and business, and what this means for them and why we’re doing it.”