A 100 percent clean-energy future is possible for SLO

SEPTEMBER 28, 2017 6:37 PM

BY HEIDI HARMON


By now, you may have heard about Community Choice Energy programs.

CCE programs allow residents and businesses to choose their electricity provider, and they empower local governments to control electricity purchasing decisions for the benefit of their communities, rather than ceding that control to the state’s investor-owned utilities.

There are eight CCE programs operating in California (including Sonoma Clean Power, Monterey Bay Community Power, Silicon Valley Clean Energy and Lancaster Choice Energy), with 10 more launching in 2018, and at least 17 additional jurisdictions exploring and/or in the planning stages.

You may have heard that San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara and Ventura counties were exploring the possibility of creating a tri-county CCE program. Over the past few years, we conducted a feasibility study to evaluate many scenarios to inform the best way forward. The results of the study, which were released in early September, determined that a program across the three counties was unfavorable since it would have to cross two different utility company territories. However, the study showed that a program in San Luis Obispo County had potential.

I think Community Choice Energy is an opportunity worthy of continued exploration. Here’s why:

Economic benefits

The economics of solar, batteries and electric vehicles are improving rapidly, putting us on course in the next few years to replace fossil fuels currently powering our homes, businesses and transportation with renewably sourced electricity. By working in partnership with our neighboring communities, a Community Choice Energy program can act as an economic engine to speed up the renewable energy transition and help to bolster our economy post Diablo Canyon. Furthermore, CCE is an opportunity for us to reimagine our partnership with PG&E, who will be a critical ally helping us build the smart grid necessary to achieve 100 percent renewable electricity.

Environmental benefits

CCEs enable local governments to leverage the purchasing power of residents and businesses to both purchase and generate electricity for the community from clean sources such as wind and solar. Higher percentage of renewable electricity means we are reducing our impact on the environment from fossil fuels and greenhouse gas emissions, helping to combat the harmful effects of climate change.

Community benefits

CCEs have been proven to offer electricity at competitive rates with more renewable energy. Sonoma Clean Power, serving Sonoma County communities, has reported cheaper rates and higher renewable energy content than the investor-owned utility, saving customers over $50 million since its start in May 2014. Additionally, revenues generated from the sale of electricity can be invested back into the community to support our net zero vision and values. For example, we can fund energy efficiency to make our homes and businesses more comfortable and affordable, incentivize electric vehicles and build EV charging stations, and install local solar. These investments translate into good paying jobs that support our communities and strengthen our economy.

Speaking of jobs and the economy, on Oct. 19, the San Luis Obispo Chamber of Commerce is hosting a forum, Becoming a Net Zero Community. This event will feature leadership from the Republican-led city of Lancaster located in Southern California. The city of Lancaster is trailblazing the way to net zero energy while saving money and driving economic development. At the center of the city’s achievements are innovative community development policies and Lancaster Choice Energy.

The San Luis Obispo City Council will consider potential benefits of a CCE program and potential paths forward at a hearing on Dec. 5.

I encourage you to get engaged in this conversation. Come to the chamber’s Becoming a Net Zero Community event on Oct. 19, and give the council feedback on Dec. 5.

With a forward-thinking council, supportive staff, an engaged community and perfect weather, we are well set up to be a leader in the renewable energy future. We can create the jobs we need and the future our children demand while being fiscally responsible.

Now is the time. It wasn’t too long ago that many would have suggested that a 100 percent clean energy future was impossible. Now we can make the impossible the inevitable.

Heidi Harmon is mayor of San Luis Obispo.