Oceanside will be the next new member of the Clean Energy Alliance, a group of North County cities that buy their power from sources other than the San Diego Gas & Electric Co.
So far the alliance includes Solana Beach, Del Mar, Carlsbad, San Marcos and Escondido. Vista is expected to formally approve its participation at a meeting June 28. San Clemente, an Orange County city served by SDG&E, also reportedly has discussed joining the CEA.
"I'm actually very excited about the city of Oceanside entering the JPA," said Oceanside Mayor Esther Sanchez. "We are looking at about a 2.8 percent per month rate savings for homeowners on the base charge."
The Oceanside City Council voted 4-1 Wednesday for a resolution to join the alliance, with Councilmember Christopher Rodriguez opposed. He expressed questions about the cost of renewable energy and the way it is purchased, which he called "paper shuffling and smoke and mirrors."
A sometimes controversial aspect of renewable energy is that sources such as wind, water and solar are not always available around the clock or at all times of the year.
As a result, people who choose to buy 100 percent renewable energy still get some of their electricity from fossil fuel sources. However, the money they pay in higher rates is used to increase the overall amount of electricity purchased from renewable sources and to invest in systems that store renewable energy.
The alliance provides a minimum of 50 percent renewable energy to all customers, compared to SDG&E's 40 percent. Both SDG&E and the CCA give customers the option of paying a higher rate to receive the equivalent of up to 100 percent of their electricity from renewable sources.
One reason the clean energy group can get lower rates is that the cost of renewable energy has declined with advances in technology over the past 20 years, said Barbara Boswell, CEA's chief executive director. Older utilities like SDG&E are locked into long-term contracts at higher rates.
Solana Beach started the community choice energy group, also called a community choice aggregation, in 2017 as the Solana Energy Alliance. Del Mar joined soon afterward, followed by others, and the group's name was switched to Clean Energy Alliance.
Community choice energy is an alternative to traditional investor-owned utilities such as San Diego Gas & Electric Co. State law allows the participating communities to operate as joint powers authorities to buy their own electricity.
Buying power directly from the source allows the groups to reduce costs and increase their reliance on renewable sources. The traditional utilities, including SDG&E, continue to operate and maintain the utility lines, transformers and other equipment used to transport the power.
Any customer who does not want to participate in the Clean Energy Alliance can opt out and continue to purchase electricity through SDG&E.
"We respect the customer's right to choose," said Joe Gabaldon, SDG&E's public affairs manager. "SDG&E will continue to operate a safe and reliable grid ... (and) we are excited about the ongoing collaboration with the city."
Several residents praised Oceanside for making the move.
"This is the single and most important thing we can do to meet our climate action goals," said resident Cindy Davenport. "We will have choice. We will have local control."
Rob Howard, a longtime employee in the energy industry, said no one should fear joining the alliance.
"This is the trend and where it is going," Howard said. "If you stay on top of it, focus on clean energy, that is where you save money."
Oceanside's membership in the alliance is expected to be approved by the CEA board in August, and an implementation plan is scheduled to be filed with the California Public Utilities Commission in December. If all goes as planned, the alliance is expected to begin serving Oceanside in April 2024.
Oceanside is the largest city in North County and will be about 23 percent of the service load.
The Clean Energy Alliance is one of two community choice aggregates in San Diego County.
The other is San Diego Community Power, which is much larger and includes the cities of San Diego, Chula Vista, La Mesa, Encinitas and Imperial Beach. Starting in 2023, it will also include National City and the unincorporated areas of San Diego County.
More than 11 million customers in 200 towns, cities and counties in California are served by community choice aggregates, according to the advocacy group CalCCA.
This story originally appeared in San Diego Union-Tribune.
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