Ventura City Council Joins Other Local Cities; Switches to Risky “Green” Energy Provider

By Kevin Harris

The Ventura City Council voted to join the Los Angeles Community Choice Energy Authority, a new, localized “green” energy provider, during Monday night’s packed City Council meeting. The potential benefits include lower electric rates, lower CO2 emissions, and local control over customer programs, though some uncertainty exists with the details of the plan. 

LACCE

In April, 2017, Los Angeles County Supervisors approved a $10 million loan for the Los Angeles Community Energy Authority start-up expenses. Current LACCE members include unincorporated LA County, 29 cities in LA County, Unincorporated Ventura County, and 6 cities in Ventura County: Camarillo, Moorpark, Ojai, Oxnard, Simi Valley and Thousand Oaks. 

Once a city has joined, all city residents and businesses are automatically enrolled in LACCE. The program has three tiers or levels for residents and businesses to chose from; one each that derives its energy from 25%, 50%, or 100% renewable energy sources. 

The flexibility, however, goes further than the different tiers. Even if the city joins LACCE, individual customers can opt out within the first 60 days of service at no charge and go back to Southern California Edison. In such cases, they may re-join LACCE at any time. Likewise, individuals may chose to stay with Southern California Edison initially, and join LACCE later. 

Potential Risks

An exit fee will have to be paid to Southern California Edison, called the “Power Charge Indifference Adjustment” (PCIA), which nobody currently knows how much will be. This is a major unknown, because it could potentially wipe-out the benefit of lower rates.

Additionally, future electricity and natural gas prices could differ from forecasts, and new legislation or regulations could also impact parts of the LACCE operations and prices. 

But perhaps the biggest eye-opener of the program is the pressure to join right now! The deal presented was the following: Join LACCE by March 1, 2018 (remember, this Council meeting was held on February 26), and service for residential customers will begin as early as late 2018. This was presented to the Council as “Option A.” Join after March 1, 2018, and service won’t start until January, 2020! This option, which would give the city more time to evaluate the risks and facts, was presented as “Option B.” 

“Option C” is simply not joining LACCE. 

Public Speakers

This issue immediately followed the other key topic of the night – the Thomas Fire Action Plan Implementation, and like that discussion, members of the public crowded the room to support, and to speak on the issue. Twenty three speakers filled out speaker cards, though many of them were “green politicians” and industry reps. But what really stood out was that every single speaker was in favor of joining LACCE. 

Following is a sampling of those speakers:

Senator Fran Pavley:  The two term Senator said that nearly 150 cities have joined community choice energy providers, and not one has left. “Because they have found rates are either competitive or comparable to to their investor-owned utility, or they’re lower-than,” she said. 

Supervisor Linda Parks:  Supervisor Parks, who has a well earned reputation supporting environmental policies, also encouraged the Council to join LACCE. “Eighty five percent of California is going to end up in one of these clean power alliances, so I hope you’ll do it sooner rather than later… If the county were to join 100 percent, that would reduce 50 percent of our greenhouse gas emissions,” she explained. 

Supervisor Linda Parks

Carol Lindberg:  Local resident who very much wants the choice to have clean energy. She pointed out that with the “opt-out” option for individuals, only 8 percent of users have chosen to do so. “Choice energy programs have been running successfully in California for more than eight years, and no city has ever dropped out,” she said. 

Jan Dietrich:  A local environmentalist who said she is very concerned about the methane released by natural gas production and use with Southern California Edison. 

Ron Whitehurst:  A local small business owner who uses solar to help run his business. He said Edison is locked in to 10-20 year, expensive fossil fuel contracts, while a CCE is “fast on its feet” producing clean energy. 

City Council Comments

After a brief discussion from the Council about their concerns over the PCIA fee, Gary Gerone, from Los Angeles County’s Chief Sustainability Office, said he doesn’t believe there would be a significant franchise fee impact from Edison. He estimated the fee might be “perhaps one-tenth of one percent, if any.” Council Member Christy Weir agreed, and believes the franchise fee risk to be very low.

Council Member Erik Nasarenko spoke strongly in favor of joining LACCE. “It complies with AB32 to lower greenhouse gas emissions. It also complies and promotes our Energy Action Plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and lower our dependence on fossil fuels… Competition is good in energy supply. We have not had it for so long,” he said. 

Council Member Erik Nasarenko

Mayor Neal Andrews, however, who was joining the meeting via teleconference, responded with caution. “We still face a great number of unknowns. As to how Edison will respond in particular… How the Legislature will respond. And where the rates will go. We don’t know any of these things. So I’m a little bit concerned,” he said. 

Council Member Mike Tracy also took a cautious approach, and said he leans toward “Option B.” He would rather wait a year because of the uncertainty over the franchise fees. 

Deputy Mayor Matt LaVere explained why he saw little reason for caution. “Even if the worst case scenarios came true, and we got stuck with a deficit… We have opt-out rights, don’t we? So I’ll support the motion.” (A)

Option A passed, with a vote of 4-2. Mayor Andrews and Council Member Tracy voted against, while Council Member Jim Monohan was absent. 

The next City Council Meeting will be Monday, March 5, 2018, at 6:00 P.M.

You can watch this and other past meetings by going to www.cityofventura.ca.gov, then clicking on the “Videos” button, and going to the “available archives” section, where the video can be watched or downloaded.

 

Kevin Harris

Kevin Harris is a reporter, editor and journalist, previous President of Cal State Northridge’s Society of Professional Journalists having worked for the LA Times and Newhall Signal. He is now also a Realtor and videographer, and lives with his two children in Thousand Oaks. 


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