LB Council split over decision to join a community choice energy program that would provide 100% renewable energy to the City

The Long Beach City Council split 5-4 against moving forward with a letter of interest in a Community Choice Energy program that would transition the city’s energy to 100% renewable.

Community Choice Energy (CCE) programs allow cities to purchase more renewable energy and reduce their greenhouse gas emissions.

At their meeting on Tuesday night, the council received a report from the Clean Power Alliance (CPA). Their CCE program is used by 30 cities and 2 unincorporated jurisdictions, including Santa Monica, Redondo Beach, Rolling Hills Estates, Malibu, Hawthorne and Los Angeles.

Long Beach’s current energy use

Currently, Long Beach’s electrical energy is provided by Southern California Edison at a default of 35% renewable energy but has opt-in options for higher percentages. CPA’s program would default at 100% renewable energy.

Though fully renewable energy would be more costly to homes and businesses, customers under the program would be able to opt-out and return to their previous plan under Southern California Edison.

“One thing is clear; community choice is by far the most significant thing the city can do to address climate change,” said Clay Sandidge, chair of a local community choice advocacy group. “We can no longer maintain the status quo or wait for a grand moment to change how we procure energy… The moment is now.”

According to a 150-page report from staff, the program could be “potentially financially feasible.”

However, their report also included a long list of risks associated with joining. Primarily, the report cited instability in California’s energy market and expected regulatory changes.

As a justification not to join CPA, it also cited the fact that California’s Senate Bill 100, signed into law in 2018, requires retail power providers to increase their renewable power content from 50% to 60% by 2030. The bill also points towards 100% renewable energy by 2045.

With this in mind, the report said that the difference between joining community choice aggregation and remaining with the status quo “may not be significant.”

Residents who participated in public comment were in resounding disagreement with this statement, advocating for the City to join CPA.

“As members of Generation Z, we are acutely aware of the fragility of our relationship with the earth,” said Kate Brown, member of the Long Beach Youth Climate Taskforce. “The young people of this city are depending on government leaders to protect our future. We cannot afford to defer this decision any longer.”

Despite the apparent risks involved, some councilmembers were eager to begin the process of joining CPA, citing the importance of taking expedient action against climate change.

“We are in a critical moment in history. As this council has been tackling COVID, we’ve also been tackling the structural racism that exists in this city and across the US,” Councilmember Jeannine Pearce said.

“When I consider the vote that needs to be taken tonight, I consider the questions, ‘What risk is worth a human life? What risk is worth making sure we’re providing clean energy as quick as possible?’ in a responsible, financially feasible way.”

Council split over the decision, citing risk

Councilmembers debated the costs related to filing a letter of interest, which include an approximate $35,000 cost for CPA to survey the feasibility of adding Long Beach to their group.

“Why would I pay someone $30,000 to decide if they like me when I haven’t even checked with my constituents that we want to participate in this?” Councilmember Suzie Price said.

Similar to last week’s budget hearing, she was ambivalent to make a final decision without more thorough research.

Councilmember Roberto Uranga, on the other hand, said, “This is the item where we put the money where our mouth is.”

Pearce was the biggest advocate for the program. As the discussion stalled on the $35,000 bill, she offered to pay the entire consulting bill by using her district’s discretionary funds.

She tagged this on to a substitute motion by Councilmember Mary Zendejas, who suggested that the city file a letter of interest and receive a report back in six months.

“I really don’t see a downside with this motion. A lot of people are invested in our climate, invested in our future,” Councilmember Rex Richardson (D-9) said. “As we understand and address our concerns, we should be able to express that this is something that we’re going to continue to take seriously and not just going to delay for two years.”

Zendejas’ motion was tagged onto Price’s motion, which called for a reduction in the two-year wait time to revisit the program. As a compromise, she offered a one-year wait time instead, but no letter of interest.

When it came time to vote, the council voted 5-4 against sending a letter of interest to join CPA.

Those in favor of the motion were Councilmembers Jeannine Pearce, Mary Zendejas, Rex Richardson and Roberto Uranga. Those opposed were Suzie Price, Stacey Mungo, Al Austin, Dee Andrews and Daryl Supernaw.

The opposed councilmembers cited a lack of research, a fear of financial risk and a lack of community outreach.

The council had also just passed a unanimous motion directing city staff to complete a report on the program and provide the council with more information.

On a second vote for Price’s motion to reduce the wait-period from two years to one year, the council approved the recommendation unanimously. The city’s interest in joining CPA may not be finalized, but the item will come back to the council for consideration next year.

The next city council meeting will take place on Tuesday, Sept. 1 at 5 p.m. via teleconference.

Correction: A previous version of this story stated that San Diego was a member of the Clean Power Alliance. They are currently in the process of creating their own community choice program separate from CPA.

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