Huntington Beach Joins Community Choice Energy Program; Other O.C. Cities Could Follow

JESSICA RUIZ, Voice of OC

The Huntington Beach Civic Center.

Huntington Beach will be joining other cities like Irvine and Fullerton in a new Community Choice Energy program — a public electric utility service intended to lower costs for residents through investments in renewable energy.

Multiple cities in Orange County too are considering hopping onto the program this week.

The arrangement bands cities together to buy and sell energy through a joint agency in which representatives from each participating municipality will serve on a board of directors. 

Consumers who join in the program — initiated by Irvine — are projected to save around 2% on their monthly electricity bill and potentially more as cities pay down the costs of launching the program, according to Irvine’s feasibility study

The Huntington Beach City Council voted 5-0 to enter the new partnership at a special meeting held Dec. 10. Council members Tito Ortiz and Erik Peterson were absent from the meeting.

“We govern for the future, and we don’t govern for the past, we don’t really govern for the present and the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions is the future and alternate energy supply is also part of the future,” Councilman Mike Posey said at the meeting.

Posey was nominated to represent the city on the board of the joint agency. He also said that he supported the program because it gives a choice to not only consumers but industries as well. 

Community choice energy programs allow customers to choose to get their electrical power from a utility provider or a local government entity. 

Even though the topic of community choice energy has come up in Huntington Beach over the years, Irvine is seeking to forge the partnership and has invited other cities to join.

Programs like this have popped up all over the state in the last decade. Buena Park and Lake Forest will be meeting Tuesday to consider joining the partnership.

Santa Ana and Villa Park have requested information about the program as well.

If cities want to join, they must do so before Dec. 31, a deadline set by the California Public Utilities Commission, or wait another year. Those that join in 2020 will be considered founding members of the program.

Irvine has offered to pay $2.7 million to create the new agency singlehandedly, and has committed to offering collateral for a loan ranging from $8 million to $17 million for the initial capital. Participating cities would then repay Irvine for the initial costs starting in 2026.

In return, Irvine will initially hold two seats on the governing board for the program instead of one until the member cities have paid off the debt, and as the largest city in the program — so far — will hold more sway on votes. 

Costa Mesa council members have expressed concerns about Irvine having two seats and are negotiating for equal representation.

Questions on the final costs for Orange County residents moving to this new system still remain. The price of electricity, potential exit fees imposed by Southern California Edison and a variety of other factors leave a large gray area as to what the actual final dollar amount will be.

Not everyone in Huntington Beach is for the city joining the Community Choice Energy program.

“You’re telling me this issue is a priority over dealing with the homelessness crisis, small business closures, decaying infrastructure, and refinancing our $500 million plus in unfunded pension liability debt,” said Casey McKeon, who serves on the city’s finance commission, told the City Council at the Dec. 10 meeting.

“Why not let Irvine start first so that we can track their program in order to get real data that we can analyze instead of jumping in now,” McKeon added.

The Sierra Club of California, an environmental group, wrote to the council in support of the city joining the program as a step toward clean energy and creating jobs.

Hoiyin Ip, co-chair of Sierra Club California Zero Waste Committee, said the program could prevent power shut offs intended to minimize fires.

“Local power through microgrids is our answer and I think we need to be more proactively protecting our quality of life so this is one of the solutions,” Ip said at the meeting.

Noah Biesiada contributed to this report.

Hosam Elattar is a Voice of OC Reporting Fellow. Contact him at [email protected] or on Twitter @ElattarHosam.