City leaders explore options to reach 100% renewable energy

With hotter summers, more mosquitoes, and increasing water costs due to droughts, Long Beach is already seeing the effects of climate change, and city leaders have been working for years to ease its environmental impacts through a collage of initiatives, from banning silicone food containers to reducing emissions at the ports.

Now, Long Beach city leaders are taking a stab at another no-so-obvious source of pollution: electricity.

Across the nation, according to federal energy data, only 18% of electricity is fueled by renewable sources such as wind and solar power. The rest comes from fossil fuels, such as coal, natural gas and petroleum, and nuclear energy.

After months of discussion, city leaders have considered options as they want to reach the goal of having customers—residents and businesses—using 100% renewable energy.

Leaders hope to make a decision within the next one or two years.

Here’s what’s on the table:

Renewable energy model

Community Choice Aggregation is a model that allows communities to jointly purchase electricity that, through Assembly Bill 117, includes incentivizing using renewable energy.

If Long Beach chooses the CCA option, it could stand alone in purchasing energy through contracts or team up with other local communities to purchase energy with them jointly.

Chris Garner, general manager for the city’s water department who has worked for over 30 years in energy resources, said that Long Beach has “a unique advantage” over virtually any other city in the state when considering the CCA options. Long Beach has been in the natural gas energy procurement business for decades—not to mention that most of the city’s water is sourced from Long Beach groundwater.

“So that provides us with a perspective on the risks and complexities of buying energy and how regulatory decisions can have major impacts on utility finances,” Garner wrote in an email.

Join the Clean Power Alliance

The Clean Power Alliance is a coalition of dozens of cities in Los Angeles and Ventura counties that is already on the way to using more renewable energy. It’s an existing CCA that includes nearby cities, such as Hawaiian Gardens and Carson. So far, the CPA reports it is on track to meet California’s mandates for 60% renewable energy by 2030.

According to its 2020 report, the CPA has 23% of its customers signed up to use 100% renewable energy, and it offers three customer plans: “lean,” “clean” and “green” power.

  • Lean Power: uses 36% renewable energy, saving customers about 1% on their bill compared to Southern California Edison rates.
  • Clean Power: uses 50% renewable energy, and it wouldn’t change the pricing for customers.
  • Green Power: uses 100% renewable energy, but this one would increase customers rates by nearly 8%.

Should the city choose to join the CPA, Councilwoman Jeaninne Pearce would want Green Power to be the default for its customers to align with the goal of going 100% renewable. However, customers could still choose the Clean or Lean power plans if they don’t want their bill to increase, and they’d still help reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Southern California Edison Senior Policy Advisor Joshua Torres urged the city to proceed with caution before potentially creating a CCA or joining CPA and defaulting residents to use 100% renewable energy.

“There is a good chunk of our city that is not affluent, but also not low-income enough to qualify for bill assistance programs,” Torres wrote as a resident of Long Beach in an e-comment to the city council. “This default would be burdensome to them.”

Garner said that there still needs to be lots of outreach and education for the public on whether they’d be willing to pay more for electricity.

CPA Executive Director Ted Bardacke presented his plans to the city council in August, hoping to convince leaders to join the CCA.

“Clean Power Alliance looks forward to working with the City when it revisits the decision about forming or joining a CCA next year,” Bardacke said in an emailed statement.

However, there is “performance risk” in the sense that CPA has only been purchasing and supplying electricity to residential customers since last year and “cannot yet point to a long track record of successfully purchasing power supplies,” Garner said.

Bardacke thinks otherwise.

“Clean Power Alliance has shown it can mitigate those market risks and provide competitive rates while aggressively hitting renewable energy goals well ahead of state mandates,” Bardacke wrote.

Sticking with Southern California Edison

Currently, residents who are customers of Edison can opt for 100% or 50% renewable energy.

As a customer, choosing one of SCE’s programs, now, would only increase the electric bill by less than 1% multiplied by the average use of kilowatt-hours, which might translate to, say, a $3 to $6 extra on a $100 bill, according to the programs’ rate calculations.

Why would city staff want to go through all that trouble of considering the CPA or a CCA if they can just go with Edison? Well, one argument, Garner said, is because it might take longer to reach that goal of 100%, but he said that is still hard to predict.

The city’s decision

During the latest presentation given in an Aug. 25 City Council meeting, John Gross, director of financial management for the city, said that after conducting a feasibility study, researchers presented several risk factors, including the impact on customer rates, could increase by up to 8% if they opt for a CCA.

“This recommendation is not that there’s something wrong with the CCA or that we shouldn’t do it, it’s just that the risk of things not working out as expected is too high at this point,” Gross said in the meeting.

Whatever the choice, Pearce, who is spearheading the action with the Environmental Committee and the Sustainable City Commission, wanted to move forward with a decision by December, but the council postponed the vote for a year or two. If the city approves it, the CCA could start operations as early as 2023.

“It is our responsibility to the health of our constituents, to slow the climate crisis, invest in clean energy and reduce our dependency on oil,” Pearce said in an emailed statement.

Editor’s note: This article was updated to show that the council vote was postponed and to add that Joshua Torres commented as a Long Beach resident.

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Crystal Niebla is the West Long Beach reporter through the Report for America program. Philanthropic organizations pledged to cover the local donor portion of her grant-funded position with the Post. If you want to support Crystal's work, you can donate to her Report For America position at lbpost.com/support.
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