Carlsbad City Council approves energy study

Carlsbad has joined the effort to look beyond SDG&E for the region’s power needs. Wiki Commons photo.

By Kirk Sanderson

The City of Carlsbad will participate in a joint study with other North County cities to determine the viability of purchasing and supplying electrical power to residents as an alternative to the service provided by San Diego Gas & Electric, the city says.

The City Council’s decision was limited to allocating money and staff time to determine whether or not – or under what conditions – such an arrangement could benefit the North County region, not any future decisions related to “community choice energy,” the term used for this approach to providing power.

Proponents of community choice energy believe it helps cities reduce greenhouse gas emissions, provides greater control over electricity rates and provides efficiencies that enable competition in the electric utility market. Critics believe more cost-effective and less risky opportunities are available to achieve greenhouse gas emissions reductions, primarily by focusing on reducing emissions from vehicles, which is by far the number one source. Some of the unknowns include whether or not community choice energy arrangements would result in a net reduction in emissions, depending on how much of the energy comes from renewable sources, and whether future regulations could threaten the model’s effectiveness.

On April 25 the city of Carlsbad received a proposal from the city of Encinitas under which the cities of Carlsbad, Del Mar, Encinitas and Oceanside would share the cost of the study. Each city’s share would include a fixed cost equal to 10% of the total study cost; an amount based on each city’s population; and a 5% administrative fee to cover the city of Encinitas’ management of the study. The city of Carlsbad’s total cost is estimated to be between $32,000 and $60,000, depending on the total cost of the study and which cities decide to participate.

The city of Encinitas will release a request for proposals on behalf of the participating cities from firms with expertise in preparing community choice energy feasibility studies. The budget will not exceed $100,000. The cities of Del Mar and Encinitas have already decided to participate. Oceanside has not taken action on this issue yet. If all four cities agree to participate, the city of Carlsbad cost share would be about $32,000. If the city of Oceanside declines to participate, Carlsbad’s cost would be about $60,000. The city of Solana Beach decided to study community choice energy on its own, so it is not part of the Encinitas-led effort.

In recent years, the city of Carlsbad has adopted several policies and laws relating to environmental sustainability, including the General Plan, which is a policy blueprint for how land in the city will be used. The General Plan calls for supporting a regional approach to studying the feasibility of community choice energy or another program that increases the renewable energy supply and maintains the reliability and sustainability of the electrical grid.

The city also approved a Climate Action Plan at the end of 2015. This plan outlines an overall strategy for reducing greenhouse gas emissions to comply with state targets by 2035.

In January 2016 the city hosted a public workshop called “The Future of Energy,” featuring outside experts who gave the community and regional leaders an overview of emerging energy issues, including community choice energy.  City staff has been monitoring the City of Encinitas City Council Subcommittee on Community Choice Energy, as well as several technical meetings with staff from Del Mar, Encinitas, Oceanside, San Diego and Solana Beach. Prior to presenting study options to the City Council staff also attended the San Diego Community Choice Energy Forum, consulted with legal and financial experts with experience in community choice energy start-up and operation, and interviewed staff and elected officials representing agencies that have initiated and completed the community choice energy development process.

The study is expected to take about six months to complete once a consultant is selected and on board.

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