By DOUG CURLEE | La Mesa Courier
On Aug. 13, the La Mesa City Council voted to join a regional community choice energy program headed, more or less, by the city of San Diego.
All five City Council members voted in favor of the proposal join a joint powers authority (JPA) that will eventually run the program, buying electrical power from a variety of clean energy sources and selling it to city residents and businesses — at lower prices than SDG&E can sell it now.
It’s possible the council might have been swayed a little by the fact that San Diego is willing to pick up the millions of dollars in startup costs incurred by the respective cities to get all this rolling.
There was some debate, but not a lot. There were two issues that might have complicated the decision, but both were dealt with.
The more important one was the fact that smaller cities in the JPA, like La Mesa and Santee, could be outvoted by a weighted vote provision that might have given too much power to the big cities involved — San Diego and Chula Vista — enabling any decisions made by the JPA to, in effect, steamroll the smaller cities.
It’s a complicated fix, but it should work, according to Cody Hooven, the San Diego chief sustainability officer who’s been pretty much driving this train.
The big cities have agreed, or will agree, that no matter how the votes go, no city will be able to cast more than 49% of the final votes.
“We felt this was a good, safe medium ground for the protections of the Joint Powers Authority to operate under,” Hooven said.
One thing that the La Mesa City Council added was a citizens’ oversight board, to keep an eye on what’s happening with the JPA.
Council members Dr. Akilah Weber and Colin Parent were pretty adamant about that, and they got it unanimously.
“This is the right way to go,” said Mayor Mark Arapostathis. “We think it’s what the citizens want, and we’ll try to give it to them.”
Residents of cities involved will automatically be enrolled in the program, unless they decide to formally opt out and remain with SDG&E.
The decision isn’t actually formal yet.
The City Council will have to go through the formal legal process of drafting and approving an ordinance making the decision law, and that’s a legally mandated process.
The first of two required votes will come at the Sept. 10 City Council meeting, with the second reading and formal adoption on Sept. 24 — seven days before the San Diego-imposed deadline of Oct. 1.
It’s likely that deadline could be stretched a little, as other cities tackle the question of whether or not to join the JPA.
The city of Santee is believed ready to join in soon.
Cody Hooven said other cities are looking closely at the process, and would be more than welcome if they elect to join. She cited Carlsbad, Encinitas and Del Mar as serious candidates, along with Solana Beach as a possible.
Solana Beach already has its own small Community Choice Aggregate operating, but might prefer the protection and connection with a larger entity.
We’ll see where this goes as time passes. There will almost certainly be bumps in the road to be dealt with — that’s almost unavoidable in deals like this. The fight will be to keep those bumps from turning into great big potholes.
—Doug Curlee is a longtime San Diego reporter in both print and television. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.