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Seize the future 

Community Choice Energy presents a great opportunity for San Luis Obispo

By now, you may have heard about Community Choice Energy (CCE) programs. CCE programs offer residents and businesses a choice of who they purchase their electricity from. CCE programs also empower local governments to control electricity purchasing decisions for the benefit of their communities rather than ceding that control to the state's investor-owned utilities. There are eight CCE programs currently operating in California (Sonoma Clean Power, Monterey Bay Community Power, Silicon Valley Clean Energy, Lancaster Choice Energy, and others), with 10 more launching in 2018, and at least 17 additional jurisdictions exploring and/or in the planning stages.

You may have also heard that San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara, and Ventura counties are exploring the possibility of creating our own Tri-County CCE program. Over the last few years, we conducted a feasibility study to evaluate many scenarios to inform the best way forward. The results of the study, which were released in early September (see "Power down?" Sept. 21), determined that a program across the three counties was unfavorable since it would have to cross two different utility companies' territories. However, the results of the study showed that a program in San Luis Obispo County had potential.

I think Community Choice Energy is an opportunity worthy of continued exploration. Here's why:

Economic benefits: The economics of solar, batteries, and electric vehicles are improving rapidly, putting us on course in the next few years to replace the fossil fuels currently powering our homes, businesses, and transportation with renewably sourced electricity. By working in partnership with our neighboring communities, a CCE program can act as an economic engine to speed up the renewable energy transition and help to bolster our economy post-Diablo Canyon. Furthermore, CCE is an opportunity for us to reimagine our partnership with PG&E, who will be a critical ally helping us build the smart grid necessary to achieve 100 percent renewable electricity.

Environmental benefits: CCEs enable local governments to leverage the purchasing power of its residents and businesses to both purchase and generate electricity for the community from clean sources such as wind and solar. A higher percentage of renewable electricity means we are reducing our impact on the environment from fossil fuels and greenhouse gas emissions, helping to combat the harmful effects of climate change.

Community benefits: CCEs have been proven to offer electricity at competitive rates with more renewable energy. Sonoma Clean Power, serving Sonoma County communities, has reported cheaper rates and higher renewable energy content than the investor-owned utilities, saving customers more than $50 million since its start in May 2014. Additionally, revenues generated from the sale of electricity can be invested back into the community to support our net-zero vision and values. For example, we can fund energy efficiency to make our homes and businesses more comfortable and affordable, incentivize electric vehicles and build charging stations, and install local solar. These investments translate into good paying jobs that support our communities and strengthen our economy.

Speaking of jobs and the economy, on Oct. 19, the SLO Chamber of Commerce is hosting a forum to talk about becoming a net-zero community. This event will feature leadership from the Republican-led city of Lancaster located in Southern California. Lancaster is trailblazing the way to net-zero energy all while saving money and driving economic development. At the center of their achievements are innovative community development policies and Lancaster Choice Energy, their own CCE program.

The City Council will consider the potential benefits of a CCE program for SLO and potential paths forward at a hearing on Dec. 5. I encourage you to get engaged in this conversation—come to the chamber's Becoming a Net-Zero Community event; give the City Council feedback.

With a forward-thinking council, supportive staff, an engaged community, and perfect weather, we are well set up to be a leader in the renewable energy future. We can create the jobs we need and the future our children demand while being fiscally responsible. Now is the time. It wasn't too long ago that many would have suggested that a 100 percent clean energy future was impossible. Now we can make the impossible the inevitable. Δ

Heidi Harmon is the mayor of San Luis Obispo. Send comments through the editor at clanham@newtimesslo.com.

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