The Santa Maria City Council has decided on a wait-and-see approach to the offer to join the Monterey Bay Community Power Authority’s choice energy program.
That’s the most prudent approach, because few local residents have even heard of what is technically known as a community choice aggregation. Here is what a CCA actually does:
These are programs that allow local government collaboration on procuring electric power for local customers, and opting out of the normal means of getting power through investor-owned companies, such as Pacific Gas & Electric.
CCAs offer several significant advantages for consumers, chiefly potentially lower rates, access to resources friendlier to the environment than fossil-fuel-produced power, local control of electric power, and perhaps an upside in the local economy by encouraging job creation.
There are also negatives, primarily the fact that what has been a private enterprise is taken over by local government, essentially giving politicians control over what is, without argument, one of the most basic of consumer needs.
What a CCA really does is set up a private sector-vs.-Big Brother scenario.
That thought must have crossed the minds of City Council members, because they spent more than an hour at the recent meeting hearing about CCAs, and about the offer to join the Monterey Bay group.
Several members of the audience spoke in favor of joining, but we generally agree with the point made by a representative of the Santa Barbara County Taxpayers Association, who suggested council members take their time making a final decision, in large part because a CCA arrangement is in the conceptual planning stages here in Santa Barbara County.
In fact, the council has until August to make a decision on signing with the Monterey Bay CCA, assuming a decision is to be made. That deadline is only important if the city wants to be part of the aggregation, the only multi-county CCA in the state, to start service by early 2021. Otherwise, the startup date would be sometime after that.
On the whole, CCAs seem like a viable concept — if one believes having utilities under local government control is preferable to having energy decisions made by an investor-owned company.
With regard to the advantage of CCAs providing a high percentage or all of its electric power generating by green, sustainable means, PG&E seems already to be headed in that direction. On the other hand, PG&E is also facing substantial financial liabilities because of its involvement recent wildfires. That future has yet to be determined.
Still, for most power customers, the debate always circles back to the investor-owned-vs.-government-controlled factor. Or stated more directly, do you trust the people you elect to public office to protect your interests, rather than their ideological agenda and political future?
It’s sort of like driving on a two-lane highway with only white lines dividing the lanes. There is an element of trust inherent in almost every transaction between government and the governed.
The wildcard in this situation is the investor-owned entity, PG&E, whose decision makers are already trending toward renewable, non-polluting energy-generating sources, perhaps sensing the real future of energy in this country.
California has been offering CCA options since 2002, and the Monterey Bay CCA has been in operation a little over a year. Its success so far has been based on customer cost savings, and the less-tangible aspect of communities having some control over their energy future.
Santa Maria’s elected leaders still have time to decide.