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San Diego County will not pursue community choice in unincorporated areas

The San Diego County Board of Supervisors will not move forward with an alternative energy program known as community choice aggregation.

The board voted Wednesday on a Comprehensive Renewable Energy Plan that has been in the works since 2013.

While the board voted unanimously to accept the plan, they did not vote to include one aspect of it, which was to do a study on whether community choice is feasible and cost effective. The study would have been the first step toward changing how unincorporated parts of the county get their energy, by skipping San Diego Gas & Electric and buying energy directly.

Supervisor Dianne Jacob made a motion to do the study, but she could not get a second, so the motion died. That meant Supervisors Kristin Gaspar, Greg Cox and Bill Horn were opposed to the study. Supervisor Ron Roberts was not at the meeting.

Jacob argued that the board would only be voting to study community choice, not committing to using the program.

“Doing the feasibility is the next step in at least seeing is this going to work or not,” she said. “I don’t understand what the fear is.”

But Gaspar said she didn’t want to rush ahead, but instead wait to see the results of a feasibility study being done by the city of San Diego.

“What’s the rush? Let’s get it right and not rushed,” she said. “When you’re ready to move forward and pull the trigger, that’s when you do the feasibility study.”

Cox echoed her comments, saying he is “open to the idea of (community choice), but doesn’t see the need to rush into something there would be a risk for.”

Horn objected to the cost of the study, which would have been $200,000.

“If climate change is bringing us all this rain, I’m all for it,” he added.

The supervisors voted instead to have county staff prepare a report in the next year on whether other cities and counties across the state should pursue community choice.

Other parts of the Comprehensive Renewable Energy Plan include establishing a sustainability task force; tracking solar and wind initiatives in the county; increasing the generation, transmission, use and storage of the county’s renewable energy; implementing an education and outreach strategy; and supporting legislation that benefits the county.

The county is also working on a climate action plan, which would lay out a goal for how much renewable energy it wants to use. The previous version of the plan was repealed after a lawsuit.

A draft of the new plan will come to the board by the end of this year.

What is community choice aggregation?

Right now, San Diego Gas & Electric provides power through its system of lines and wires to every city in San Diego County and southern Orange County. SDG&E buys the electricity from a variety of sources, including natural gas plants, hydroelectric dams and wind turbine farms.

If a city goes with community choice aggregation, power would still go through SDG&E’s grid, but the city would buy the energy, not the utility. That allows cities to have more control over how much of their energy comes from renewable sources and the cost for that electricity.