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When the Orange County Power Authority held its inaugural meeting in December 2020, five cities, including Buena Park, had signed on to be part of the county’s first community choice energy program which is touted to lower rates for residents through renewable sources.

But roughly two months after that Lake Forest bailed on the program at a contentious meeting where council members listened for nearly two hours to residents who pleaded with them not to back out.

Questions are emerging whether Buena Park will also leave the program. The city still has a chance to opt out without any fines through a provision in the agency’s joint power authority agreement.

Buena Park officials held a virtual town hall meeting Tuesday to gauge what residents think of their membership in the power authority, explain the benefits of the program and answer the public’s questions.

The city hired MRW & Associates – an energy consultant firm based in Oakland – to conduct an analysis on staying in the agency. 

Mark Fulmer, a principal consultant with the firm, listed some of the benefits at the meeting, including lower rates, greener energy and greater local control.

“The notion is because the decision makers are in your community,” he said. “You have greater access to them and they have greater accountability to you rather than Southern California Edison, which is one of the largest utilities in the country let alone the Public Utility Commission, which is overseeing the whole state.”

Fulmer also said that rate savings will only be a few percent.

“This isn’t going to be a 30 or 40% rate savings here,” he said

Fulmer said the power authority hopes to offer a 2% rate savings but said the savings for community choice energy programs can vary year to year and that sometimes it can be a challenge to offer competitive prices.

He added that these challenges can be addressed with the right management.

Irvine is spearheading Orange County’s first community choice program and is covering the start up costs. Officials there say the move gives cities more control over electricity rates.

Gary Saleba, executive consultant with EES Consulting — a power engineering and management firm based on the West Coast — said the power authority will be getting the green energy locally.

“We haven’t issued a (request for proposal) for power supply yet for OCPA but I’d be surprised if it didn’t give a priority to local renewable resources right there in Orange County,” he said.

Saleba added that the goal is to provide energy for commercial and industrial customers by spring of next year and for residential customers by fall 2022. He also said there will be no change in reliability of the electricity.

Even though the authority will purchase the energy, Southern California Edison will deliver it to consumers using its power lines. Residents can still choose to continue to buy their electricity from Edison.

That means residents who elect to get their electricity through Orange County’s power authority will still be billed by Edison. The portion of the bill for delivery rates will be the same for consumers who stick with Edison and those who chose the power authority.

Fulmer said residents with solar panels can still participate in the program and Saleba said those residents might benefit from that.

“The buyback price might go up from what they’re getting right now so there could be an economic advantage to a (community choice energy program) that’s not available to Edison right now,” Saleba said.

At the end of the town hall, residents filled out a poll on whether the city should remain in the power authority.

On March 9 the City Council is set to decide if Buena Park will stay in the power authority.

Hosam Elattar is a Voice of OC Reporting Fellow. Contact him at helattar@voiceofoc.org or on Twitter @ElattarHosam.

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