At its Oct. 6 meeting, the San Luis Obispo County Board of Supervisors will be asked to take a small step that could set numerous choices on the horizon of the area’s energy future.
The question is whether supervisors think the county should participate in two different studies that would assess the feasibility of forming two different Community Choice Aggregation (CCA) programs. Those two programs include local government entities banding together with each other to become their own energy provider.
If such a program was formed, customers in the county and participating cities would get options outside of being a default customer of Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E). The programs are still young and working out the kinks in other parts of California, and longtime utilities aren’t always willing to give up their grasp on a customer base.
For that reason, the feasibility study is the first step to see if those programs are worth pursuing in SLO County.
Earlier this year, Santa Barbara County invited SLO County to participate in a feasibility study along with Ventura County, and Santa Barbara city. Santa Barbara County offered to foot most of the $225,000 bill—which it originally estimated to cost $500,000—and asked both Ventura and SLO counties to chip in $50,000 to participate. Santa Barbara city would also chip in. SLO County officials have until Oct. 15 to decide whether they want to throw in the $50,000 and participate.
There’s a second study that supervisors could chose to participate in, and it would include joining the city of San Luis Obispo and Morro Bay in a pre-feasibility study for a countywide CCA program. That study would be free of charge thanks to two organizations that will fund the study—California Clean Power and Community Choice Partners. If the pre-feasibility study yields favorable results, said Trevor Keith, deputy director of policies and programs for the SLO County Planning and Building Department, then the county and participating cities could choose to fund a more extensive study in the future.
“Until we have the feasibility study, we can’t know if [the program] pencils out as a business plan,” Keith told New Times. “At the end of the day if it’s about bringing options to ratepayers and cheaper rates.”
CCA is championed by renewable energy advocates as a fundamental step toward increasing the use of renewable energy. Advocates of the model also say that CCAs can bring ratepayers a cheaper energy bill.
Or, in the words of the county’s planning and building staff report:
“CCA programs expand the free market for energy by allowing jurisdictions to purchase energy from suppliers they choose.”
For Eric Veium, who is advocating for the feasibility studies along with his cohorts at SLO Clean Energy, the key thing in that mix is choice.
Veium told New Times that’s the reason they’ll be advocating for the county to pursue both studies, rather than the “do nothing” option.
“We should get as much information as possible to inform what the best strategy is for our county,” Veium said.
-- Melody DeMeritt - former city council member, Morro Bay