By DOUG CURLEE | La Mesa Courier
The city of La Mesa has decided, after four years of effort, that it’s time to start the process of actually setting up a Community Choice Aggregation (CCA) program to take control of energy costs.
CCAs are becoming the way to go for increasing numbers of local governments interested in renewable energy supplies, to meet state requirements for lowering the use of fossil fuels by 2045.
This is part of the overall La Mesa climate action plan passed by the City Council in March of 2018 — in fact, it’s the major portion of that overall plan.
The city’s Environmental Sustainability Commission held an open meeting on June 17 to tell interested citizens what they might expect to see when this all goes into effect.
On July 15, the commission will present its draft plan to actually make all this happen.
Scott Anders, of CCA 101, told the audience that things will change for them on their utility bills once the CCA is up and running.
“This will place control of your electric rates in the hands of local governmental agencies,” he said. “They will be able to buy power from sources other than SDG&E, if they can find a better rate somewhere else.”
Solana Beach, which has already adopted a CCA, is already planning to buy power from CalPine, an independent energy company.
Some audience members were a little shaky about the possibility of local elected officials setting the rates for their power bills.
David Harris was typical.
“Could you clarify who really runs them? We don’t really trust government that much,” he said. “Buying and selling things is not something they’re really good at.”
Anders replied that the law mandates it be done that way.
“Ultimately, CCAs will make money for the cities running them, but that may not happen at first,” he said. “This is a new program, a new effort to make renewable power available for all, or as many as participate in the program.”
If you’re thinking that SDG&E will suddenly disappear, think again. SDG&E will likely turn out to be the major supplier of power, just as it is now. The utility will be one of the major sources of purchased power. It will just have to compete for the city’s business with others.
However this works out, SDG&E will still handle the paperwork — the billing and collection of utility payments from citizens.
This will be automatic for most customers. When the City Council formally adopts the plan, all current SDG&E customers will be automatically enrolled in the CCA. Anyone who does not wish to participate will have to formally opt out, so they can return to SDG&E alone.
This is going to be expensive to start out. The city will have to hire staff people to actually run this program, and that cost will initially come from the city budget.
There is a good chance other East County cities — specifically Santee — are interested in joining in this effort. One way to handle the expense involved is to form a Joint Powers Authority whereby costs incurred could be defrayed with funding from the various cities.
If all this works, the cities involved believe the CCA will eventually make money for the cities involved — money that La Mesa plans to use to implement other sectors of its climate action plan.
Steve Grooms, who actually helped the Sustainability Commission bring this to where it is now, supports the idea, but admits, “the devil is in the details, isn’t it?”
City Councilman Bill Baber, who sat on the Sustainability Commission, thinks it’ll work.
“I completely support the concept,” he said. “I’m all in favor of it. But we have to make it work in reality.”
— Doug Curlee is a freelance writer and former television news personality.