Chronologically Ordered LOCAL POWER News Index Local Power's Legislative Agenda, January 2002 California Community Choice Bill AB117 Faces Senate Appropriations Committee:

Control of $300 Million/Year in Ratepayer Conservation Funds Hangs on Senate President Pro Tem

by Paul Fenn

Legislation in California's senate would allow whole communities to find alternative electricity providers for long term power supply, conservation, renewable energy and distributed technologies like solar power, and will likely play a key role in San Francisco's energy future.

California's Community Choice bill, Assembly Bill 117, which was written by Local Power, sponsored by Assemblywoman Carole Migden (D-SF) and passed in 2001 by the state assembly and senate with only one vote in opposition but was vetoed by Governor Davis, has been approved yet again by the Assembly and final Senate policy committee and will face the Senate Appropriations Committee under control of Senate President Pro Tem John Burton(D-San Francisco) and San Diego Senator Dede Alpert on August 12.

Strong Support from Cities, Environmentalists

Most recently, the Community Choice bill was approved by the Senate Energy, Utilities and Communications Committee after strong support from California Municipalities, environmental groups and consumer groups. The bill, which would enable municipalities and groups of municipalities to contract out for energy services on behalf of their aggregated communities, remains unresolved on the issue of whether communities choosing an alternative energy provider will be allowed to access the energy efficiency funds paid by their residents and businesses to the state's ailing utilities, which continue to administer the funds as wires monopolies.

In particular, the City of San Francisco has announced a plan to implement the bill in 2003 if it is enacted. Both Board of Supervisors President Tom Ammiano and Mayor Willie Brown's administration support the bill with local control of the energy efficiency and conservation funds. Since 1999, Oakland, Berkeley, Marin County, a Los Angeles area Joint Powers Authority of 500,000 customers called the Southern California Cities Joint Powers Consortium, and other cities have passed a resolution asking the legislation for this bill, and dozens more have rallied behind the bill in the legislature.

With strong support from a vocal group of local officials led by San Francisco Board President Tom Ammiano, Willie Brown's Energy Czar Ed Smeloff, as well as Oakland Mayor Jerry Brown, Marin County Supervisor Harold Brown, and Southern California Cities Joint Powers Consortium founder and director, Culver City Councilman Albert Vera, Assembly Bill 117 received approval in June from the Senate Energy Committee. The committee's chair, Senator Debra Bowen, promised to resolve the energy efficiency funds issue in Appropriations Committee, on which she also sits. Senator Byron Sher, a key vote on the committee, also indicated a willingness to negotiate on the matter.

The bill ultimately hangs on the Senate's President Pro Tem, who also represents both San Francisco and Marin. The active support of Senator John Burton, a leading figure of San Francisco's political establishment and a vocal supporter of public power, will be critical to winning the Appropriations Committee's support for local control of the energy efficiency funds, which amount to $300 million collected from California ratepayers every year.

For a big city like San Francisco this amounts to $10 million per year; for a rural county or medium sized city this would amount to about $3-$5 million per year to directly fund local conservation programs as components in Community Choice energy service contracts.

On a point of policy, we maintain that energy efficiency and conservation programs are "part and parcel" of a community's energy service and that denying communities access to their own money to fund local efficiency programs would obviously discourage communities choosing alternative providers from pursuing conservation and efficiency programs. It would be like discouraging cities from including recycling in their garbage collection contracts. As authors of San Francisco's H Bond Authority and what will be the world's largest solar power facility, we insist that the senate leadership recognize the importance of not obstructing an Integrated Resource Planning approach to Community Choice contracts. It is time that California bring real reform to its energy markets and put an end to Kafkaesque barriers to solar power, load reduction and shifting technologies, wind power, hydrogen, and the like. We are presenting a solution that works by integrating these elements into a community's service.

The Senate cannot in good conscience prohibit cities from implementing conservation and energy efficiency programs when they contract out energy services to alaternative power providers. Considering that Integrated Resource Planning is still required under California, this would amount to the ultimate in unfunded mandates. If the Senate wishes to pass this bill and allow communities to find new service providers, they should not deny communities the use of their own money, collected every month on their electricity bill, to help pay for it.

Paul Fenn, who authored the California Community Choice bill as well as San Francisco's Proposition H and a plan to build the world's largest solar power facility, also wrote the nation's original Community Choice bill in Massachusetts in 1994 law in 1997 and was a vocal opponent of California's deregulation law in 1996.

To learn more about the Community Choice bill and related initiatives such as the 50 Megawatt San Francisco Solar Power Facility, please contact Local Power by clicking here.

Copyright 2002 by Local Power.