Lake Forest, Buena Park Join Growing Community Energy Program

December 17, 2020 Updated: December 17, 2020

The cities of Lake Forest and Buena Park have joined Huntington Beach by voting to become part of a new community program that aims to lower energy costs for residents in Orange County, California.

City councils in Lake Forest and Buena Park both voted 4-1 on Dec. 15 to join the group, while the Huntington Beach City Council unanimously opted to join five days earlier.

The cities will join Irvine and Fullerton as founding members of the “Orange County Power Authority,” a community choice aggregation program that aims to reduce utility costs for member residents by banding together to buy and sell energy, instead of buying it directly from Southern California Edison (SCE). The community choice energy program allows customers to choose between a utility provider such as SCE or from the public option.

Additional Orange County cities have expressed interest in joining the group, including Aliso Viejo, Placentia, Santa Ana, Stanton, and Villa Park—but unless they join by Dec. 31, they will be forced to wait another year, according to the state’s Public Utilities Commission.

The City of Irvine, which is spearheading and funding the movement, created the program to offer county residents renewable power options while lowering the cost of energy by about 2 percent. The reduction was determined by “using extremely conservative modeling parameters,” according to a feasibility study released by the city.

As the pioneering agency, Irvine has proposed paying $2.7 million for initial agency costs, and taking out a loan for $8 million to $17 million after that for startup costs, with participating cities repaying Irvine for the loan starting in 2026.

City Representatives Speak Out

Huntington Beach, which voted to join Dec. 10, nominated Councilmember Mike Posey to represent the city on the board. Posey, who has announced his candidacy for the soon-to-be-vacated District 2 seat on the Orange County Board of Supervisors, told the Epoch Times that he favors “community choice energy” because it offers options to the consumer.

“Having single-source [energy] from an investor-owned utility gives you really one choice or no choices,” said Posey.

“So this gives you a choice of energy supply, and also gives you a menu of options of how invested that consumer or business wants to be in conventional energy supply or renewable energy supply.”

Posey also said that the savings could attract certain businesses to come to one city over another, based on involvement with community choice energy.

“For cities that are members … it gives them another tool in their toolbox to attract business,” he said. He added that the estimated savings of around 2 percent “could be part of the decision-making process” that is used by an energy consuming business to “choose one city over the other, if they can save money on energy.”

“Two percent doesn’t mean much when your electric bill is $75 a month, but it means a lot if your bill is $40,000 a month,” Posey said.

Lake Forest Councilman Scott Voigts, who was chosen to represent the city on the board, said during his city’s Dec. 15 council meeting that he favors community choice energy and believes it’s the future—but has heard others say that savings could be less than 1 percent.

“I think it’s important that we stay competitive with the surrounding cities, and Irvine being one of those cities, it gives me a sense of some security, in that their rates are not going to be any higher or any lower than ours,” Voigts said.

The Group Takes Shape

The Orange County Power Authority held a special meeting Dec. 16 to swear in Molly Perry, the Irvine city clerk, as the authority’s acting secretary, as well as board members from Huntington Beach, Lake Forest, and Buena Park. Irvine Councilman Mike Carroll was named the group’s chair.

Irvine resident Ayn Craciun said during the public comments portion of the meeting that she thinks having a choice in energy will make a difference.

“I think today is a great day for Orange County and for my city in particular, Irvine,” Craciun said, adding that she was grateful that the new group was “finally bringing competition and choice to the Orange County marketplace.”

Craciun commented that SCE had raised rates “every year for the last 15 years,” and planned to raise them again by 14.4 percent next year.

“I think it’s clear it’s time for a choice,” she said. “I think it’s also exciting to consider what these savings will mean for our struggling families, for businesses large and small, and for our local economy, especially during these difficult times.”

However, not all citizens were in favor of joining the group. The dissenting votes on the Lake Forest and Buena Park city councils cited the desire for an independent review and the high number of unknowns respectively for voting against joining.

Though the Huntington Beach City Council voted unanimously to join the energy program, Casey McKeon, a member of the city’s Finance Commission, expressed dismay during the Dec. 10 council meeting at the prospect of joining while the city is facing other issues.

“You’re telling me this issue is a priority over dealing with the homelessness crisis, small business closures, decaying infrastructure, and refinancing our $500 million plus in unfunded pension liability debt?” McKeon asked.

But Posey defended the city’s participation, saying officials were still dealing with the other important issues, referencing the city’s new homeless shelter.

“We were elected to make the important decisions and that’s what we’re doing,” he said.

Cities who opt in to the program are able to withdraw by March 1, 2021, “without liability or cost, and for any reason,” according to the Buena Park City Council agenda.

 

 

Follow Drew on Twitter: @DrewVanVoorhis