Illustration by Adriana Heldiz

David Kline didn’t pay much attention to his energy bill until a June spike caused him to take a closer look. 

He noticed two things: He’d have to pay almost twice as much as he did in May, and there was a new and  unfamiliar line item that looked to be the culprit: CCA Electric Generation. 

“I normally don’t pay much attention to these things, but when your wife says, hey, our energy bill is 50 percent more than it usually is, you check it out,” Kline said. 

CCA stands for community-choice aggregator, energy-nerd speak for the new public power companies in town. For Kline, a city of San Diego resident, he now buys his energy from San Diego Community Power. So do most residents in Encinitas, Imperial Beach, La Mesa, Chula Vista and soon National City and unincorporated San Diego County – unless customers opt out.

The cost spike in Kline’s energy bill was mostly because he used 53 percent more energy between May and June. Individual energy use is the primary driver of all energy bill charges. But coinciding with that increased usage, he was now looking at a $121.98 charge for CCA Electric Generation, which wasn’t on his May bill.

“As a consumer, my bottom line is ‘Did this cause an increase in price?” Kline said.

As of June 3, Kline paid less per unit of energy, measured in kilowatt hours, to San Diego Community Power than he had paid to San Diego Gas and Electric on June 1 and June 2 for summertime energy, an analysis of his bills by Voice of San Diego showed.

Offering cheaper energy rates than investor-owned utilities and bringing competition to companies that have virtually ruled California’s energy space since the state became a state, is one of the primary goals of all new public power companies. That and offering much cleaner energy faster private companies are doing is the mission.

But SDG&E then dropped its rates in June, a move San Diego’s public power companies called a deceptive and artificial price drop at the precise moment thousands of customers automatically shift to the public company or, decide to opt out and stay with SDG&E. Public power advocates contend SDG&E will raise its rates again next year, but dropped them now to compare more favorably with the public power companies while people are making their decisions.

Clean Energy Alliance, the new public power company serving northern San Diego County, has a goal of maintaining rates 2 percent lower than SDG&E. But once SDG&E dropped theirs by 4 percent come June, many customers are now paying about a dollar more for public power. 

“It’s not a significant differential but it’s something our customers would probably look at and say, ‘Hey, we wanted to see a savings,’” said Barbara Boswell, CEO of Clean Energy Alliance.

The public power companies can no longer point to cheaper energy, but they can still boast of higher renewable energy content than SDG&E – about 50 percent versus SDG&E’s 31 percent. 

Still, lots of San Diegans are paying attention to their energy bills right now because chances are they’re a lot higher than they were in the Spring – just like Kline’s. It’s been desperately hot as summer monsoons trap humidity west of the mountains. Air conditioning units are running full blast, for those who have them. Those who don’t are probably running a fan or two, maybe shamelessly sticking their heads in their freezers. I’ll admit I’ve fallen asleep wearing a frozen face mask to the utter fright of my partner come morning. 

That’s precisely why the new public power companies are so sensitive to the fact that their energy now is more expensive than SDG&E’s. When it catches users’ attention, they could notice something they haven’t before – that new CCA generation charge looks awfully pricey, and seek out ways to get rid of it. 

CCAs are just getting off the ground, and are already teetering on treacherously thin margins between expenses and revenue.

In Other News

  • This is the most consequential week for Colorado River policy in years. A deadline looms over the seven U.S. states that depend on it as a drinking water source to make major cuts or risk the federal government stepping in to tell them how. (Associated Press)
  • Trials of San Diego public transit: These students spend almost 4 hours amid two buses and two trollies between home in City Heights and school in La Jolla. (Union-Tribune)
  • Summer monsoons produced flash floods across San Diego County. (Union-Tribune)
  • And scientists predict that “the big one” for California, in terms of natural disasters, may not first come as an earthquake but a major flood compromising most of California’s Central Valley. (CNN)
  • A former leader on environmental justice, tribal and border affairs for California, Yana Garcia, 38, of Oakland is taking over as the secretary of California’s EPA as Newsom’s former pick, Jared Blumenfeld, steps down in September to lead a $3.5 billion climate change nonprofit founded by Laurene Powell Jobs, Steve Jobs’ wife. (CalMatters)
  • Water shortages in Ensenada left some residents without service for months, sparking protests and demands for change. The city, last in line for Colorado River water, is bearing the brunt of the drought ravaging the West. (Voice of San Diego)
  • Physician and writer Dhruv Khullar taught me a new term in this beautiful but suffocating piece on extreme heat in India: “climate recognition”—an acknowledgment of the pain we inflict through the burning of fossil fuels. (The New Yorker)

Correction: An earlier version f this article misidentified where monsoons trap heat in relation to San Diego’s mountains. That humidity is trapped west of that mountain range.

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2 Comments

  1. If I am already paying for a CEO, CFO ,COO etc. at SDG&E , why would I want to pay for another redundant (and less experienced) one at a CCA?

    1. Because at SDCP, you are NOT paying dividends to stock shareholders. It is a non-profit, and all money stays in the communities that are part of SDCP, rather than going to corporate profits and shareholders. The “experience” at SDCP is not as important as their motivation to reduce costs and increase sustainability, although they are professionals and well qualified to do what they are doing.

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