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Happy birthday, community choice 

Twenty years ago, the California Legislature passed Assembly Bill 117, authorizing "a community choice aggregator to aggregate the electrical load of interested electricity consumers within its boundaries." Thus began a revolution for local clean energy and against the century-old iron grip of monopoly utilities.

On Feb. 8, the Atascadero City Council adopted a resolution to request membership in Central Coast Community Energy (3CE), and is now on the road to obtaining the benefits of membership, including reduced emissions, cost savings, incentive and rebate programs, and investment in local energy development. When Atascadero formally joins next year, every city in the county will be a member of 3CE.

It was an about-face more than two years in the making, an outcome in stark contrast to the summer of 2019, when the council majority spurned community choice energy based on the claim that they didn't have enough information and therefore would not hold a public hearing—i.e. they chose not to get more information, which was available in the reams of data already provided, or from the six cities in SLO County that had already studied and discussed the issue and elected to join, or from the 20 regional community choice programs that were already in existence statewide and serving more than 3 million customers.

As New Times reported on Atascadero's stall in 2019, "Councilmembers Susan Funk and Charles Bourbeau ... wanted to see the issue agendized in August for a decision. 'Not to do so, it says we're not willing to do the homework that we were elected to do to make decisions for our city. That's going to be tough to defend,' Funk said."

Three years later, the presence of Funk and Bourbeau at the City Council meeting that finally triggered the process to secure community choice energy underscored a vital point, as did the absence of former Councilmember Roberta Fonzi, a climate change denier who led the charge against community choice in 2019: Elections matter.

Atascadero wasn't the only local government body spurning clean energy and its benefits in 2019. That same year, thanks to SLO County Supervisors Lynn Compton, Debbie Arnold, and John Peschong, residents in the unincorporated county missed out on all the same benefits that the residents of Atascadero did when the board majority declined to agendize a vote on whether to join the regional community choice program in 2020.

And, unlike Atascadero, that is where the residents of SLO County's unincorporated areas remain.

As the concept of community choice in California celebrates its 20th year, and those unfortunate SLO County residents mark another year of getting nowhere closer to participating in its benefits, here's the box score, courtesy of Clean Power Exchange:

Operational Community Choice agencies:

MCE Clean Energy—launched 2010, Marin, Napa, and cities in Solano and Contra Costa counties

Sonoma Clean Power—launched May 2014, Sonoma and Mendocino counties

Lancaster Choice Energy—launched May 2015, city of Lancaster in LA County

CleanPowerSF—launched May 2016, city and county of San Francisco

Peninsula Clean Energy—launched October 2016, San Mateo County

Silicon Valley Clean Energy—launched April 2017, Santa Clara County

Apple Valley Choice Energy—launched April 2017, city of Apple Valley

Redwood Coast Energy Authority—launched May 2017, Humboldt County

Pico Rivera Innovative Municipal Energy (PRIME)—launched September 2017

Pioneer Community Energy—launched February 2018, Placer County

Clean Power Alliance of Southern California—launched February 2018, LA and Ventura counties

Central Coast Community Energy (formerly Monterey Bay Community Power)—launched March 2018, Monterey, Santa Cruz, San Benito counties, cities in San Luis Obispo County, unincorporated Santa Barbara County and most of its cities except the city of Santa Barbara (setting up Santa Barbara Clean Energy), and Lompoc, which has public utility.

San Jacinto Power—launched April 2018, city of San Jacinto

Rancho Mirage Energy Authority—launched May 2018

Clean Energy Alliance—launched June 2018 by the city of Solana Beach, now a joint powers authority

Valley Clean Energy—launched June 2018, Yolo County

East Bay Community Energy—launched June 2018, Alameda County

San Jose Clean Energy—launched September 2018

King City Community Power—launched July 2018, Monterey County

Desert Community Energy—launched April 2020, central and eastern Riverside County

Western Community Energy—launched April 2020, Western Riverside County

BPROUD—launched October 2020, Baldwin Park

Pomona Choice Energy—launched October 2020. Δ

Andrew Christie is the director of the Santa Lucia Chapter of the Sierra Club. Send comments through [email protected].

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