A group of picketers took to the streets outside newly installed California Assembly speaker Toni Atkins’s office Friday afternoon, May 30, in protest of her vote in favor of Assembly Bill 2145, which environmental activists say would stifle the ability to implement "community choice" power supplies. Community choice, advocates say, would serve both to lower the cost of electricity and to allow more of it to be sourced from environmentally friendly sources such as solar and wind power.
"A lot of people in San Diego have spent considerable time working on community choice," says Kath Rogers, representing the climate-change action group SanDiego350.org. Community choice, she says, "would allow us to determine where we buy our energy — we're one of the sunniest cities in the nation, so it only makes sense to make decisions such as purchasing locally produced solar power."
The current city budget, Rogers says, includes funding inserted by Todd Gloria as part of his proposed climate-action plan to study the feasibility of implementing community choice in San Diego. Study results are expected sometime in the fall.
Two rural northern counties, Sonoma and Marin, already have community choice in place, though a provision in AB 2145 that blocks local energy districts from automatically enrolling customers in the program could put the plan in peril among communities that haven't already launched service. Dozens of local governments, elected officials, and activist groups statewide oppose the bill’s passage.
"Without an initial customer base, the concept is essentially dead on arrival," explains Rogers. "Feasibility studies in other counties that have done this rely on that base to request bids from potential power providers," which still could, she says, include conventional utilities such as SDG&E.
But what about people who might want to opt out of community choice, choosing instead to remain with the local investor-owned utility companies?
"It's very transparent; consumers have every opportunity to opt out, if they so choose," says Rogers. "But the fact is, most people don't want to, because [community choice] provides better options for the ratepayer, both in terms of environmentally friendly energy and rate structures."
As Rogers spoke, a crowd numbering about 30 waved signs and chanted slogans, including, "How do you spell corporate greed? S-D-G-E!"
A rumor spread that Atkins’s office was sending staff down to the street to address the protesters and their concerns about AB 2145, which passed the Assembly on Wednesday, May 28, and is now headed to the state senate.
"We are disappointed that Toni Atkins has sided with large dirty energy companies over the loud voice of San Diegans who care about green jobs, clean energy, and the ability to choose who we buy our energy from," adds SanDiego350 representative Masada Disenhouse.
After the expected Atkins staffer failed to materialize, Disenhouse and a handful of constituents went up to the office, where she says they met with district director Denise Price. Per Disenhouse, Price was unfamiliar with the specific issue but promised an official response from the assemblywoman as to the reasoning behind her vote.