NOTE: As our north coastal cities work through their recently received technical study, much attention is focused on the City of San Diego, the Mayor, and the City Council that will be deciding soon about going forward with their CCE. We will be following these developments closely. Mr. Borden, the author of this Commentary, is a business owner and resident of San Diego.
A vote on community choice energy is approaching, and the mayor and City Council should take the right step for San Diego’s future.
A fourth generation Californian, I moved here from Pasadena in 1974 to attend school at UCSD. Over the past 44 years, I’ve seen San Diego change a lot — some of it welcome, some of it less so. National Weather Service data shows a clear upward trend in San Diego’s average summer temperatures and humidity. Unfortunately, as the climate heats up, so do our electricity rates. SDG&E’s system average rates are the highest among the three largest investor-owned utilities in California and have had the steepest rate increases in recent years. Combined, the two can make things extraordinarily tough for people and businesses in San Diego. That’s why we need to make a change, and the change we need is community choice aggregation.
The city will soon vote on whether to create a CCA program, which would offer a greener energy choice to San Diegans and some fair competition to SDG&E. Elsewhere in California, in 2018 alone, CCA programs are projected to save more than 2.5 million customers over $90 million. UCLA researchers estimate that by the end of 2020, 20 million Californians will receive their power from CCAs. That’s nearly half the state! San Diego should not be left out.
Climate change must be dealt with by every single San Diegan. If we don’t work together to solve this problem, nothing else will really matter, here or anywhere else. When I see the opportunity to make such a large, positive impact to me, that’s a solution we must pursue.
In addition to an avocado farm in Pauma Valley, I co-own the Uptown Tavern, a bar and restaurant on University Avenue in Hillcrest. It’s a community-oriented, popular spot, very lively, vibrant and diverse. This July, it was far less vibrant than usual. We were hit especially hard by the heat wave, which caused us to crank the air conditioning, though most of our customers stayed home because it was just too hot to go out. Business was down, but our SDG&E bills from July and August totaled more than $9,000. Between my two ventures, I’m looking at $140,000 in electricity bills each year, with annual increases of 4-5 percent soon to be approved by the California Public Utilities Commission. That’s not sustainable for my businesses or anyone else’s. Many of us were already feeling the sticker shock of SDG&E’s electricity, even before the latest price hikes.
There’s only one reason we suffer the highest energy prices in the state: Our monopoly public utility, SDG&E, is a subsidiary of natural gas giant Sempra Energy and has a vested interest in continuing to use fossil fuels rather than solar power. But San Diego could easily produce all the power we need from the sun (coupled with storage).
We need community choice, and we need it now. The key word is “choice.” SDG&E isn’t going anywhere. After adoption of a CCA, the hard-working men and women of SDG&E will continue to deliver electricity and provide repairs and maintenance, just as they do today. And even with the ability to choose a fully operational CCA with 100 percent renewable electricity, every electricity customer in the city is welcome to opt back into SDG&E’s electricity if he or she so desires. That’s called competition; it’s a win-win and it’s the American way.
That’s why I’m hoping that we can come together across party lines and take the right step for our future as a community for the good of all. This is an opportunity to make a big impact. Mayor Kevin Faulconer and City Council, let’s take the lead on the clean energy movement.