There are three things you need to know about the revolution in the way energy is produced and distributed in California after Assembly Bill 117 was voted into law in 2002.
First, community choice aggregation (CCA) became the best tool available to California communities to ramp up local, renewable energy and cut greenhouse gas emissions. Second, it is a threat to the energy monopoly previously enjoyed by the energy utilities, and they have responded accordingly. Third, it never would have come to our neck of the woods without a sustained effort by lots of folks keen on overturning the status quo.
Four years after the passage of AB 117, with nothing happening in SLO County, the Santa Lucia Chapter of the Sierra Club decided to get community choice energy on the local radar. With SLO Green Build, ECOSLO, the Cal Poly College of Architecture, former county Supervisor Jim Patterson, the SLO Chamber of Commerce, Home Builders Association, Coast National Bank, and Air Pollution Control District, we engaged in six months of event planning.
The resulting Smart Energy Solutions Summit was the coming-out party for community choice in SLO. More than 300 people filled the Vets Hall to hear our keynote speaker, Paul Fenn, the author of California's CCA law, say that "CCA would not just be good for the environment, this would probably be the best thing to happen to the environment in this community in the last hundred years."
The Public Citizen rep from Texas said: "CCA means you can create your own power company, owned by the community. Suddenly you can make dramatically different choices."
The Community Environmental Council rep from Santa Barbara affirmed that it's "as close to a silver bullet as we have."
In 2007, we followed up with a regional energy planning meeting at Cal Poly with more than 100 local elected officials, planners, city managers, and community leaders. CCA was at the center of the discussion. In his address, Alex Hinds, community development director for Marin County and former planning director for SLO County, said, "CCA is the most promising thing we have in Marin to really increase our use of renewables."
Meanwhile, the sustainability clubs on the Cal Poly campus got together to create the Empower Poly Coalition with the goal of establishing Cal Poly as a state university leader in clean energy and green building. In 2008, the Sierra Club contracted with Paul Fenn's Local Power, which agreed to hire on several Empower Poly interns and loan them to us, which meant we got to hold four energy town halls in six months, all over the county, to get the word out on local energy.
At the final town hall, held in Grover Beach in the summer of 2009, we brought down Dave Erickson, technical director of the Sonoma Climate Action Plan, for a week of meetings with city planners and managers to drive home the concept of CCA, face to face. His take-home message: "We're using community choice to achieve the nation's most ambitious greenhouse gas reduction, but Sonoma could just as easily have called our climate action plan a jobs plan, or a green economic recovery plan, or an energy independence plan."
In 2010, when the county was updating its general plan, the Sierra Club submitted the text that became Policy E 1.2: "Assert more local control of energy decisions and sources" and "evaluate community choice aggregation to determine whether community choice would be a cost-effective and low-risk strategy to increase use of renewable energy, and realize a low-carbon, local energy portfolio."
In October 2011, Bill McKibben of 350.org came to town and electrified (see what I did there?) a crowd at the Fremont Theater. Afterward, SLO Transition Towns convened focus groups to discuss how we could do our part in helping meet the challenge of climate change in each of the areas McKibben addressed. The Transition Towns group on energy became the SLO Clean Energy Economy Coalition—which, through several name changes and morphing memberships, focused like a laser beam on bringing a community choice energy program to San Luis Obispo County.
That laser-like focus resulted in membership in our regional community choice energy program for everyone in San Luis Obispo County, with two exceptions: the city of Atascadero and the unincorporated areas of the county, thanks to a majority sitting on that City Council and the county Board of Supervisors who have consistently declined to join the rest of the state in its energy future and withheld the benefits of community choice from their constituents.
And what, you may ask, are those benefits that you are (or are not but could be) receiving, depending on your location?
Glad you asked. Sign up to virtually attend the general meeting of the Sierra Club's Santa Lucia Chapter on Wednesday, Sept. 22, at 7 p.m., featuring Oswaldo Martinez, energy public engagement associate for Central Coast Community Energy (3CE), for the lowdown on their service offerings, updates on energy programs, energy data tools, events and resources, and answers to all your questions. Register for this Zoom event or drop a note to firstname.lastname@example.org. Δ
Andrew Christie is the director of the Santa Lucia Chapter of the Sierra Club. Send comments through email@example.com.