Buena Park will continue transitioning into a new public utility option which can potentially lower electricity costs for residents through investments in renewable energy.

A community choice energy program allows a single city or multiple cities to collectively decide from where to buy and sell energy, giving them the option to invest more in renewable energy which could slightly lower residents’ electricity costs.

The Buena Park City Council voted 3-2 on Tuesday to stay with the Orange County Power Authority, which plans to transition participating cities into a community choice energy program and receive power from sources other than Southern California Edison.  

The city faced an April 1 deadline to leave the authority without financial penalty and had to provide notice of an exit by March 15.  

Fullerton and Huntington Beach also remain a part of the new agency, which was initiated by Irvine. 

On Feb. 16, Lake Forest decided to leave the power authority after concerns that the city didn’t have enough of a voice on the entity’s board and due to the uncertainty surrounding the transition. 

According to a feasibility study by Irvine, consumers will likely save around 2% on their monthly electricity bill and possibly more once cities pay the costs needed to launch the program

Residents in cities that have joined the power authority still have the option to receive energy from Southern California Edison.

Buena Park officials held a virtual town hall last week to address residents’ concerns about the partnership, discuss the program benefits and answer questions. 

Nearly 300 residents then filled out a poll, providing insight on what direction they want the city to proceed. 

Sixty-three percent of survey participants voted in favor of transitioning into a community choice energy program and staying with the power authority, while 37% opposed it. 

Council member Susan Sonne, the city’s representative on the entity’s board who voted in favor of staying in, said she wanted to give residents the choice on where their energy comes from and create a more secure environment for their children’s future. She noted that millions of residents in California have been enjoying the benefits of a community choice energy system for years.

“I want to ensure we have access to the programs that serve us best. I’m convinced that the Orange County Power Authority is the best option to achieve these results,” Sonne said. 

Sonne also said the benefit of joining the board early on is that Buena Park has a greater say in the body’s policies as opposed to the city opting out and then rejoining a year later. 

Also voting in favor of staying put, Mayor Connor Traut said he sees no benefit in waiting to analyze the financial success of the power authority because 100% of residents in cities using a community choice energy program have been saving money. 

Mayor Pro Tem Sunny Youngsun Park, who wanted to exit the authority, criticized the agency partnership but said she was in support of the benefits that come with transitioning into a community choice energy program.

Park addressed the issue Lake Forest had with the power authority board’s weighted voting system as Irvine has two representatives on the body, while every other city only has one. 

“It ultimately dilutes the local control of the residents of Buena Park and business owners,” Park said. 

The city did not do enough to inform its residents about the partnership and the transition into a community choice energy program, as 289 participants of the survey cannot reflect the view of Buena Park’s population of over 80,000 residents, she added.

Park also criticized last week’s virtual town hall saying translators were not present to assist residents who only speak Spanish or Korean. 

“I read some comments about certain ethnic groups not really understanding about what these professional terms are without having a translator at the community meeting on March 2,” Park said. “Have we done really enough outreach to be able to give an opportunity for our residents to make an informed decision?”

Council member Art Brown also pushed for the city to exit the authority, arguing it would be difficult for some residents to opt out of a community choice energy program.

Sonne said there will be a 60-day period before and after community choice energy service begins where residents can opt out with no charge. 

“I would love for our residents to have that choice beginning next year to receive this power if they want it,” Sonne said.

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