The Laguna Beach City Council on Tuesday voted unanimously to pursue joining a renewable energy program, setting the city up to potentially leave Southern California Edison as soon as the end of this year.
Community choice energy programs, or CCEs, are electric utilities set up by local governments that take over buying energy for their residents, giving more options for homeowners who want to buy renewable energy.
Any resident can opt out if they want to remain with their original service provider and are not required to increase the amount of renewable energy they use. Depending on what choices the program offers, homeowners can purchase a mix of fossil fuels and renewable energy or go 100% renewable.
Just last year, some cities in Orange County created their own community choice energy agency, with Irvine, Huntington Beach, Fullerton and Buena Park coming together as the Orange County Power Authority. The agency plans to launch its program in April 2022 for businesses and some time next fall for homeowners.
Laguna Beach has been looking at these programs for years, building its own community choice energy working group to study the issue. That group produced a white paper breaking down all the benefits and risks of the program for Laguna Beach, and recommended the city move forward with joining an existing renewable energy plan.
But staff also made it clear that just because the OC Power Authority is the closest community choice energy program, it doesn’t mean the city will join the agency.
“OCPA presents an easy way for Laguna Beach to participate in CCE…however, OCPA is a new CCE with no track record,” according to a staff report. “It is recommended that the City Council wait to make a determination and allow OCPA to develop and implement the CCE.”
That recommendation comes as the OC Power Authority has been criticized by environmental advocates for failing to be transparent with the public and for appointing Brian Probolsky, a long time county political operative with no electrical utility experience, as CEO.
Kathleen Treseder, a professor at UC Irvine and one of the founders of resident group OC Clean Power, said while she fought for the Orange County Power Authority for years, she could no longer endorse cities joining it.
“OCPA is my baby; I’ve been invested in it all along,” Treseder told the Laguna Beach City Council during public comment Tuesday. “In the past I’ve really strongly advised you go with OCPA, but I do feel like I need to come here and say right now I’m more hesitant to recommend that.”
No other proponents of a community choice program directly spoke against the OC Power Authority, but did ask the city to choose an agency focused on transparency and good governance.
Laguna Beach is one of the only cities in the county to consider going with an external power agency.
City Council members all endorsed further studies of the different power programs, with Councilwoman Sue Kempf saying the city had a number of things to consider.
“We need to see how these different CCEs can match up,” Kempf said. “We have to dig in now we’ve done our educational meeting…now we need to roll up our sleeves and figure out what we’re going to do.”
Mayor Bob Whalen also asked the working group to focus on expanding the renewable options regardless of the financial benefits or downsides.
“The financial piece is marginal, it’s the renewable piece that is most beneficial,” Whalen said.
The city is set to discuss the issue again in November after city staff and the study group review all the potential options.