Is the energy of “community choice” really a choice?

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When San Diego’s new utility company joined the local energy market, it made a big promise to customers: the energy it would supply would be cleaner and cheaper than its competitor, San Diego Gas. and Electric.

We now know that may not be the case, as MacKenzie Elmer explained this week.

Residents of five major San Diego cities will automatically begin purchasing their energy from San Diego Community Power in May. And although the agency wants its customers to only pay for electricity purchased by their company, this is not yet the case.

This is because of the power load indifference adjustment, a so-called “exit fee” that SDG&E collects to pay for the energy it purchased for its customers at the time it was a monopoly – before San Diego Community Power was a thing.

The fee changes according to the cost of energy. This represented 31% of a San Diego Community Power residential customer’s average energy bill in June 2021 and 18% in February 2022.

Everyone pays this fee, both San Diego Community Power customers and SDG&E customers only. It has recently been added as a separate line item on SDG&E invoices – called “PCIA fees”.

The big debate now is that since public electric agencies have no control over these additional charges, they want investor-owned utilities like SDG&E to explore how to reduce these costs for all customers.

But the big debate over this story on the Voice of San Diego website seemed to be whether customers were joining the government alternative to SDG&E. technically called a community choice aggregator – really is a choice at all.

Here’s what our readers had to say.

“…They forced customers to switch to SDCP (I think because they couldn’t rely on people to switch to an unproven entity). I too will choose to stay with SDG&E,” wrote Julie Meier Wright.

Steve Kurtzman replied, “…you’re not ‘forced’ if you can say no and walk away. »

Let’s clear that up.

The 2002 state law that gave birth to the government-operated power purchasing corporations made it clear that the “choice” in the aggregation of community choices is whether to leave it.

“Customers can aggregate their loads through a public process with community choice aggregators, if each customer has the option to opt out of their community’s aggregation program,” says the law.

Nicole Capretz, executive director of the Climate Action Campaign who was instrumental in San Diego’s adoption of a public energy program, said public energy advocates fought hard for the language.

“No community choice program would succeed if it was opt-in,” Capretz said. “It’s human psychology; few people opt for a program. Either people are too busy or they don’t even look at their bills. In designing the program, we knew it had to be refused or it would fail.

By May, residential customers in Imperial Beach, La Mesa, Encinitas, San Diego and Chula Vista will all buy their electricity from San Diego Community Power, unless customers choose not to.

Some have already done so.

So far, San Diego Community Power has a 97% take-up rate of the approximately 90,000 accounts that buy its power. About five percent of customers have already opted out. The agency tracks these numbers and the reasons people give for leaving.

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About 23 percent of “leavers” just don’t like being automatically enrolled, according to San Diego Community Power Documents. Another 18% are concerned about rates or costs. About 5 percent are concerned about the government handling their power.

Back to the point of Elmer’s original story – San Diego Community Power COO Cody Hooven said that despite the “exit fee”, their customers still have to pay for old SDG&E energy and the fact that they are automatically registered, she hopes customers recognize they are getting “significantly cleaner energy at a competitive price”.

What we are working on

  • The City of San Diego has compiled a list of all of its tech apps that meet the definition of surveillance and has found a few hundred so far. Jesse Marx took a look at this list and discovered that there was technology all over town, including places you wouldn’t expect.
  • This week, Governor Gavin Newsom moved California from level one to level two of emergency measures taken during a drought. It probably won’t have much effect on San Diego. Here’s what that means.
  • San Diego County Board of Supervisors Chairman Nathan Fletcher outlined plans to address homelessness, the region’s childcare shortage and more during the annual state address of the county on Tuesday. Discover its promises here.

We are nearing the end of our spring fundraising campaign and we still have $44,000 to raise. If you think our reports are useful, consider become a member of Voice of San Diego today to help us achieve our goal.

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