by Mark Hughes, SanDiego350

(Originally published in the East County Magazine on 2/19/2017)

On Wednesday, 2/15/17, the San Diego County Board of Supervisors entertained public input on their Comprehensive Renewable Energy Plan (CREP). Four SanDiego350 members: David Harris, Ken Brucker, Larry Emerson, and myself provided comment. Our primary message was to urge the supervisors to approve spending $200,000 on a Community Choice Aggregation (CCA, also known as Community Choice Energy) feasibility study. The completion of this kind of study is typically done prior to establishing a CCA program in the county – and SD350 believes that a CCA program would produce lower power costs, higher renewable energy content in the electricity we buy, and provide a stimulus for building more renewable energy production facilities.

County Admin Building

County Administration Building. Photo courtesy of the author.

SanDiego350 is not the only proponent of a county CCA. The consultant that the county hired to provide the CREP determined that a CCA would have a “high return on investment” Table 4-3. To make things even more clear, in Table 6-1, the consultant listed the top priority items in order of importance. The CCA feasibility study was considered the most important of the top priorities. County Staff concurred with the County’s consultant and similarly made the preparation of a CCA feasibility study their top recommendation (page 18/19 staff recommendations). In addition, the cities of San Diego, Solana Beach, and La Mesa, to name only a few, are also looking at setting up CCA programs in our area and we support them all.

The presentation to the board was the culmination of a recent SD350 media blitz on the subject. Two articles, each authored by Tyson Siegele, SanDiego350’s subject matter expert on CCE/CCA, were published in the days leading up to the supervisors’ meeting. Numerous SD350 members and other concerned parties made calls to their supervisor and tapped out emails. But at the meeting that morning, the rumor was that we didn’t have the votes we needed…

One supervisor, Ron Roberts, was not present at the meeting. We four SD350 members huddled just prior to the meeting’s start to go over the play call. The supervisors’ staff presented a review of the county’s Climate Action Plan (CAP) and the CREP that supports it. The supervisors were reminded of the issues they would be voting on that day, and then it was announced that twenty parties were to speak for authorizing the study and one against. We were called to the podium first, with fifteen minutes allotted.

David Harris, chair of the SD350 Public Policy Team’s Transportation subteam led us off. He introduced himself on behalf of San Diego 350’s 6,000 members and reinforced our concerns about the climate. He then mentioned the five Best Management Practices (BMP) included in the CREP that were of particular importance to SD350, beginning with the CCA study.

I spoke next, mentioning that I had spent 32 years working both for an investor-owned utility (IOU) and for companies that supplied equipment to the electric power industry. As a result, I have witnessed firsthand the difficulty of bringing a semblance of competitive market forces upon on a monopoly. An apt analogy comes from an old joke – two hikers out in the woods are being chased by a bear. This is what each frantic hiker knows: all he has to do to survive is outrun the other hiker.

The IOU is being chased too. In their case though, it’s the members of the public utility commission, dressed up as bears.

To my knowledge, no one has ever figured out how to effectively bring competitive forces down on a monopoly. And, oddly enough, no monopoly has ever encouraged efforts to do so. Therefore, when Sempra (SDG&E’s parent company) pushes back against CCA programs (which they did, by way of a 2/7/17 letter to the supervisors) that would introduce competition into the power procurement sector of their business, the subtext can be read as this: “please don’t set the bear loose on us. We’d much rather be chased by people in bear suits.” Well, who wouldn’t?

Ken Brucker came to the microphone next. He returned to the subject of the Best Management Practices included in the CREP and expanded on David Harris’ testimony, specifically on these points:

  • Establish Institutional Capacity, both Community Choice Aggregation and Direct Access (a power procurement system similar to CCA)
  • Increase the county’s percentage of energy derived from renewable energy technologies
  • Promote more aggressive building standards, including retrofit of existing buildings to reduce energy consumption
  • Start a community solar energy initiative
  • Establish microgrids that rely on renewable power sources and develop policies related to microgrids

Larry Emerson spoke last. He focused his comments on renewable energy generation, support for electric vehicles (EVs), and the expansion of the EV charging infrastructure. He also mentioned that last year the State of Hawaii set a goal of powering the islands with 100% renewable energy by 2045. The state’s electric utility (Hawaiian Electric Company) said that wouldn’t be possible. But a few months later they came back and said they could meet the goal by 2040.

Larry’s next point was to report that Hawaii had also set a goal to have all their vehicles be electric by 2040 as well. The county’s supervisors were encouraged to follow in Hawaii’s footsteps and set similarly big goals. One avenue for the county to do this was to join in with four large west coast cities, including two in California (Los Angeles and San Francisco), that have requested the automotive industry to plan for the citys’ intent to purchase over 24,000 electric vehicles (both battery-electric and plug-in hybrids) in the coming years. These four cities are encouraging others to add to this request so as to make it more enticing to the automobile manufacturers.

As a final point, Larry mentioned that the Center for Sustainability Energy (CSE) here in San Diego is managing the state’s new “Public Fleet Pilot Project”. It provides rebates to public agencies for electric vehicle purchases, particularly when used in disadvantaged neighborhoods. He submitted copies of a document that lists the rebates, which range from $5,250 for plug-in hybrids to $10,000 for battery-electric vehicles.

Our fifteen minutes up, we retired from the podium, hopeful that our coordinated presentation, as well as the fact that the speakers were 20 to 1 for the CCA proposal and other aspects of the CREP, would carry the day.

Sadly, it was not to be. Supervisor Jacob made a motion to approve the Planning Commission recommendation to perform the CCA study but no one seconded the motion. Supervisor Jacobs then offered a motion to direct the Chief Administrative Officer to return to the board in 12 month with a status update on other CCA feasibility studies in other jurisdictions in the state. This was disappointing in light of the fact that communities in the Bay Area have already demonstrated viable and effective CCA programs.

What is there to be said? We suffer these defeats, frustrated that in this age where science has clearly done so much to improve our lives, lifting them out of disease, providing a mobility unprecedented, an access to food, culture, and education unlike any time in the past – and yet the same science that brought us all these miracles is doubted and even disbelieved on the subject of climate change, even when the warnings are overwhelmingly embraced by the scientists who study this subject.

Take heart, take a moment to think back on the work of our ancestral activists: Charles Dickens, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Susan B. Anthony, the National Child Labor Committee, Samuel Gompers, Martin Luther King, and Jeffery Wigand. None of them had easy lives, nor did their activities produce immediate correction. The collective Man is a ponderous, dull-witted creature, slow to understand. But history has shown he can be led, the only question is can he be led quickly enough? Redouble your efforts then, press harder against the wheel. We may not salvage a complete victory, but we can limit the damage, if only we keep trying.

About Mark H

Mark Hughes has a degree in Mechanical Engineering from Kansas State and spent over 30 years in the power industry. Now retired, he has devoted a portion of his life to raising awareness about climate change, which he sees as the #1 threat to not just Mankind, but all life on Earth.


  1. Karl Aldinger says

    Thank you sd350 for representing the better interests of the planet and the people, over the greed of Sempra. They’ll get there eventually, kocking and screaming and profiting all the way. Your activism encouraged me to call and write my county supervisor, Bill Horn, the day before the vote, and now he’s on my phone, one speed dial away, so please continue to encourage our community pressure.

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