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The Tribune Editorials: SLO County residents lost a chance to save on electric bills. They can blame 3 supervisors

How’s this for irony?

San Luis Obispo County buys electricity from Monterey Bay Community Power instead of PG&E — and as a result, it could save as much as $25,000 this year.

Yet on Tuesday, the three-member conservative majority on the county Board of Supervisors denied that same money-saving opportunity to residents of unincorporated areas, which include communities like Cambria, Los Osos and Nipomo.

So sorry, folks.

Unlike your neighbors who live in, say, SLO or Paso or Pismo, you still don’t have the option of ditching PG&E for an alternative that could net you a few bucks a month in savings — along with the satisfaction of supporting an organization that focuses on clean energy.

Another irony: Conservative supervisors are generally the first and loudest to oppose any kind of tax or fee increase, claiming it would be an economic burden for their constituents. Yet they passed on an opportunity to save constituents a little money on their electric bills.


In a presentation to the Board of Supervisors, energy consultant Mark Fulmer, a principal with Oakland-based MRW & Associates, says MBCP buys power at a reasonable price, has a healthy reserve, and has no debt.

Plus, the county would face no financial liabilities if it joined MBCP, Fulmer said, and it would have two seats at the table: one on the policy board and one on the operations boards.

MRW’s report was the fourth study on community choice energy that SLO County has participated in over the years, at a total cost to the county of $95,457.

The latest thumbs-up review was not convincing enough for supervisors Debbie Arnold, Lynn Compton and John Peschong. Nor did it change the minds of those callers who phoned in to the meeting to oppose the idea of joining the four counties and 28 cities — including every city in SLO County except Atascadero — that belong to MBCP.

One caller described it as “a plan to enslave us.” Another referred to it as a “scheme.”

Please. It is no such thing.

MBCP — soon to be renamed Central Coast Community Energy — is one of 19 Community Choice Aggregation programs in the the state that collectively serve more than 8 million customers.

It got its start in 2002, when the state Legislature passed a bill allowing allowing counties and cities to buy and sell energy to their residents. The power is still delivered by a utility company — PG&E, in our case.

For MBCP customers, the cost savings isn’t huge, but it’s better than nothing or an increase. Savings for residential customers range from around $3 to $10 per month for the basic plan, depending on power usage. The 100% renewable energy option costs more.

But that’s not the only advantage. Supporters of the program praise MBCP’s commitment to the environment. It buys solar, wind and geothermal power, in addition to hydroelectric.


Even if you don’t want to save money or get your energy from cleaner sources, here’s the thing: No one would be forced to buy power from MBCP.

If the county were to join, all PG&E customers would automatically be enrolled in MBCP, but they could easily opt out by filling out a form online, calling or sending an email.

Yet supervisors saw that as a major drawback.

“This opt-out … we know from experience it’s just difficult for people to keep up with things. You lose things in the mail … the opt-out I think is very problematic,” said Arnold.

“We’re forcing people into it,” said Peschong, adding that from the start, he’s always said he would only agree if customers had to sign up for MBCP, rather than automatically being enrolled.

That’s not even a remote possibility; the automatic enrollment system is included in the state law authorizing Community Choice Aggregation.

That means there is no way in heck Peschong will ever vote in favor of it.

It’s disingenuous of him to make that point, as is the extremism of his language. No one is being forced to do anything — except for those customers who would like to switch to MBCP and are forced to stay with PG&E.

Peschong also was concerned about MBCP’s recent policy decision to stop buying power from the Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant. He questioned whether that was a wise business decision.

“That scares me, a little bit, to be honest,” he said.

It should scare taxpayers more than a little bit to learn the Board of Supervisors authorized spending almost $100,000 on studies of community choice energy when it appears three of them had no intention of moving forward with it.

Finally, Supervisor Compton had another concern: She didn’t want San Luis Obispo County to be overwhelmed by the more liberal cities and counties represented on the policy board.

She was especially concerned about San Luis Obispo.

“For the most part,” she said, “when San Luis makes decisions, they are not the decisions that people in my area want to make.”

Yet that hasn’t stopped conservative communities like Paso Robles and Pismo Beach and Santa Maria from joining.

The negative comments drew an angry rebuke from Supervisor Bruce Gibson who, with Supervisor Adam Hill absent, was MBCP’s lone supporter on the board.

“In the history of this board making poorly reasoned decisions, I don’t think I have ever seen a day where flimsier excuses were used to deny the residents of this county opportunity for something that’s going to benefit them,” he said.

Supervisor Gibson is absolutely right.

The board majority is using the flimsiest of excuses to deny constituents not only the right to save a few dollars on their power bills, but also the right to something more fundamental — the opportunity to choose.

Board members pandered to their conservative base, and completely turned their backs on their other constituents.

They also missed an opportunity to help meet environmental goals by joining an organization that prioritizes clean energy.

The door isn’t completely closed; San Luis Obispo County could still join at a later date. So could the city of Atascadero.

Residents who want the right to choose their power provider — just like their neighbors in surrounding cities — should let the three county supervisors and the Atascadero City Council know this is a priority.

If officials still don’t listen, voters should exercise their power to choose when elections roll around.

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