A conversation with San Diego City Council Member Barbara Bry on the benefits of Community Choice Energy (CCE)
By Amy Duncan, Goldfish Consulting, Inc. SDEE Communications Chair
Imagine 18 years from now in 2035, when you plug in your laptop, it will no longer be drawing electricity from fossil fuels. Instead, renewable, pollution-free energy from the wind, sun, or ocean will supply the power. And that’s not just a vision. It’s a commitment. In December 2015, the San Diego City Council approved the Climate Action Plan (CAP) and the goal of using 100% renewable energy by 2035.
At SDEE, we’re not only committed to supporting early stage entrepreneurs and entrepreneurial opportunities, we also address policy issues that impact entrepreneurs. What better way to learn more about our city’s CAP and its impact on entrepreneurs than to talk to Council Member Barbara Bry.
Barbara Bry represents San Diego City Council District 1. Before being elected to office, Council Member (CM) Bry was a businesswoman and high-tech entrepreneur in the San Diego community. As an entrepreneur she helped start Atcom/Info, Proflowers, Athena San Diego, and Voice of San Diego. She was the associate director of CONNECT during its early years, developing many of CONNECT’s signature programs including Springboard and The Most Innovative New Products Awards. Most recently, she served and as chief operating officer for Blackbird Ventures, which invests in, and incubates, early stage technology companies.1
CM Bry agreed to talk with SDEE co-founder Scott Thacher and myself about the city’s plan for creating a renewable energy program and how it will help create entrepreneurial opportunities in San Diego.
What is the plan for San Diego to achieve 100% renewable energy by 2035?
BB: The city of San Diego is learning about Community Choice Energy (CCE), also referred to as Community Choice Aggregation (CCA), and how it can help us achieve 100% clean energy by 2035. In the current model, SDG&E procures the energy, delivers the energy, and bills for energy usage. With CCE, the City of San Diego would take ownership of the procurement of energy while the utility would continue to manage the grid and customer billing. This would enable the city to buy and invest in renewable energy and meet the CAP goals.
What are the benefits of CCE?
BB: The City commissioned a feasibility study to determine the impact of CCE. The study concluded that CCE offers a viable path forward, providing many benefits. Because CCE is essentially a nonprofit, with no payouts to shareholders, it can reinvest profits in activities like keeping prices lower, building more renewable generation, and conservation. This would save consumers a lot of money in the long run. CCE also enables competition in the electricity market so that individuals and businesses would have a choice of where to buy energy. Competition would not only lower electricity rates, but also drive innovation, harnessing our region's strength as an innovation hub and stimulating entrepreneurism and job creation. Most importantly, CCE would help San Diego achieve 100% clean energy and help reduce the effects of global warming.
What is the next step after the feasibility study?
BB: The next step is that CCE will go to the Environment committee of the San Diego City Council around December 2017 to January 2018. This is when they will vote “yes” or “no” on whether to move forward and commission a business plan. They would likely contract with an expert to develop the business plan and answer outstanding questions. The final decision would be made after reviewing the business plan. If approved, the official start date for the CCE program would be in the year 2020. The drafting and discussion of this plan will allow entrepreneurs to have input into the goals and operation of CCE. If the Environmental Committee votes in favor of CCE, then it will move to the whole City Council for another vote.
What gets answered in the business plan phase?
BB: The business plan would address technical and financial questions, such as the sources of renewable energy. Solar would naturally be in the mix as 89% of our region is solar viable. Renewable energy sources, and the percent from each source would be addressed during the business plan phase.
How does CCE provide San Diego with entrepreneurial opportunities?
BB: A key component of CCE is investing in new renewable projects. It’s encouraging to see the price of renewable energy decreasing, and battery technology improving and becoming less expensive. In fact, UCSD is pioneering research in battery technology. This is how entrepreneurial opportunities are created. There will be an interest in finding more efficient ways to produce renewable energy, store energy, and renovate current housing stock. There will be opportunities for companies to commercialize these types of technologies and help support CCE organizations to operate more efficiently. The business plan phase could possibly suggest a venture fund to help jumpstart these activities.
Has CCE been adopted by other cities?
BB: There are currently eight operational CCA/CCEs in California that include Marin, Sonoma, Lancaster, San Francisco, and San Mateo, with at least 6 more expected to launch in 2018. There are a number of cities and counties in California, including San Diego, that are in the exploration phase. Marin was first, and all the neighboring counties joined. We are the largest city to commit to 100% clean energy, and we're the first city to make it legally binding. Like Marin, we can be a model for everybody else, and attract surrounding cities in the county.
How can SDEE members help?
BB: The City of San Diego has a web page that provides information and progress on the exploration of CCE. But the best way to ensure CCA/CCE moves forward is to contact every member of the San Diego City Council and tell them why you want Community Choice Energy, and how it will impact you as an individual, business, or entrepreneur.