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Santa Barbara Gives Community Energy Plan Another Look, Pursues Local Energy Plan

The Santa Barbara City Council on Tuesday voted to take another look at the costly Community Choice Energy plan, and also develop a local strategic energy plan to help increase renewable energy options.

The vote was 5-1, with councilman Frank Hotchkiss voting No. Mayor Helene Schneider was absent.

“This is the right direction,” said Councilman Gregg Hart. “We need to pursue both of the things at the same time.”

Hart said the end game is clear.

“We need to have energy created on the South Coast, energy that is renewable, clean, non-polluting and cheap for customers,” Hart said. “We need to achieve the goal that we have, to provide distributed local energy on the south coast. We have to figure out how to do that.”

It will cost the city about $15,000 to have the feasibility study re-examined by the Advisory Working Group’s selected consultant, and up to $50,000 to procure the services of another peer reviewer to look at the possibilities.

A study involving 11 jurisdictions across the Tri-Counties found that a regional community choice energy program is not viable because it would not be financially competitive with Southern California Edison.

Community Choice Energy allows the state's cities and counties to choose their sources of electrical power and to set their own rates. The program’s goal is to give consumers a more competitive rate and greener options, than what the large utility companies provide.

The local governments could purchase electricity from renewable sources, and they would be delivered through existing utility transmission lines.

Nine Community Choice Energy programs are operating in the state. But the local study found that a regional or stand-alone Santa Barbara program would not provide competitive rates or remain financially solvent.

Although other CCE programs exist throughout the state, Santa Barbara is unique because of its location, and because residents get their power from both Southern California Edison and Pacific Gas & Electric.

In addition to taking another look at the plan, the council plans to develop an Energy Strategic Plan for the city.

The plan would identify and aggregate critical parcel, financial and technical data as well as develop site-specific conceptual plans that would position the city to respond to opportunities for funding and development of generation, storage or efficiency opportunities as they arise, according to a city staff report.

Tom Widroe, president of conservative group “City Watch,” opposed the idea.

“It feels like a scam to me,” Widroe said. “What is the outcry for this. This doesn’t seem to make financial sense at all. It just seems like a bad idea to have staff go back and look at it again.

Councilman Hotchkiss was the sole no vote.

He put Matt Fore, senior assistant to the city administrator, on the spot, asking how much time he has spent work on the CCE project. Fore responded about “two years.”

“You are a bright guy,” Hotchkiss said. “Why would you put more of your time and energy on this when you have other things to do?”

Fore said it was a council policy decision on whether to move forward.

“You have done a huge amount of work here and it is hard for me to shoot it down, which I won’t, but I don’t think you should do much more,” said Hotchkiss, who is running for mayor. “We are trying to push water up hill, and I understand it is a political choice, but not one I would make.”

Murillo, another mayoral candidate, responded directly to Hotchkiss at the meeting.

“The CCE is worth pursuing, Mr. Hotchkiss,” Murillo said. “It was a huge part of our climate-change action plan. The community is very excited about renewable energy.”

Noozhawk staff writer Joshua Molina can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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