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SLO City mulls community power generation 

The same night the city of San Luis Obispo accepted recognition for what’s viewed as its progressive climate action plan, it also mulled over the idea of a somewhat related topic: Community Choice Aggregation.

What’s that, you ask? Simply put, CCA is a system in which municipalities or regions put in the infrastructure they’d need to generate their own electricity. Of course, those regions would still rely on the embedded utilities—such as Pacific Gas & Electric—to transmit that power, but the idea is that it gives residents a choice in how that energy is created.

On Dec. 3, the SLO City Council heard from its Public Utilities Department about whether to discuss if SLO County is the right place for local power generation with other local municipalities.

Such a program has its benefits, said city Conservation Manager Ron Munds, such as increased renewable energy use, some local economic benefits, local control over energy supply and use, and—most of all—consumer choice: whether to take advantage of the city’s program or “opt-out” and stick with the existing utility.

As of right now, residents have no choice; PG&E has a local monopoly over utilities.

There are potential risks in the aggregation choice, as well as a heavy initial investment.

Currently, there’s no discussion about such a program on the county level, and the only city in the county to express any interest in exploring the feasibility of such a program is Morro Bay, which recently passed a resolution declaring itself ready to do so.

However, other communities across the state have taken advantage of the idea or are in various stages of doing so. The Marin Energy Authority in Marin County is currently the only operating CCA system, but other bodies in Sonoma and San Francisco counties are currently initiating their own programs, and Monterey, Santa Cruz, San Benito, San Diego, and Yolo counties are investigating feasibility.

“There is a precedence established for these plans. Marin did take the lead in this, so you do not have to reinvent the wheel. I ask you to explore this idea,” resident Nick Hummuck said to San Luis Obispo city leaders.

“When it comes to planning and it comes to climate change, there is no time like the present,” said Sierra Club Spokesman Andrew Christie.

Despite the enthusiasm in the audience, not everyone in attendance was for it.

“This is a dumb idea. This city is not an energy company,” said resident Leslie Halls. “You’re asking us to pay more in taxes and fees and now you’re looking to manage our electricity? This is nothing but another opportunity to create more bureaucracy.”

The council ultimately took no vote on the issue, but accepted the presentation and sought to gain public input at its next goal-setting session, seeking whether or not there’s a desire from residents to pursue the issue any further.

Until then, the council decided not to expend any funds or staff time on it.

Council members John Ashbaugh and Carlyn Christianson volunteered to sit on any committee that would discuss the issue and whether to explore it with an official feasibility study.

As Community Choice Aggregation begins to pick up across the state, it’s gathered its fair share of opposition from organizations and individuals embedded in the tried-and-true power utility companies.

In 2010, PG&E and supporters invested some $45 million in Proposition 16, which attempted to stymie local efforts to create such programs by requiring a two-thirds supermajority in communities before such plans could be explored. The measure suffered a major defeat and was a black eye for PG&E’s former CEO, Peter Darbee.

The city of SLO is set to discuss its goals in late spring 2014.

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