Fullerton residents will be automatically enrolled in an energy plan mandating that 69% of their homes’ electricity comes from renewable energy sources beginning in October 2022.
At the Feb.1 meeting, the Fullerton City Council voted 3-2 in favor of the plan. This was the middle ground of three plans presented, the other two offering clean energy at 30% and 100%. A motion was initially made to pass the 100% plan but failed 2-3.
“This is an opportunity for one of the oldest cities in Orange County to do one of the most forward things,” said Mayor Fred Jung at the meeting.
The Orange County Power Authority is the energy provider that will administer the plans. Jung is Vice Chairman of the Board of Directors of the OCPA.
Senate Bill 100 was passed in 2018 requiring that all electricity in California come from clean energy sources by 2045, and at least 60% must be generated by 2030.
With the approved plan, costs are projected to increase 3.7%. The 100% plan would have increased bills by 5.6%. No change in costs was projected with the 30% plan.
“I don’t want to bring up another additional cost to…residents. And at this point in time…I don’t know if I can go up 100% or even at the Smart level,” said Council Member Jesus Silva before voting against the 100% plan. “Smart” is a reference to the 69% plan, also known as the “Smart Choice” plan.
Southern California Edison offers two discounted rate programs for low-income households, the California Alternate Rates for Energy program and the Family Electric Rate Assistance program which cut bills by 18-30%. In order to be eligible, applicants must receive public assistance or meet income qualifications, making less than 200% of the federal poverty guideline.
“Whatever low-income programs…there are, those will still take effect. So if people are on a subsidy program through Edison, it will still carry over,” said Council Member Ahmad Zahra in an interview.
Even for residents who don’t qualify for discounted rates, costs could still go down in the future, according to Patricia Flores, Director of Orange County Environmental Justice, a nonprofit organization that works alongside marginalized communities to confront and resolve environmental health crises.
“The cost of fossil fuels is also going to be rising, we already see that in terms of gas prices,” said Flores. “Those prices are going to rise a lot more dramatically as we approach 2030. In the next few years, there’s going to be price reductions across the board, not only with renewable energy, but all energy sources, as that competition comes into play,” said Flores, referring to the competition amongst municipalities for renewable energy as we move closer to the state mandates.
Some council members questioned the use of auto-enrollment for all residents.
“I’m not in support of this…I could be supportive if it required an opt-in as opposed to an opt-out,” said Council Member Nicholas Dunlap before voting against both energy plans presented.
With the passing of Assembly Bill 117 in 2002, Community Choice Aggregators were established. A CCA is an entity formed by a city or county to purchase electricity for its residents. A requirement to automatically enroll residents in the CCA’s plan was also included in the bill as well as actively informing residents of their choice to opt-out and return to SCE, or opt up or down, allowing them to choose more or less renewable energy.
The City Council plans on directing city staff to initiate an aggressive outreach campaign to make Fullerton residents aware of their choices.
“Government doesn’t have space to make the choices for the citizen. I think what we can do is advocate for it, incentivize and put the programs in place for it. But ultimately, the citizens have a choice,” said Jung.
Huntington Beach, Irvine and Buena Park are also members of the OCPA. Irvine selected the 69% plan, while Huntington Beach and Buena Park voted for the 100% plan.
“We need to be right. We don’t have time. We’re on borrowed time as it is, right now,” said Jung. “If you believe in the science, and you believe in the threat of climate change, and you believe that we are duty-bound to make sure that people of your generation and younger have a world to live in, that’s functional, then we’ve got to start making these changes.”