By Robert Perry, Director of Research
On June 16th, the County Board of Supervisors passed a resolution to participate in the Monterey Bay Community Power Authority (MBCPA), Community Choice Aggregation (CCA) Program. Following years of deliberation and analysis concerning the feasibility of forming its own CCA, the vote could lead to the inclusion of Santa Barbara County in a community choice program representing Central Coast counties from Santa Barbara up to Santa Cruz.
Short of forming its own program at an estimated cost of $9 million, the only other option would have been to join the massive Clean Power Alliance (CPA), incorporating most of Los Angeles and Ventura counties. While the south coastal region would likely have been well served through CPA, the northern county would not have their interests well represented by a CCA completely located within Southern California Edison territory. Conversely, the current situation places the SCE-served coastal region of Santa Barbara County as a southern tip just outside MBCPA’s exclusively PG&E territory.
The problem, of course, is that the State of California’s decision to split Santa Barbara County between SCE and PG&E service territories requires separate negotiations with each utility. In this case, MBCPA will need to engage SCE when looking to develop local energy resources within coastal Santa Barbara County, the only portion of MBCPA operations that is outside PG&E service territory. To my knowledge, this is the first instance of a CCA’s service area residing in two different utility service areas.
With its existing portfolio of renewable and GHG-free (hydroelectric) resources, MBCPA offers 100% carbon-free electricity and is offering a variety of energy programs, including microgrid development, solarizing affordable housing and EV adoption. Unfortunately, our local resiliency issues (which BTW was created entirely by the division of our county between utility service territories by the State of California) require direct coordination with SCE to develop sufficient local distributed energy resources (DERs) to support critical facilities during outages or an increasingly likely Public Safety Power Shutoff (PSPS) initiated by the utility.
This dual responsibility will require additional administrative and operational expenses and was my primary concern as I addressed the County Supervisors at the June 16th meeting. While I voiced my general support for joining MBCPA, I cautioned that updates to MBCPA’s implementation plan must include a specific action plan for engaging SCE to develop local distributed energy resources (DERs) in coastal communities. Absence of such a strategy exposes our area to becoming the “red-haired stepchild” within MBCPA’s family of PG&E communities.
My other issue concerns the need to include local municipalities in MBCPA to maximize regional coordination. While Goleta, Santa Maria, Guadalupe and Carpinteria are on track to join MBCPA, the City of Santa Barbara is considering forming its own “micro-CCA” that would result in one less vote on MBCPA’s JPA board. I’m somewhat mystified at the City’s rationale in going down this route, as it will limit initial development efforts to city-owned sites and exclude it from local energy development by the County and adjacent cities. This isolation potentially leaves the City of Santa Barbara primarily reliant on SCE’s grid-portfolio of resources to meet its 100% renewable energy goals and becoming exposed when needing local power in outage or PSPS scenarios.
The Board’s vote is the first in a series of steps to be taken before the County officially becomes part of MBCPA, and there are a number of “offramps” at which the County could choose not to participate in MBCPA. As the process continues, it’s important that we demand a specific plan of action on how MBCPA will promote local DERs in our area. It’s also critical that MBCPA assign at least one dedicated representative to coordinate with SCE on behalf of coastal Santa Barbara communities.
Finally, Santa Barbara County residents must urge local and state representatives to forcefully engage state legislative and executive agencies concerning our resiliency issues that were created purely through the arbitrary decision long ago to split the county between utility service territories. The State should acknowledge its role in creating this problem and provide resources and assistance to fix it. FYI, I am participating in a policy work group on a legislative proposal on this issue and will share my thoughts in a future post.