Orange County’s newest energy purveyor is about a year away from signing up its first customers and flipping the on switch to give them the choice of more environmentally friendly power.
Even at this early stage, there have been changes to the make up of the Orange County Power Authority, a joint powers agency that will buy electricity for customers in member cities and use Southern California Edison’s existing transmission system to deliver it to their homes and businesses.
Irvine, which spearheaded creation of the authority, and Fullerton have been joined by Huntington Beach and Buena Park in the endeavor. But Costa Mesa and Lake Forest have dropped out, and Santa Ana officials have chosen to wait and consider their options.
The OC Power Authority is the county’s first example of community choice aggregation, a model the state approved in the early 2000s that lets cities form agencies that purchase electricity. Typically, the goals are at least modest savings for customers and the freedom to buy more power from renewable or less-polluting sources.
Lake Forest officials had planned to join the authority, but City Council members voted Tuesday, Feb. 16, to reverse course and instead gather more community input.
Lake Forest Councilman Mark Tettemer said he doesn’t think the community has been given enough information about what the switch to a community choice energy program would mean or what other options exist.
Some residents want more local control, which joining the new power authority would provide, he said, and he’s not opposed if it turns out to be the best choice for Lake Forest.
But many residents’ comments on Tuesday made clear that “the community believes there are only two choices, (Edison) or OCPA, but that’s not true – there are other options,” he said.
Costa Mesa Mayor Katrina Foley said her city also will be looking harder at whether to join OCPA or another existing agency such as one formed by Lancaster in 2015, or to create its own, Mayor Katrina Foley said.
The Costa Mesa City Council approved the necessary rules and policies to join OCPA, but in discussions with Irvine “the lawyers couldn’t work out some of the terms in time,” so Costa Mesa withdrew, Foley said.
At a Feb. 2 meeting, some Santa Ana council members worried about residents losing access to Edison programs that help lower-income families pay their electric bill, and they questioned the environmental impact when power the authority buys from greener sources ends up mixed in with whatever Edison’s contracts dictate. (In a report released last year, Edison said nearly half of its power output in 2019 was carbon-free.)
OC Power Authority CEO Brian Probolsky said Friday, Feb. 19, that residents and businesses in the authority’s member cities can choose whether to become its customers or stick with Edison, and they’ll likely have three power portfolio options: one comparable to Edison’s, and others that are 50% and 100% carbon-free and are expected to cost a little more.
He said OCPA customers can still take part in most assistance programs Edison offers because they’re discounts on the cost of power transmission, which Edison will still provide. It may take a few years for OCPA to start any new benefit programs because the agency will have to pay off some startup costs first..
It’s true that renewable power purchased by the authority would go into the same pool as Edison’s power from less green sources, and all customers on the grid are served from that pool, but the more people opt for carbon-free choices, the more of the pool those make up, Probolsky said.
In the next few months, the authority will start shopping for energy contracts, and by early next year it will step up outreach to invite people to join, Probolsky said; OCPA should start getting power to commercial customers by spring 2022 and to residential customers by that fall.
Cities that haven’t yet joined could still do so later, potential customers can sign up when they choose, and they can go back to Edison if they want, Probolsky noted.
“We’re adding a choice – you don’t have an option now, and we’re adding an option.”
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