Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors

Paul Wellman

Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors

Is an Alternative Energy Choice Too Expensive for Santa Barbara?

A study on the prospect of government-run energy in Santa Barbara, Ventura, and San Luis Obispo counties found the program would not be economically feasible. “We’re different,” Jen Cregar, project supervisor with Energy & Sustainability Initiatives, told the Santa Barbara County supervisors. “We are not the same as everyone else.”

Though the so-called Community Choice Energy program would result in lower greenhouse-gas emissions, Santa Barbara customers could expect their electricity bills to be $16-$23 more every month, the study found. Part of the problem, Cregar explained, is that the region has two electricity providers, Southern California Edison and PG&E, each with different rates and billing systems. But the majority of the supervisors were not convinced and voted for additional analysis. “I am disappointed like many of you are,” Wolf said. “[But] I’m not giving up on this.”

Simply put, Community Choice Energy seeks to allow local governments to purchase bundled energy and sell it to customers while at the same time creating renewable energy. “This is happening everywhere. We should not be left behind,” charged environmental activist Katie Davis, adding that many real-world examples contradict the study’s conclusions. In fact, nine programs are already up and running in California. Nine speakers echoed Davis’s optimism and asked for more thorough review of the 2,000-page report. “Rarely do I stand before you and ask you to slow down,” added Sigrid Wright, president of the Community Environmental Council.

The study found that in North County, where PG&E provides power, Community Choice Energy could be feasible. But, Cregar explained, state law mandates that the county offer Community Choice Energy to all residents or not at all. Ironically, conservative North County supervisors Steve Lavagnino and Peter Adam both voted against more review. Adam joked he almost wanted to vote for more exploration so he could watch the effort fail.

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