North Park Towers-6
Power lines along the alley behind North Park Towers / Photo by Ariana Drehsler for Voice of San Diego

When San Diego’s new publicly-run power agency first joined the local energy market, it made a big promise to customers: The energy it provided would be cleaner and cheaper than its competitor, San Diego Gas and Electric.

We now know that may not be the case, as MacKenzie Elmer explained this week.

Residents in five major San Diego cities will automatically begin buying their energy from San Diego Community Power in May. And although the agency wants its customers to only pay for the power their company buys, that’s not happening just yet.

That’s because of the Power Charge Indifference Adjustment, a so-called “exit fee” that SDG&E collects to pay for energy it bought for its customers back when it was a monopoly — before San Diego Community Power was a thing. 

The fee changes based on the cost of energy. It represented 31 percent of an average residential customer’s energy bill from San Diego Community Power in June 2021 and 18 percent in February 2022. 

Everybody pays this fee, both San Diego Community Power and SDG&E-only customers. It’s recently been added as a separate line item on SDG&E bills — called the “PCIA charge.”

The great debate now is, since public power agencies have no control over this extra charge, they want investor-owned utilities like SDG&E to explore how to reduce those costs for all customers. 

But the great debate over this story on Voice of San Diego’s website seemed to be whether customers joining the government-run alternative to SDG&E technically called a community-choice aggregator — is really a choice at all. 

Here’s what our readers had to say.

“…They forced customers to move to SDCP (I think because they couldn’t rely on people to switch to an unproven entity). I too will opt to stay with SDG&E,” wrote Julie Meier Wright. 

Steve Kurtzman responded, “…you are not ‘forced’ if you can say no and opt-out.”

Let’s clear that up. 

The 2002 state law that gave birth to government-run power purchasing companies made clear the “choice” in community choice aggregation is whether to leave it.

“Customers may aggregate their loads through a public process with community choice aggregators, if each customer is given an opportunity to opt out of their community’s aggregation program,” the law states.

Nicole Capretz, the executive director of Climate Action Campaign who was instrumental in San Diego’s adoption of a public power program, said public power advocates fought hard for that language.

“No community choice program would be successful if it was opt in,” Capretz said. “It’s human psychology; few people opt in to any program. Either people are too busy or don’t even look at their bills. In the program’s design, we knew it had to be opt out or else it would fail.”

By May, residential customers in Imperial Beach, La Mesa, Encinitas, San Diego and Chula Vista will all buy their power from San Diego Community Power unless customers choose not to. 

Some already have. 

So far San Diego Community Power has a 97 percent participation rate from the almost 90,000 accounts buying its power. About five percent of customers have chosen to opt-out already. The agency tracks those numbers and the reasons people give for leaving.  

Click here to view this chart in a new tab

About 23 percent of the “leavers” just don’t like being automatically enrolled, according to San Diego Community power documents. Another 18 percent are worried about rates or costs. About 5 percent are concerned about the government running their power. 

Back to the point of Elmer’s original story — San Diego Community Power’s Chief Operating Officer, Cody Hooven, said despite the “exit fee” their customers still have to pay for old SDG&E energy and the fact they’re automatically enrolled, she hopes customers recognize they’re getting “significantly cleaner power at a competitive price.”

What We’re Working On

  • The city of San Diego has been compiling a list of all its technical applications that meet the definition of surveillance and found a couple hundred so far. Jesse Marx got a peek at that list and found there’s tech across the city, including places you wouldn’t expect it.
  • Gov. Gavin Newsom this week moved California from the first to the second level of emergency actions taken during a drought. It likely won’t have much of an affect on San Diego. Here’s what it means.
  • San Diego County Board of Supervisors Chair Nathan Fletcher laid out plans to address homelessness, the region’s childcare shortage and more during the annual State of the County address on Tuesday. Read about his pledges here.

We’re nearing the end of our spring fundraising campaign and still have $44,000 left to raise. If you think our reporting is valuable, consider becoming a Voice of San Diego member today to help us reach our goal. 

Megan Wood

Megan is Voice of San Diego’s engagement editor. She is responsible for producing and overseeing content that extends the reach of the organization....

