On August 18th, the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) approved San Diego Gas & Electric’s (SDG&E) plan to launch a new division to market against Community Choice energy, the latest in a series of CPUC decisions to undermine Community Choice energy programs.
SDG&E is one of California’s three investor-owned utilities, serving as the monopoly energy provider for 3.6 million customers across San Diego and south Orange Counties. In San Diego and throughout California, cities and counties are moving to establish Community Choice energy programs as public, non-profit energy service providers. While investor-owned utilities continue to operate the energy grid and deliver electricity, the Community Choice program decides where the electricity for residents and businesses will come from–enabling the community to prioritize a cleaner energy portfolio and investment in local renewable energy resources. Utilities like SDG&E see the growth of Community Choice energy programs as a threat to their business model.
Under current state law, the monopoly utilities have been prohibited from using ratepayer funds to attack Community Choice programs. However, following the CPUC’s landmark decision last week, SDG&E’s parent company, Sempra Energy, has been approved to start an independent marketing division to market against Community Choice using unlimited “shareholder” funds. The first of its kind, Community Choice advocates have strongly opposed this end-run around the law, setting a new precedent for attacking nascent Community Choice programs throughout California.
The San Diego Energy District Foundation and the California Alliance for Community Energy wrote the CPUC
that the draft decision does not “apply sufficient counterweight to the tremendous imbalance of market power, name recognition, customer and airwave access enjoyed by the electrical corporations in comparison with new Community Choice programs.” Nicole Capretz, Executive Director of the Dan Diego-based Climate Action Campaign said, “SDG&E has made clear they’ll stop at nothing to stifle the voices and the freedom of choice for families and businesses who want better energy options to save money, clean the air, and create a brighter, healthier future with home grown clean power.”
In response to Community Choice advocates’ demands, the CPUC added language intended to limit SDG&E’s coordination with Sempra Energy, including restricting the sharing of staff and information between the two companies and requiring that the marketing company be housed at Sempra Energy rather than SDG&E. Nonetheless, critics doubt these restrictions will curb the utilities’ newfound license to fight Community Choice.
This decision represents the latest in a series of actions that the CPUC has taken reflecting a history of bias against Community Choice.