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A new Electricity Choice

A new Electricity Choice

Morongo Basin Conservation Association brings in experts on “Community Choice Aggregation.”

 

Group says community-wide energy plan could work for Basin.IMG_1472

Bill Powers talks to April Sall and Ruth Rieman

Bill Powers talks to April Sall and Ruth Rieman

The Morongo Basin Conservation Association held its 47th Annual Meeting on January 23rd. In addition to the meeting and conjunction with the California Desert Coalition (CDC), the MDCA brought in three speakers to address the prospect of establishing a Community Choice Aggregation (CCA) model in the Morongo Basin.

Bighorn-Desert View Water Agency located in the eastern desert of San Bernardino County and representing Flamingo Heights, Landers and Johnson Valley, sponsored an early-bird session for invited civic leaders and managers.  In attendance was Supervisor James Ramos, Assembly Member Chad Mayes, and Senator Jean Fuller. The meeting was held to explore Community Choice Aggregation and see if it is a smart renewable option for the Morongo Basin.

The earlier meeting lasted about an hour and a half and some attendees stayed on for the more comprehensive public meeting in the auditorium of the Yucca Valley Community Center.

Sarah Kennington opened the meeting with an introduction of the MBCA’s ongoing work and commitment to the preservation of the economic and environmental welfare of the desert communities, and she informed the audience of upcoming events and important issues.

April Sall, President of California Desert Coalition introduced the three speakers, Bill Powers, Woody Hastings and Barbara Boswell. They were joined later for a panel discussion by Frank Luckino, City Manager and Finance Director for the City of Twenty-Nine Palms.

Claudia Sall, Ruth Rieman, and Marina West, members of both the CDC and the MDCA were the primary force behind researching energy issues and hiring Bill Powers to conduct an independent study for the Morongo Basin. Powers is a founder of the San Diego Energy District Foundation, and one of the country’s foremost engineers in utility and energy resource management. His findings and an in-depth discussion of community-run utility companies were presented at the meeting.

Woody Hastings, Renewable Energy Implementation Manager for the Center for Climate Protection in Santa Rosa, discussed Sonoma County’s CCA and his experience of Community Choice in California. Barbara Boswell, Director of Choice Energy for the City of Lancaster has been in city government for 25 years and has experienced several economic downturns throughout that time. Now, Lancaster is experiencing a resurgence, and Community Choice Aggregation is a substantial part of that change.

Community Choice Aggregation offers public control, allowing a city or a county to choose what type of power its citizens get and from where. The private utility companies continue to have domain over the power lines and bill customers, so utility profit potential is preserved — but the control over power choices shifts to the CCA entity.

Hastings, Power, and Boswell presented a comprehensive picture of the three successful California CCAs. All, emphasizing the idea that Community Choice is about choice, local empowerment, and more ambitious renewable energy goals. An objective that can be met while also offering competitive rates and potential savings.

San Diego Energy District was launched to combat high rates, and gain opportunities to self-generate, add storage and develop more reliable grids while also realizing a return on invested capital. Sonoma Clean Power was introduced in 2008. Establishing a CCA was a way for Sonoma County to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and give residents other options for renewable energy. Choice Energy in the City of Lancaster, has just been launched in 2015. It was established because the mayor, Rick Gray, set a lofty goal to be the first net-zero city and “to produce or procure more renewable energy than used.”

Lancaster was looking for the ability to support local solar development, streamline permanent processes, establish rooftop solar on new constructions and work with school districts to put solar on parking structures.

“The tool to get to net-zero is community-based aggregation,” said Boswell.

An additional benefit is the possibilities for research and development. Larger utilities have many restrictions the local control agency don not have.

After each speaker presented their information, enhanced by power point presentations, and joined by Frank Luckino, they gathered as a panel for the last hour of the meeting.

The final question presented to the group was “Is Community Choice Aggregation” a feasible option for the Morongo Basin.” Luckino answered by saying, “We started out in individual conversations. What we are doing today is the first step, educating.”

Rebecca Unger, director of the Joshua Basin Water District, President of the Joshua Tree Chamber of Commerce, and on the campaign and candidate development committee of the Morongo Basin Democratic Club, said, “This is an idea whose time has come. We should make use of the sunshine we have, and we should be more independent from the SCE.”

Over 90 people attended the meeting. Marina West said she was impressed by the turnout and community interest in renewable energy, local jobs, lower rates, and grid stability.

Sall was pleased by the attendance and the response to the Symposium. “This is a conversation we have been trying to have for a couple of years now,” she said, after the meeting. “This is a community that has been very experienced with the utility scale model, with the pros and cons of that, the impacts on our community, — air quality, viewshed, impacts to wildlife quarters and the impacts to the California Desert. It’s not about replacing any one way of generating energy, but it’s another tool in the toolbox and a way of becoming energy independent.” She concluded by saying, “Today’s meeting was an opportunity to explore our energy future and energy independence by using a newer model called Community Choice Aggregation or Community Choice Energy.

For more information on the meeting and on Community Choice Energy go to the Morongo Basin Conservation website, http://www.mbconservation.org.

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