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SLO County looks at energy-providing alternative 

San Luis Obispo County will join several other local government entities in taking a stab at assessing what it would mean to be a community-based energy provider. The Board of Supervisors voted on Oct. 6 to participate in two studies to determine the feasibility of two different Community Choice Aggregation (CCA) programs.

If such a program was formed, customers in the county and participating cities would get the option of choosing to get energy from a CCA or staying with Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E). Programs are still young and consultants are working out the kinks in other parts of California, and longtime utilities aren’t always willing to give up their grasp on an established customer base.

“I look at this thing as a good thing all around,” 2nd District Supervisor Bruce Gibson said during the meeting. “We have evidence on the table that CCA has potential benefits in the form of lower rates for consumers, in the form of a powerful economic development tool, and in the form of a program that will help us meet our climate action plan objectives.”

Earlier this year, Santa Barbara County invited SLO County to participate in a feasibility study along with Ventura County and Santa Barbara city. Santa Barbara County offered to foot most of the $225,000 bill—which was originally estimated to cost $500,000—and asked both Ventura and SLO counties to chip in $50,000 each to participate. Santa Barbara city will also chip in. SLO County officials had until Oct. 15 to decide.

The second study supervisors chose to participate in includes joining several local cities in a pre-feasibility study for a countywide CCA program. That study is free of charge thanks to two organizations that will fund the study—California Clean Power and Community Choice Partners.

Speakers skeptical of the studies, including Mike Brown of the Coalition of Labor, Agriculture, and Business (COLAB), expressed concerns that studies would obligate the county to participate in the formation of a future CCA, that the other agencies participating in the studies are biased toward the program, and that the process seemed hurried.

Supervisors Debbie Arnold and Lynn Compton echoed those issues during deliberations on the topic.

Compton said she was worried that the county was being asked to participate in something with the absence of a concrete business plan, and that SLO Clean Energy, a local all-volunteer grassroots organization advocating for the studies, should provide that plan.

“In the interest of due diligence, we’re being asking to front $50,000,” Compton said. “I really think the organization that’s advocating for this should be fronting the money and not us.”

The majority of those who spoke at public comment were supportive, however.

“There’s two things I enjoy: choices and saving money,” said one speaker. “I can choose to get traditional power from PG&E with this. Today I don’t have a choice.”

The supervisors voted 3-2, with Arnold and Compton dissenting, to pursue the feasibility studies. After those studies are completed, the county will be able to consider whether to further pursue the options or to leave it alone.

“This feasibility study is a way to help us gain more evidence, more facts to help us believe the results that we’ve seen before or not,” Gibson said.

-- Melody DeMeritt - former city council member, Morro Bay

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