Irvine Wants Cities to Offer Residents Renewable Power Choices

FIRST SOLAR, INC.

A Cholame Hills solar panel construction project.

The City of Irvine wants to reinvent how residents get their power and they’re working to get as many city partners across Orange County as they can in the effort.


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There are about two dozen public power programs across California, starting with Marin County in 2010.

Tonight, the Costa Mesa City council will consider whether to join them, voting on whether they want to become the third member city in the joint powers authority proposed by Irvine.

The City of Fullerton voted on Nov. 2 to join the power agency earlier this month. 

The Irvine City council voted 4-0 on Nov. 10 to move forward with Community Choice Energy, a new public energy program that would propose buying different types of energy on behalf of residents and businesses. 

All Southern California Edison customers in the cities involved would be enrolled under the tentatively named Orange County Energy Authority unless they chose to opt out and continue purchasing directly from Southern California Edison, according to the City of Irvine’s presentation for Fullerton council members.

The public energy program would reduce greenhouse gas emissions while increasing regional energy self-sufficiency, said Irvine’s Director of Public Works Mark Steuer during his presentation at the Nov. 2 Fullerton City Council meeting.

Irvine officials argue the idea is to give cities more control over competitive energy rates, allow more people to use clean energy and generate revenue that can be reinvested into rooftop solar, electric charging stations, and electric heat pumps.

This plan could deliver 50 percent to 100 percent renewable energy to consumers, according to the City of Irvine’s website.

Most residents that attended the City of Fullerton’s public meeting on the issue voiced support.

“To give them (residents) the choice, ‘yes I want to have some of my energy come from renewable, clean energy,’ that’s a beautiful idea,” said Wayne Taylor, Fullerton resident and retired professor in public comment.

The deal gives the public energy agency authority to purchase higher percentages of renewable energy from wholesale energy suppliers. SCE still maintains the electricity grid, delivers energy, and bills customers, according to the City of Irvine’s presentation at the Fullerton Council meeting Nov. 2.

The City of Irvine paid $150,000 out of pocket to work with interested cities, prepare JPA documentation and file an implementation plan. The pre-launch costs of up to $2.5 million will be fronted by the City of Irvine or proportionally distributed between member cities. For wholesale energy purchases, the JPA will need a loan of $8 million to $20 million (depending on JPA size) in spring 2022. All loans will be paid back in the next three to five years with the CCE’s future revenues, according to Steuer.

The public energy agency proposes to save residents money long-term. The plan projects saving the City of Irvine’s residents and businesses $7.7 million and the city government roughly $112,000 annually. Residents can expect to see a 2 percent reduction on their monthly electricity bill, according to the City of Irvine’s feasibility study

A cost to ratepayers not talked about in the City of Fullerton meeting was the prospect of exit fees that may be requested by SCE of departing customers. In other public power aggregation projects such as in Los Angeles County, SCE requested a monthly fee from customers leaving their system to recover costs of long-term utility purchases made on those customer’s behalf.

The idea of a multi-city public energy agency also has its critics. 

Fullerton councilman Bruce Whitaker opposed his city joining, saying that the joint power authority wouldn’t be better than an investor-owned utility.

“The problem with JPAs is they’re a full mini government on their own with many powers that are outside the realm of residents to control or voters to be able to control,” said Whitaker at the Nov. 2 council meeting. “Even under this arrangement, it doesn’t really replace much of what Southern Cal Edison does. It just allows, I guess, a little more nuanced choices on behalf of consumers.”

The council ultimately voted 4-1, allowing the City of Fullerton to move forward in negotiating details of the power authority. Getting in early will position Fullerton to advocate on behalf of their residents with lower income, said Fullerton Council Member Ahmad Zahra at the meeting.

Fullerton was the first city to join Irvine after over a year of Irvine soliciting other Orange County cities. 

Six cities, including Huntington Beach, have expressed interest, but none have committed. 

After finalizing the partnership, Irvine and new member cities would have to submit the plan for approval to the California Public Utilities commission by Dec. 31. 

Brandon Winchester contributed to this article.

Correction: An earlier version of this story indicated a dozen public power programs across California. We regret the error.