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Clean energy obstruction 

Atascadero needs to get on the community choice energy bandwagon

Will being overly cautious cost the city of Atascadero, its residents, and its businesses money?

In 2002, the California Legislature passed a bill allowing community choice energy (CCE)—a model that allows communities to join together to purchase electricity on behalf of their residents. Since that time, 19 CCE agencies have formed and are serving one-third of the state of California. The model is expanding to the Central Coast and providing proven benefits.

The cities of SLO and Morro Bay are forward thinking and have committed to join forces with Monterey Bay Community Power (MBCP)—the Central Coast's community choice provider. Beginning in 2020, its citizens will be able to choose 100 percent carbon-free power as an option to PG&E. It is estimated that each residential and commercial ratepayer will have a minimum of 5 percent rate savings relative to their PG&E bill.

I recently learned that Paso Robles, Grover Beach, and Pismo Beach have completed their public process, and Arroyo Grande is one step away from requesting membership in MBCP for similar if not better benefits in early 2021.

I was excited to attend the Atascadero City Council meeting on June 25 to see the presentation by MBCP. My assumption was that my town was going to join the bandwagon and also allow all residents and businesses of Atascadero to have the option to choose to use this clean energy provider.

It was very disappointing to watch three of the City Council members (Mayor Heather Moreno, Councilmember Roberta Fonzi, and Councilmember Heather Newsom) stonewall this option. The only commitment they needed to make was to put the discussion of MBCP and the creation of an ordinance on the agenda for July 9. This would start the process of membership in mid-August—the critical date when all other cities in SLO County need to commit to be included in this year's round of jurisdictions to join MBCP. It was unbelievable that the three City Council members blocked this from happening.

The representative from MBCP gave a thorough presentation at the meeting about how cities can partner with the energy provider and gave an overview of the cost savings that residential and business customers (including each city) should expect to receive each month. He talked about the fact that all cities in Santa Cruz, San Benito, and Monterey counties, as well as the counties themselves, have been active participants in the program since March 2018.

He also provided a detailed timeline of all of the talks MBCP has participated in with all of the cities in SLO County and the county itself, as well as the one-on-one conversations he has had with the existing and incoming mayor of Atascadero. MBCP even hosted two public workshops on May 15 and 16 in North and South County to engage and educate the public. MBCP also collaborated with the Atascadero Chamber of Commerce in a business community study session on June 11.

If the city of Atascadero opts to join MBCP, as all of the remaining incorporated cities in our county are doing, by late August, it would only have to pay a portion of the setup fees to have the documents drawn up. The quoted amount was between $5,000 and $7,500. Can anyone explain the last time the city had an opportunity to spend $5,000 to $7,500 in order for the community to save up to or potentially more than $300,000 on future electricity bills?

Moreno, Fonzi, and Newsom appeared to be doing everything within their power to be obstructionists. Yes, this may be the first time they have heard the full presentation, but the rest of the cities in the county have been in engaged in this topic since March, and there has been plenty of media coverage. These three council members did not seem to care about whether the residents wanted a choice. They even went to the effort to ignore the results of the quick poll of meeting attendees where 20 to 25 people were in favor and five or six were opposed. To everyone's surprise, they were leaning toward the city waiting out this year, delaying the cost savings, and having to pay approximately $35,000 as a setup fee next year.

The city of Atascadero is being irresponsible with its fiduciary responsibility to its residents by not moving forward with joining the MBCP. As a 20-plus-year resident of the city, I find this unacceptable. Community choice is not a new thing, nor is it something that is "risky" at all—again there are at least 19 similar agencies serving a third of California.

If you are a resident or a business owner of Atascadero, please join me in calling or emailing all members of the City Council to let them know you want to be able to choose a more economical and clean energy provider ASAP. Δ

Janice Petko writes to New Times from the city of Atascadero. Send comments through the editor at clanham@newtimesslo.com or write a letter to the editor in response and email it to letters@newtimesslo.com.

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