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Still no choice 

Pop quiz: Would these things be good or bad for San Luis Obispo County?

• A program that helps a local college partner with Tesla to couple solar power with battery storage.

• A program offering deep discounts for electric vehicles, with the largest rebates going to low-income households and free smart-charging units.

• A transition to a 100 percent electric bus fleet.

• Converting a contaminated industrial site to a beneficial use as a clean power generator by installing 10 megawatts of solar panels, creating local jobs.

• $14 million in savings for residents.

These are things that Marin and Sonoma counties and the city of Lancaster have been able to do for their residents because they each belong to a community choice energy (CCE) program, freeing them from the monopoly of electric utilities and giving them local control of their energy sources in a competitive clean energy market.

As of Jan. 1, 2020, these will also be the kinds of things that the cities of San Luis Obispo and Morro Bay will be able to do, because they, too, have signed up for a CCE program. Pismo Beach, Arroyo Grande, Grover Beach, and Paso Robles—a little slower off the mark—will be able to participate in such programs beginning the following year.

SLO County is not part of that picture, with no clear indication of when it will be.

So sorry, Nipomo, Avila Beach, Los Osos, Cayucos, Cambria, Santa Margarita, Templeton, and San Miguel: What you get is a legacy of foot dragging, blown deadlines, disinformation, and proud anti-government ideology from three county supervisors. (You also won't get a 5 percent reduction on your electric bill. But your neighbors will.)

Maybe it'll happen in 2022. Maybe not.

At the Oct. 1 SLO County Board of Supervisors meeting, CCE—California's pathway for the transition from fossil fuels to clean, renewable energy–managed to dodge a bullet. With overwhelming support in the room, an eloquent defense by Supervisors Bruce Gibson and Adam Hill, and despite a slapdash negative feasibility study (rightly characterized by Supervisor Gibson as "appallingly inadequate"), CCE lived to fight another day. The board, noting that the consultant's report had to be rushed to meet the Oct. 1 hearing date, belatedly voted to direct staff to draft a request for proposals for the creation of a real feasibility study, communicate with Monterey Bay Community Power on its regional CCE program, and come back to the board with that completed study before Sept. 30, 2020, the deadline for the next available window for local governments to begin the process of joining MBCP.

During the public comment period, Rita Casaverde had some words for the board:

"It's unacceptable for you guys to say that you didn't have enough time for a more thorough report. We've been hearing about this report since May. May, June, July, August, September ... and you didn't have enough time to do a full report on this? That's unacceptable. That's called incompetence in the private sector."

In other words, the board majority that has long-denied the benefits of CCE to the residents of SLO County—benefits that will now be enjoyed by the rest of the Central Coast—has done it again.

To be fair, instead of voting to continue inching forward, they could have voted to just stop walking, set up a lounge chair, and watch the world go by. In January 2018, this board majority voted to drop out of an exploration of a CCE program with Santa Barbara and Ventura counties, despite the peer-review of that feasibility study which found that a SLO County CCE program would be feasible and sustainable.

So this is progress. On Oct. 1, the decision to move ahead with another study of the Monterey Bay program was approved on a 4-1 vote.

Supervisor Debbie Arnold voted no, literally because she preferred the set-up-a-lounge-chair-and-watch-the-world-go-by option: Do nothing at all for the next year or so, then mosey on back to the issue; see how things are going elsewhere, and maybe start thinking about what the county wants to do.

As the last bastion of resistance to community choice in California, SLO County and the individual critics who have popped up lately in our local media—all making an argument that could be summed up as, "Be afraid!"—can be seen as proxies at the tail end of a war waged by the private utilities, who spent millions of dollars on a years-long barrage of toxic legislation and ballot resolutions designed to keep CCE forever in the realm of the theoretical.

There are still snipers in the hills, and in Sacramento and at the Public Utilities Commission, but the war is over. Communities and a clean energy future won.

SLO County's governing body, embarrassingly, still doesn't get it. But, with help, someday they might. Δ

Andrew Christie is director of the Santa Lucia chapter of the Sierra Club. Send comments through the editor at clanham@newtimesslo.com.

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