As a member of the Orange County Power Authority (OCPA, formed in 2020), Fullerton had the opportunity to set 100% renewable energy default rates for customers and the City at their February 1 meeting, but City Council chose to go with lower percentages, despite numerous members of the public urging the 100% option.
OCPA is a community choice energy (CCE) program that currently includes Fullerton, Buena Park, Huntington, Irvine, and unincorporated areas of Orange County, who work together to bring renewable energy choices to each community. OCPA purchases energy and sells it to customers with a focus on renewable energy sources, while Southern California Edison (SCE) still delivers, bills, and resolves any customer service or electricity service issues.
Each member of the OCPA is required to set default rates for customers and for the city (as a customer), prior to its expected launch in April of this year. At full launch, OCPA will serve more than 820,000 businesses and residents, making it the sixth-largest community choice energy provider in the state of California.
At their February 1 meeting, Fullerton City Council was asked to choose among three options as the default rate for customers and for the City as a customer.
The “default rate” is the power choice that will go into effect unless the consumer makes a different choice. All customers will have the option to upgrade, downgrade, or opt-out and return to service with Southern California Edison (SCE) at any time.
The three options are:
• 38.5% Renewable Energy (No estimated rate increase from current service)
• 69.2% Renewable Energy (Estimated 3.7% rate increase)
• 100% Renewable Energy (Estimated 5.6% rate increase)
According to a staff report, the 69.2% renewable choice could increase the City’s annual energy costs by $237,125, and the 100% renewable choice could result in a $355,687 annual increase.
Fullerton City Council voted 3-2 (Whitaker and Dunlap “no”) to set the customer default rate at 69.2% renewable energy content (the middle tier), and voted 3-2 (Zahra and Jung “no”) to set the City’s municipal default rate at the lowest tier, 38.5% renewable energy content.
Mayor Fred Jung (who is Fullerton’s representative on the OCPA Board) and Councilmember Ahmad Zahra were in favor of setting both defaults at 100% renewable energy, but were forced to compromise.
“Climate change is not partisan,” Jung said. “It’s the existential threat to our future. We are duty-bound to find ways to mitigate it for our children and our grandchildren. This is an opportunity for one of the oldest cities in Orange County to do one of the most forward-thinking things.”
Councilmember Nick Dunlap and Mayor Pro Tem Bruce Whitaker were opposed to setting defaults that would increase costs to consumers or to the City.
Dunlap said, “I’m a bit concerned about this creation of almost a new government entity that’s ultimately going to cost ratepayers more in the end, especially seeing as there are some of these benefits currently available through Edison. I could be supportive if it required an opt-in as opposed to an opt-out, and would likely be supportive if it were all at the basic rate.”
Councilmember Zahra pointed out that there will be programs to subsidize folks who may not be able to afford the programs.
“The default should be the one that causes the least harm to people,” Whitaker said.
Zahra said, “What I’m seeing here are numerical calculations but not how we are negatively affecting the environment and the impact it has on our residents. So, to me, this is not an expense, this is an investment in the health and well-being of our community.”
The swing vote was Councilmember Jesus Silva, who supported the 69% default for customers and 38% for the City.
“Back when I voted us into the OCPA, I was given the impression that the residents would not incur any additional cost,” Silva said. But now it looks like, other than the basic, the residents are going to incur some additional cost. That’s a concern.”
During public comment, many local residents and climate activists spoke in favor of the City choosing 100% renewable energy.
“For most of us, the extra couple of dollars is not as important as providing a healthier environment for ourselves and our children,” Patty Tutor said.
Ayn Craciun from the Climate Action Campaign said, “As policy makers in the age of the climate crisis, it’s up to you to do what you can.”
Desi Garcia, an 18-year-old student at Cal State Fullerton, said, “Unfortunately, our future looks very bleak. At our current rate I’ll be experiencing the absolute worst of the climate crisis…By choosing 100% clean energy as the default for Fullerton, you’d be contributing to a brighter and healthier future for me and future generations.”
Maureen Milton asked why there was no one from Southern California Edison to give their side of the story.
Councilmember Zahra pointed out that the State law that allows for the creation of community choice energy prevents investor-owned utilities like SCE to advocate for or against them.
Michelle Ellison, who is on the board of Clean Power Alliance, the community choice energy entity serving Los Angeles and Ventura counties, said, “With this one Council decision, you can virtually eliminate electricity-related emissions in Fullerton and make it easy for your residents to power their homes and businesses with clean energy, a truly remarkable feat.”
Electricity production is currently the second leading cause of greenhouse gas emissions in our area.
Alexis Hernandez with the Climate Action Campaign mentioned data from CalEnviro 4.0 that shows the major disparity in pollution burden in Fullerton.
“Much of southern Fullerton ranges from the 90th to 100th percentile for pollution burden—meaning that some neighborhoods in Fullerton are experiencing more pollution than 100% of all other California neighborhoods,” Hernandez said. “Choosing to reduce emissions at the 100% default is choosing to put the people of Fullerton who are the most impacted first.”
Glenda Howell, a 42-year resident of Fullerton and former FSD teacher urged Council to choose 100% renewable energy and to find a way to subsidize disadvantaged families who might not be able to afford the increase but still want 100% clean energy.
Jane Rands, who currently has solar panels on her house and a net metering agreement with Edison, asked how the move to OCPA would affect this agreement. This question was not answered during the meeting.
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