By JAY POWELL
With skyrocketing bills for heating and cooling homes and businesses, San Diegans are wondering how to reduce their bills and still achieve the transition to a cleaner renewable energy future. Proposals include electrifying everything from stoves, water and space heaters to bikes, cars and trucks. Where are we going to get all that electricity and how much will it cost?
Unless we find a way to create true community-owned utilities that are directly accountable to their customers, our energy future will look like whatever the investor-owned utilities like SDG&E with their overpaid executives, lobbyists and PR consultants and their captive union leadership and state regulators want it to be.
We will have continued spiraling high gas and electric rates as well as dependence on imported energy using more inefficient and costly transmission lines causing more wildfires and/or power shutoffs unless we take advantage of the well-documented potential of locally generated renewable energy.
While we now have two public agencies serving several cities in our county to purchase electricity, it is not clear whether they will continue to be importing that energy and exporting our dollars and jobs, or if they will generate that power locally, expanding businesses and jobs here. They still must deal with the California Public Utilities Commission and SDG&E’s monopoly control of the means to deliver that power.
SDG&E charges us for the franchise fees that allows it to use our public lands to earn its profits. In San Diego, we pay a surcharge for SDG&E to underground its equipment, while the state guarantees it a 10 to 12% profit based on those and other installed assets.
In the meantime, SDG&E sponsors statewide campaigns, consultants and paid lobbyists to make it even more difficult for residents and businesses to install and operate their own solar and storage systems – investments that decrease the region’s power needs and fill power lines in their neighborhood when they generate a surplus.
It’s clear from studies performed in San Diego and other regions that solar generated on rooftops and parking lots and developed urban areas combined with storage batteries organized into community-based micro-grids can provide clean, renewable and affordable energy, while creating far more jobs and a safer and more reliable energy system.
Imagine an aggressive expansion of solar and storage on homes and apartments, and in business districts, schools, churches, public facilities, shopping centers and parking lots and structures in every neighborhood, all pulling energy from the sun and using it and storing it and deploying it as our primary energy source.
Who could and should own and operate the elements of that distributed energy system in the best interests of all San Diegans?
For too long, decisions on our energy future have been made at the state level and in the back rooms in Downtown San Diego, when we could and should address our energy future on a community basis. Community plans are the constituent building blocks of our general plans that govern development. We need a community-development approach that engages all stakeholders. We have community planning groups, advisory boards and community-based nonprofits that need to be sufficiently supported and seen as integral parts of a team working with staff and elected officials to help shape our energy future.
Mayor Todd Gloria and the City Council need to fill long-vacant seats on the city’s Sustainable Energy Advisory Board so it can again perform its statutory duty to advise them on programs and policies to achieve regional energy independence and renewable energy goals. They need to establish and appoint qualified community members to the proposed Citizens Task Force to oversee the $1 million allocation for a “Public Power Feasibility Study” to help ensure that options for competent and cost-effective community ownership and development of our local renewable energy system are thoroughly explored.
We are at a critical crossroads. Will we the people be a part of determining our energy future to design and retrofit buildings to be energy-efficient and generate and store more solar energy for electrifying vehicles, homes and businesses, while creating more jobs and revenues for every community and building a truly independent energy future — or will we let the current system of poorly regulated for-profit monopolies continue to control our energy future?
Tell your state, local and national representatives and candidates for those offices you want them to support a community-based, -owned and -operated affordable energy future.
Jay Powell serves as the environmental advocate member on the city’s Sustainable Energy Advisory Board and previously served as executive director of the City Heights Community Development Corp. He lives in Normal Heights.