Opinion: Delays Threaten Key Irvine Climate/Energy Initiative

Irvine residents deserve an explanation for continued delays to Community Choice Energy (CCE), a program that promises to bring cleaner energy, consumer savings, an alternative to monopoly SoCal Edison, and a host of other benefits to the city and its residents.

These delays cannot be blamed on COVID-19 or recent protests. City staff has a long history of slow-playing CCE deliverables, including recently taking more than three months (December-March) just to pick a vendor to complete a validation study of the initial CCE feasibility study (yes, a study of a study). 

The validation study confirmed that CCE will save Irvine residents money on their electric bills, fund energy-saving local programs, create 85 new jobs and lead to $10 million in annual economic output.

CCEs are widely known as being the fastest path a municipality can take to 100% clean energy and have been operating successfully in California since 2010. More than 10 million California electricity customers in 170 towns, cities, and counties are now served by CCEs, with all but one of California’s 19 CCEs offering customers lower-priced electricity than they can buy from their incumbent utility such as SoCal Edison or SDG&E.

With CCE, local officials choose which sources of energy to buy for their communities, such as solar and wind rather than fossil fuels such as coal and natural gas, which are more expensive than sustainable sources.

By now you may be asking yourself — if CCE is so great, why don’t we have one in Irvine already? Well, CCE has been under discussion by the city of Irvine since 2017 and seemed take a major leap forward with an unanimous vote at the December 10, 2019 Irvine City Council meeting.  

After receiving hundreds of signatures and comments in support of CCE from Irvine residents and reviewing the results of the initial $180,000 feasibility study commissioned by the city, which found CCE would bring Irvine a host of benefits, council members at the December meeting voted for a very clear motion by Vice Mayor Michael Carroll that directed staff to do three things: 

  1. Begin work on a Joint Powers Authority (JPA) document which would enable Irvine to partner with other Orange County cities on CCE and return to the council with preliminary JPA formation documents no later than May 12;
  2. Hire consultants to complete a review/validation study of the initial CCE study;
  3. Conduct outreach to other cities to see if they’d be interested in joining Irvine in a CCE program.

Despite the specific deadline from the council, JPA documents were not presented at the May 12 city council meeting. The CCE presentation that staff made that day was not made available on the city website until the morning of the meeting despite a council policy which states that reports should be made available 12 days in advance. Furthermore, the late posting was a violation of the Brown Act, a California law that guarantees the public’s right to attend and participate in local meetings that requires that reports be available to the public 72 hours in advance.

More than six months after the December vote, the validation study was published on July 3. Irvine paid consultants $180,000 for the initial study and $20,000 for the validation study.

While a letter was sent to Orange County cities from the mayor’s desk in January, as of March, staff from other cities had reported that Irvine staff had not provided them the information they needed on CCE.

Similar delays were seen last year when the council waited more than six months after the completion of its initial CCE study to discuss the findings. With this pattern of delay, residents would be right to worry if and when the will of the council and community will be done on CCE.

As a practical matter in an election year, council members may be wise to take action on initiatives tied to climate.

According to a national survey released in May by researchers at Yale University and George Mason University, Americans’ positions on climate change for the most part have not been affected by the coronavirus pandemic and economic crisis. April interviews conducted for the study found that the percentage of people who are “extremely” or “very” certain that climate change is happening has risen to a record high. 

Though survey data for individual cities was not published in the May report, the Yale Program on Climate Communication has for several years released an interactive map that shows climate and clean energy views of Democrats and Republicans in each congressional district.

The survey’s 2019 results found that in California’s 45th congressional district, which includes Irvine, 51% of Republicans and 87% of Democrats believe that “environmental protection is more important than economic growth.” When asked if they believe “global warming is happening,” 56% of Republicans and 93% of Democrats responded in the affirmative. 

Climate attitudes may prove influential in this year’s city council races as political registration in CA-45 turns increasingly blue. According to the Orange County Registrar of Voters, Irvine now has 15% more Democrats registered to vote than Republicans. 

CA-45 spans from Irvine to Rancho Santa Margarita, and voting in the district in the 2014 and 2018 elections was increasingly Democratic, with Irvine as the bluest part of the map.

With the many filings and steps necessary to launch CCE, the earliest that the program could possibly launch in Irvine is 2022. Further delay could postpone a launch until 2023 or later, which is a long time for people with a sense of urgency about climate change.

Members of the public can submit an e-Comment to Irvine City Council regarding Tuesday, July 14 CCE agenda item at: https://tinyurl.com/irvineCCEcomment.


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