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SLO will pursue becoming an energy provider 

San Luis Obispo will start seeking municipal partners to launch a Community Choice Energy (CCE) program, a burgeoning utility model statewide that enables local governments to sell their own electricity through investor-owned utilities' infrastructure.

The SLO City Council voted unanimously on Dec. 12 to pursue a CCE program, and gave direction to city staff to reach out to SLO County and local cities—including Santa Maria—to build partnerships on the endeavor.

click to enlarge COMMUNITY ENERGY PG&E crews work on a local transmission line in 2013. A Community Choice Energy program pursued by SLO would use existing infrastructure to distribute power. - FILE PHOTO
  • FILE PHOTO
  • COMMUNITY ENERGY PG&E crews work on a local transmission line in 2013. A Community Choice Energy program pursued by SLO would use existing infrastructure to distribute power.

"We're definitely moving forward," said SLO Mayor Heidi Harmon, who has pledged to take the city down the path to net-zero emissions status. "There's a real commitment to make it happen, so now it's just a matter of how."

Nine regions in the state currently operate CCE programs, and several others are just starting up. They allow public agencies to make their own power choices, often with the goal of procuring a higher proportion of renewable energy than legacy utilities like PG&E can provide.

The City Council's green light on CCE comes just three months after a feasibility study for a CCE program in SLO, Santa Barbara, and Ventura counties concluded it would be financially untenable.

But a peer review of the study indicated that the main issue with the tri-county approach was that it dipped into both PG&E and Southern California Edison territories. A SLO-based, PG&E-only approach would be more doable, the peer review stated.

The next steps for SLO, according to City Councilmember Andy Pease, are to pursue more local partnerships on the project and then commission another feasibility study. The goal, she said, is to run a CCE that doesn't raise customer bills.

"I'm confident we can do it," Pease said. "We'll do a feasibility study and if it doesn't pencil out, we won't do it."

SLO also has the option to work with Monterey County to join its new CCE program—Monterey Bay Community Power—but Harmon said the City Council was more inclined to embrace a local approach.

"The priority is on that local control," Harmon said.

Harmon added that a CCE launch in SLO could be timed well with the shutdown of PG&E's Diablo Canyon Power Plant.

"There's been a lot of hesitancy in the past because of the strong relationship this community has to PG&E," Harmon said. "But now that we're uncoupling ourselves from PG&E—we're going to struggle through that transition—but it does create more opportunity for these kinds of things."


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