- For more than a year, San Diego has been looking to establish a government-run community choice program that would help the city reach its goal of using 100% green energy by 2035. Now, San Diego Gas & Electric (SDG&E) has its own plan for transitioning fully to renewables over the next two decades, which it is expected to release publicly in the next couple of weeks, according to The San Diego Union-Tribune.
- The community choice program would still require SDG&E to operate the grid and charge for electricity, but local government officials would buy and sell the electricity from power plants to customers. Ratepayers could opt out of the government program if they wish to stick with SDG&E's rates.
- A community choice feasibility study conducted over the summer indicates that the program could create competition and provide cheaper rates than citizens' current service.
The community choice plan is rather unique considering that most municipalities participate in the power markets but don't serve as the controlling agency. About 70% of U.S. residents receive their power from private, investor-owned utilities. However, San Diego is among a growing number of municipalities exploring public alternatives that don't require shareholder involvement like private companies do. Public utilities typically offer cheaper rates and can put more of their revenue into system maintenance, which boosts reliability and often speeds power restoration during outages.
Although one of the most touted potential benefits of a community choice plan is lower power rates, a larger reason cities look to break with private utilities is for environmental sustainability. It allows greater local control over incorporating renewable energy and breaking from fossil fuel plants, especially coal.
San Diego is serious about meeting its goal of converting all electricity in the city to renewable sources by 2035, as laid out in its Climate Action Plan, but it just has to decide how to make it happen. If the city adopts the community choice plan, it would be the largest in California and could pave the way for similar systems in other cities.
The city says it will conduct a feasibility study on SDG&E's new plan, just as it did on the public option. It will move forward with drafting a business plan for community choice, and for SDG&E's plan if it proves feasible. San Diego leaders anticipate that they'll decide which plan to adopt by 2020, when the current mayor leaves office.