Nonprofit, Community-Owned, Locally Controlled Utilities Are a Bad Joke

Nonprofit, Community-Owned, Locally Controlled Utilities Are a Bad Joke
A bicyclist rides passed high-tension power lines in Mill Valley, California during a statewide blackout on October, 10, 2019. (Josh Edelson/AFP via Getty Images)
John Moorlach

Sometimes government tries too hard to pursue initiatives that telegraph its supposed concern about the topic of the day. Let’s discuss one of the newer “feel good” efforts. Opinion polls have revealed that most of the planet’s population is concerned about climate change and its potential impacts over the next twenty years.

What is California’s reaction? Encourage renewable energy sources. But this is defined as wind and solar. It does not include hydro and nuclear, which are both clean generators of electricity. And if the renewable sources do not meet the demand, electricity is exported from coal burning plants in other states, thus relocating the carbon output, but not reducing it.

It gets better. Wouldn’t it warm your heart if you knew the electricity you were using in your home came from wind and solar? Of course. You can’t be trendier than that.

In steps what’s called Community Choice Aggregation (CCA), or Community Choice Energy programs, proposed by supposedly well-meaning individuals. That is if you consider members of the East Bay Democratic Socialists of America Energy Democracy & Green New Deal working group well-meaning. Of course, they also advocate for rent control, but I digress.

Here’s the plan. Have a new bureaucracy insert itself between the electricity producer/acquirer and the consumer but continue to use their facilities and grid. This arrangement is guaranteed to provide customers with the same electricity, but at lower cost. Why? Because the salaries of the greedy executives at the major electric utility companies will not be included in the costs. Right. But won’t we now have greedy government bureaucrats to pay, along with a pension plan that dwarfs the benefits given to a utility executive?

But users will be receiving green electricity, so let’s move on. No, wait, have you gone out to the city of Tehachapi via the Cajon Pass and the Pearblossom Highway? How did you react to the wind turbines? Or have you visited Palm Springs recently? Those wind farms sure do enhance the desert scenery, right? Wrong. Or how about taking Highway 395 north just past Kramer Junction. You’ll witness a solar farm like the many famous for killing migratory birds. Oops. I shouldn’t disturb the ornithologists who may be reading this. Wait until they find out what the turbine blades are doing to raptors. But I digress. Did I mention that lithium mining, a key component of solar panels, is also not a pleasant subject to bring up?

Then there is the issue of supply. Right now, solar and wind only produce so much energy. If too many cities participate in the CCA strategy, then customers will be either receiving electricity from natural gas-powered backup generating plants or enjoying brown outs. Oops. Having lived part-time in Sacramento during very warm summers, the lights can go out in the evenings when everyone is using their air conditioners and recharging their electric vehicles.

But let’s be trendy, all the same. And where else, but in Orange County, where the best of the best is located. So in comes the Orange County Power Authority (OCPA). The brochures are slick, and the cities of Irvine, Huntington Beach, Fullerton, and Buena Park bite the hook. And there’s a small adjustment, as working with Southern California Edison means a minimal 5 percent higher cost for electricity. But wait, aren’t Californians already paying the highest rates in the nation for electricity? Oops. Californians are impervious to cost increases and inflation, right?
Wait, some businesses are shocked over their electric bill increase (you’ve got to love puns). This comedy gets better, as prices are now 7.3 percent higher. What if you are running a grocery store with massive refrigeration units? Won’t this bright idea raise the cost of food? The Irvine Unified School District found their costs rise by $400,000 per year. That’s a lot of supplies to be removed from the classrooms, sparking them to exit this “feel good” program. Another municipality, the Irvine Ranch Water District, which historically has been awash in cash, repeated an often-heard complaint that it was not notified and would be turning the spigot off on this draining proposal. Their withdrawal means OCPA has lost the biggest energy consumer in the city of Irvine. Oops.

And the puns just keep coming, even unconsciously. Ed Laird of Laird Coatings Corp. in Huntington Beach stated, “It’s a real power grab, and it’s just creating another government bureaucracy.” That’s what happens when you start with commercial users first. Homeowners get to incur this bolt in their monthly bills starting in October.

Since government has no competition and can always raise taxes to cover for fiscal mismanagement, you won’t be jolted to know that the OCPA is already running in the red. It’s hemorrhaging $1 million every three months. The joys of a startup bureaucracy. Simple solution, raise the price of electricity a smidgeon more so that the overhead of this unnecessary middleman can be covered.

Now businesses can raise their prices to cover the higher electric bills and smugly communicate to their customers that manufacturing costs have risen in order to produce the products with green energy. Won’t that make everyone feel good?

Since politicians are involved—you’ll get a charge out of this—there’s already drama and accusations flying through the air. The four city members have elected city councilmembers who serve on the OCPA board. This means its chief executive officer can be removed at the whim of a board majority vote. Ask any city manager how fun it is to work with elected officials and how they are wise to keep their bags packed.
So, if the city of Anaheim isn’t providing enough in the way of daily depressing headlines, then the OCPA should be a cure. All humor aside, both are sad episodes for Orange County, which has had its share over the years. It must be dealt with immediately. If you want green energy, put up more panels or see if the city council of one of these four cities will give homeowners a conditional use permit to build a wind turbine in their yards. But let’s not kid ourselves about whether we’re getting electricity from a renewable source or a backup generating plant. We don’t have the time or money to endure more incompetent and expensive programs. It’s time, dare I say it, to pull the plug on the OCPA.
Views expressed in this article are opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.
John Moorlach is the director of the California Policy Center's Center for Public Accountability. He has served as a California State Senator and Orange County Supervisor and Treasurer-Tax Collector. In 1994, he predicted the County's bankruptcy and participated in restoring and reforming the sixth most populated county in the nation.
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