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The city of San Diego and several neighboring cities want to launch a new government-run electric utility by 2021, but labor union opposition could throw those plans into last-minute disarray, hampering the city’s ambitious plans to fight climate change.

The cities – San Diego, La Mesa, Chula Vista, Encinitas and others – are on the verge of creating a regional “community choice” energy agency to buy and sell clean electricity. Their goal is to provide power that doesn’t require the burning of climate change-causing fossil fuels and to keep rates lower than San Diego Gas & Electric’s.

All the cities are on a tight timeline, though, because of state regulations that require them to create the new agency by the end of the year to be able to sell power in 2021.

After months of delicate negotiations, there is still a big wild card. Last week, a local chapter of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers came out against a deal that cities reached about how to run the multi-city agency.

The union wants to be sure its members are guaranteed work on what could be a boom in new energy projects funded by the cities.

The union’s concerns are widely known and long-standing, but many of them appear to be addressed in the draft documents for the new regional agency. Among other things, the agency is supposed to pay union-scale wages for work on any projects and be open to negotiate union-friendly hiring agreements.

IBEW and the Sierra Club, though, released a statement calling the draft language “weak and deficient,” and blaming the city’s Republican mayor. They appear to have split from a coalition of several other environmental groups.

All this comes as several cities are supposed to take votes on the draft documents this week.

Since all cities must approve the same founding agreement, any change by one city creates a cascade of changes that other cities have to approve. Change, in other words, equals delay and there’s not much time for delay.

“It is worth noting that any delay such as a need to renegotiate [the regional agency’s] terms will make a 2021 program launch virtually impossible,” the city’s sustainability director, Cody Hooven, wrote in a memo to the City Council.

Hooven listed four reasons for why that’s bad: The city’s goals of reducing greenhouse gas emissions would be harder to achieve, customers will continue to pay higher rates, regulations or market circumstances could cause further delays and San Diego could lose the chance to work with other cities, which could make energy more expensive across the county.

La Mesa City Councilman Bill Baber also worries about missing the deadline.

“We are trying to do a historic move to get 100 percent clean energy. It’s not easy to do, the goal is more important than any of our little territorial fights,” he said.

Those territorial fights have already ended hopes for a county-wide power agency. Now, it appears that a group of cities clustered around the city of San Diego will form one agency, while another group of cities, clustered around Carlsbad, will form another.

It’s unclear if the union opposition will cause any members of any of the city councils to make amendments to the deal, but the union concerns are deep and their political influence is growing.

Gretchen Newsom, the political director at IBEW local 569, said the politics remain fluid.

“We want to support a good program that reflects our community values and models best practices and policies from around the state,” she said. “This could potentially be one of the largest community choice energy programs in California and it’s critical to get it right from the start.”

Plastic Problems From an Unexpected Source

There has been a lot – a lot – of focus on plastic pollution caused by straws and food containers. But there’s another major source of plastic: fibers from plastic shirts.

Check your tag. Polyester – that’s plastic. And when it’s washed, the plastic fibers end up in the sewage system and can eventually make their way out into the ocean.

A new paper by researchers at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography helps highlight how many of those fibers are ending up in the ocean.

“You’re not just littering on the beach and adding to this problem, your clothes are actually adding to this problem,” the paper’s lead author, Jennifer Brandon, told KPBS last week.

This is something I’ve noticed a lot lately. Most modern high-performance outdoor clothing is made from some kind of synthetic plastic, so the very clothes we wear to enjoy the outdoors contribute to its gradual destruction.

There are now a few attempts to curb this. There’s a special washing bag called Guppyfriend, which you’re supposed to wash your synthetic clothes in. Or there’s even washing machine filters.

Girlfriend Collective, which sells a microfiber filter, was upfront about what its products are doing to the ocean: “Did you know all synthetic fabrics shed tiny pieces of plastic called microfibers in the wash? (It’s true. Even your favorite cozy fleece, swimwear, underwear, and, yep, Girlfriend leggings.)”

Patagonia, another major user of synthetic fibers, sells the Guppyfriend on its site.

In terms of market-based solutions: Some companies, like Sperry’s, are selling clothing made from recycled ocean plastic. But, of course, those shoes are now also made of plastic that may end up back in the ocean.

In Other News

Ry Rivard was formerly a reporter for Voice of San Diego. He wrote about water and power.

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