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5 Comments

  1. VOLUNTEER 858 405 5118
    March 17, 2022
    Biography
    Daniel Smiechowski was born on Christmas Eve 1953 to an Italian Mother born in France and Polish Father. Daniel’s mother lived on the shores of Normandy during D Day 1944 where she met his father a WWII veteran. Daniel has visited France at least 33 times and has worked with veteran’s organizations in District 2 representing the United States as a journalist in Colleville sur Mer and Le Havre, France. He attended the 75th ceremony of D Day at Omaha Beach along with President Trump, former Secretary of State John Kerry and many other notables. There is no question that Daniel is the most diverse candidate to ever run for San Diego City Council. As a little boy living in Brittany, he played in abandoned German bunkers on the Atlantic Wall. He has lived in New York and Milwaukee before coming to San Diego in 1967 with his parents. Daniel has been both a private and public-school teacher, a real estate sales person, landlord, movie extra, model, lifeguard, caregiver and became an Ironman triathlete in 1983 with his endurance compound in Borrego Springs and Jacumba Hot Springs. He also is a former big wave surfer around the world, organized ice hockey player, golfer, basketball and baseball player plus long-distance swimmer who spoke to Point Loma’s Florence Chadwick on occasion. Daniel graduated from SDSU with a degree in French and Linguistics and also holds degrees in Real Estate and Sociology. Daniel attended the Sorbonne in Paris, France. His post graduate work in Education was at United States International University. He has served as Clairemont Town Council’s public safety chairperson as well as many years on the Clairemont Community Planning Group. He is the only candidate besides the incumbent to speak at the City Council for three months straight.

    WHY I AM RUNNING
    My fellow citizens, four years ago I ran for this same seat and warned you of the consequences in electing disingenuous, untruthful candidates who rise in power by way of prostituted campaign cash and their important cronies. This is immoral, unethical and just plain wrong. Why do you continue to vote on a false narrative without regard for truth and responsibility? This in part is why I am running again, in order to instill independent and honest governance. The Ash Street fiasco, the vendor ordinance, so-called granny flats, scooters and short-term vacation rentals must be addressed in truth by conscientious honesty. I will not tell you what you want to hear. I will tell you what you ought to hear. I may lose the election by telling the truth but I will win conscientiously. The perception of a winning top tier candidate ought to be predicated on their desire to lose an election by telling voters the truth before they are elected not subsequent. You are duty bound to vote fairly and without prejudice as per false descriptions candidates put forth in a phony popularity contest.

    What are the major issues in this election?
    There exist a host of major issues in this election including private property rights, so-called granny flats, out of control rogue scooters, public safety, regulating vendors, a new Ocean Beach Pier, undue taxation, fixing third world streets and infrastructure, a bleeding liability fund, childcare, senior centers plus my unique proposal for a children’s advisory group to the City Council. Children tell the truth. But transcending these material public policy issues is the overall responsibility and issue of voters to decern that money and endorsements alone do no allow for the best candidate. A final word that Measure E which will ultimately come to fruition has my strongest support. Let’s redevelop the Midway area and bring back the NBA and even NHL to San Diego.

    Why are you the best candidate for the job?
    I have open communication with my District and a community voting record on affordable housing, parks and recreation, zoning and setbacks, contractor compliance, SANDAG, eliminating all scooters NOW! The desire of my constituents is my heartfelt and moral responsibility. But fundamentally, it’s all about the preceding discourse in character traits which define me as a candida

  2. This was, of course, somewhat predictable.

    Having a government agency “compete” with a government-mandated monopoly is not what one would call “competition”, therefore there is little incentive to actually provide quality product at a lower cost.

    True competition would be simple and is done in several other states, all of which have significantly lower electricity rates than SoCal.

    Open up the power lines to the house to true competition, similar to what was done when AT&T was deregulated.

    That deregulation produced the result we have now – a plethora of phone options, including cell phones, and instead of $1 per minute to call “long distance” and similar fees to call nearby cities (called “expanded service” once), we now have flat rate plans that cover everything.

    NO one under 80 ever answers the phone with “we need to be quick, this is LONG DISTANCE” any more.

    There is simply NO reason why our electricity (and internet service) could not be opened up to true competition – which would, as it always does, result in better quality, better customer service, and lower cost for all.

    It ALWAYS does that.

    1. I opted out because SDCP’s estimate of my SDG&E bill was about 2X the actual bill and their estimate of their bill was slightly less than their SDG&E estimate. If you’re off by a factor of 2 on a known quantity (SDG&E rates and tariffs are well defined by the CPUC and I gave SDCP my usage from my bill), then your estimates of what you will bill me have no basis in reality.

      Additionally, I was here in 2000 when the state decided to deregulate electricity – and turned it into a total disaster (remember Enron?). Politicians seem to have little idea how electrical power systems actually operate technically or financially. SDCP’s board is made up entirely of politicians, so NO.

  3. And let’s not forget about the fees just to use the SDG&E wires. About $50 per month( or $600 / yr ) just to use electrical wires. Why isn’t this based on usage(KWh used) like how States used gasoline purchases to regulate road use taxes? We paid over $3 billon for these smart meters which record usage so why is this not used to regulate usage fees?

    Maybe guaranteeing a profit based on revenue has something to do with the very high cost of maintaining copper and aluminum wires. Regardless, this ‘regulated’ monopoly is not very well regulated nor run and this is not the year 1922.

  4. I received a flyer stating a $12000 raise accepted by N Fletcher as well as a personal limousine. Personally I am tired of proposed tax hikes funding our politician’s. Would like to see some scrutinizing of where our taxes go locally and statewide

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