DSA San Diego’s Energy Democracy Campaign Committee sent the below letter to the San Diego City Council and city attorney on Sunday, July 12th, 2020.
Dear Council President Gomez and members of San Diego City Council,
As the coordinating committee of DSA San Diego’s Energy Democracy campaign, we write with great frustration over the unfolding process for the City to ratify a new franchise agreement for operation of the City of San Diego’s energy utility(ies). It is unclear how thoroughly each council member has been briefed on the process, as the Environment Committee has not convened since the last official milestone, publication of expressions of interest in utility operation. At that time, DSA San Diego submitted a letter describing our strong preference for democratic, public ownership of San Diego’s utility service.
Unfortunately, responses to the Request for Expressions of Interest (RFEI) were never discussed by the Sustainable Energy Advisory Board (SEAB), as the board has not met quorum since March 12. That last meeting took place approximately three weeks after the RFEI deadline of February 21, yet none of the letters were made available to the public or board to inform discussion. The terms and options for utility provision strike us as among the most important topics warranting the attention of such a board, and yet it has been left largely in the dark. While failing to meet quorum may seem coincidental, the high number of vacancies on the board and inscrutable delays in finalizing appointments certainly do not.
By all appearances, City Council has not been engaged in deliberations over the terms of the franchise agreement until on July 9 the Mayor’s office submitted the report with recommendations for the Invitation to Bid (ITB) prepared by consultants whose professional grounding lies squarely with investor-owned utilities. A special meeting of the Environment Committee was announced within the day. While we appreciate that after several months we will have the opportunity to encourage comments from our members, it seems to be too little, too late.
The committee has received no input from the SEAB on options, nor has the committee heard the public’s hopes and desires for our utility service. The report itself incongruously mentions the popularity and significant advantages of municipalization, then dismisses municipalization as an option for San Diego due to a California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) statute prohibiting Community Choice Aggregation (CCA) in areas serviced by a municipal utility. Missing is any consideration of an option to expand the mission of our not-for-profit CCA San Diego Community Power to include the publicly accountable management of power distribution alongside power procurement.
And while we understand concerns about municipalization due to the legal definition of the powers wielded by community choice aggregators — namely, that SDCP cannot take on powers beyond the procurement of energy — we were disappointed to see that the JVJ report merely acknowledged this concern without providing any analysis on potential remedies or precedents. San Francisco, which also has a CCA called CleanPowerSF, recently conducted a study on the feasibility of municipalization and decided to move forward with a bid to purchase their energy infrastructure from PG&E. While PG&E rejected their initial offer, the point remains that presence of CCA does not necessarily preclude the possibility of municipalization. The fact that San Diego City Council members do not have a report that thoroughly maps a pathway to municipalization means that they are not able to properly assess the costs and benefits of that approach.
Representing this priority for our chapter, the DSA San Diego Energy Democracy coordinating committee calls on City Council to pause this process until the full range of options has been rigorously explored and deliberated on in good faith. We find it outrageous that Mayor Faulconer expects ratification of an agreement explicitly designed to offer a corporate operator a 20-year monopoly on San Diego’s energy service, and feel skeptical that provisions for accountability will be honored, as we’ve seen SDG&E so flagrantly flaunt the terms of their original 1970 agreement so frequently over the years.
Please exercise your authority and leadership in this critically important process. The franchise agreement requires a two-thirds majority to pass, so it is certainly within your power to insist on better analysis, better understanding, and a better structure for the people of San Diego.
Energy Democracy Coordinating Committee
Democratic Socialists of America – San Diego