How one California county is addressing its energy transition

Joe Naiman writes in the Fallbrook and Bonsall Village News about recent developments for the San Diego County to implement its renewable energy plan. It is a good story for all of us.


Supervisors support comprehensive renewable energy plan program

The San Diego County Board of Supervisors held a hearing on Phase I of the county’s comprehensive renewable energy plan February 15 and selected seven items for the Phase II implementation stage.

A 4-0 Board of Supervisors vote with Ron Roberts in Washington, DC, approved a program to establish a sustainability task force within the county’s existing framework, track community solar and wind energy initiatives within the county, and increase the county’s renewable energy generation and use along with transmission and storage.

The program will also develop strategies to address barriers to the use of alternative fuels including electric vehicles, establish and promote mechanisms to finance consumer installation, develop and implement a renewable energy education and outreach strategy, and develop a strategy to support legislation favorable to the use of renewable energy in San Diego County.

Although a motion to prepare a feasibility study for a Community Choice Aggregation program (a CCA program allows local governments to pool electricity customers to purchase power and allows the jurisdictions to administer energy programs on behalf of the residents and businesses) did not receive a second, a separate 4-0 vote directed county staff to return to the supervisors in 12 months with a report on the status of CCA studies by other California counties and cities.

“We’re already doing these items and they’re not going to cost any more money,” said Supervisor Bill Horn.

In April 2013, the Board of Supervisors directed the county’s chief administrative officer to develop options for a comprehensive renewable energy plan and to prepare a work plan including time and cost estimates.

County staff provided a work plan which was presented at a September 2013 Board of Supervisors meeting. The board’s September 2013 action was to appropriate $300,000 to fund Phase I of the work plan, to direct the director of the county’s Department of Planning and Development Services (PDS) to form a renewable energy technical advisory committee, and to direct PDS staff to prepare a pipelining provision to address existing applications for discretionary renewable energy projects. (The pipelining provision, which was also approved Feb. 15, will allow existing projects to be processed under the current rules rather than the new standards.)

The approved work plan included analyzing the county’s existing renewable energy programs and efforts, working with private sector stakeholders, conducting the economic, feasibility, and best management practices research, and developing recommendations.

The plan does not mandate goals or objectives. The Phase I plan included the results of economic, feasibility, and best management practices research and analysis. The plan summarized 17 best management practices. On Oct. 14 the county’s Planning Commission voted 4-0, with three members absent, to recommend 11 of those for further consideration.

Eight of those had no cost to the county for studies, although the supervisors rejected the recommendation for a new regional energy network on the grounds that the formula used by a regional government might result in decisions not favorable to the unincorporated communities.

The CCA feasibility study has an estimated cost of $200,000, a feasibility study to identify potential sites for future microgrids also has a $200,000 cost estimate, and preparing renewable energy design and development guidelines including Zoning Ordinance regulations would include an Environmental Impact Report which would result in an estimated cost of $500,000 for the study.

“I support more renewable energy in our region. We’re a perfect spot for this,” Horn said.

“I think that the Planning Commission did a good job,” said Supervisor Dianne Jacob. “Our region continues to have some of the highest energy costs of anywhere in the state or the nation.”

“The best way to do this is to make sure we have every last tool we can,” said Industrial Environmental Association chief executive officer Jack Monger. “It’s going to be up to us to get this right.”

“The renewable energy plan provides a clear roadmap for a clean energy future,” said David Harris of La Mesa.

“We believe that a well-developed emissions reduction strategy will deliver maximum benefits and minimize costs,” said Sempra Energy regional vice president of external relations Frank Urtasun.

Urtasun also emphasized the need to use return on investment to prioritize strategies. “An ROI analysis would allow the county to identify the best management practices that would minimize costs including risks,” he said.

“We felt very strongly that return on investment was something the county should use,” said Craig Benedetto of California Strategies, who was a member of the technical advisory committee which helped develop the plan. “The county does have limited resources.”

Benedetto also noted that alternative vehicle power sources require the ability to travel throughout the county without running out of fuel. “You have to have fueling stations out there to be able to supply your constituents,” he said.

Energy consultant Cesar Rios has worked with the county, although not on the renewable energy program. “The county’s benefited from direct access, and I don’t see why the county’s constituents can’t do the same,” he said.

“In my view the CCA is still in its infancy,” said Supervisor Kristin Gaspar. “There are more lessons to be learned.”

Gaspar noted that the county already obtains 40 percent of its energy from renewable sources. “I’d encourage us all to turn our attention to actual outcomes,” she said.

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