Students in SLO Clean Energy were shown Pete’s Scheffler Solar Concentrator that he and his students have been working on.
In this day and age, the freedom to know and choose what is most environmentally sustainable for our world is a blessing. This freedom, however, may not be so prevalent locally — at least not yet.
SLO Clean Energy, a volunteer-based organization, is working to bring a Community Choice Aggregation (CCA) to San Luis Obispo County. Authorized by State Assembly Bill 17 in 2002, a CCA would enable local choice of how and where energy is bought and foster competition in the energy market.
With a CCA, SLO Clean Energy believes consumer choice would increase competition by motivating renewable energy production companies to come to San Luis Obispo County.
The CCA would also create long-term electrical rate stability, increase the use of renewable energy and create more local jobs. In addition, it would establish a local energy district that operates as a business with a locally-elected board of directors providing direct local control to electricity consumers.
All SLO County homes and businesses currently buy their energy from PG&E. However, through the program — which is already in use in Marin County and Sonoma County — people would be able to choose to buy their energy from local, renewable energy sources at a reduced price, political science senior Carlos Villacis said.
Villacis, an intern for SLO Clean Energy, is working together with SLO Clean Energy’s leadership team to bring awareness to the cause.
“We are currently going from city to city in the county, trying to get city councils on board into conducting a feasibility study and looking into organizing a CCA,” Villacis said.
With the performance of a feasibility study, SLO Clean Energy would be able to look in to where to purchase their energy and electricity locally and how much it would cost.
Eric Veium, local business owner and SLO Clean Energy leadership team member, said the feasibility study will be funded with a “very doable” $50,000.
“We’re reaching out to local community leaders and elected officials and building momentum with the intention towards having a conversation to what a CCA makes possible and if it’s right for our community,” Veium said.
SLO Clean Energy currently funds itself through fundraising, personal contributions and donations. All members of the organization, including those with high-ranking positions, are volunteers.
“Each member of the team wants to see more leadership locally around clean energy,” Veium said. “We came together under that understanding: There are communities around the country and the world that are being successful and are demonstrating leadership and we should be doing the same.”
To create more awareness about the issue, SLO Clean Energy is holding a public workshop on Oct. 24 from 6 to 7 p.m. at the San Luis Obispo City/County Library. The workshop will discuss the benefits of a CCA program and will have guest speaker, Jamie Tuckey, from Marin Clean Energy’s program, present the benefits of a CCA to inspire people join the movement toward clean energy.
Veium will also participate by explaining San Luis Obispo’s efforts in moving towards a similar community choice energy program.
“The goal and big picture is to create a clean energy economy in SLO County and the most powerful tool to assist us in this is a CCA,” Veium said. “We’re helping SLO in the process of exploring and informing people about a CCA program.”
However, common misconceptions of SLO Clean Energy have created obstacles for the organization to get real intentions and goals of the program out to the public, Villacis said.
“Many people come to meetings thinking that the government is taking over our energy choices and forcing us to buy renewable energy, thus making us ‘un-American,’” Villacis said, “when, in reality, we currently lack any choices.”
“We are bound to the prices made by PG&E, no matter the source,” he said. “But with a CCA, people would have the choice to buy from PG&E or from different levels of renewable energy sources. We would also introduce market competition into energy production, thus actually fulfilling capitalist ideals — core to what many people define as ‘American.’”
Another common misconception is that solar power is not reliable or is too expensive, Villacis said.
“A CCA would actually provide more incentives to put solar panels on roofs due to a ‘feed-in-tariff’ on solar power,” Villacis said. “This allows people with panels to make money off of selling power back to the grid.”
The most common misconception, however, is that the use of a CCA would put PG&E out of business, Villacis said.
“We would, by law, form a partnership with PG&E, continuing to depend on them for transporting the electricity and maintaining the grid,” Villacis said. “All the jobs with people maintaining power lines and such would remain untouched.”
“People can choose to remain with PG&E, and many will. … PG&E is at no risk of going under,” Villacis said.
Despite common misconceptions of those against the organization, SLO Clean Energy has recently convinced Morro Bay City Council to look into a CCA Feasibility Study and take it under consideration.
But SLO Clean Energy doesn’t only want to spark the movement on a local level. They hope to go more in depth with the movement by involving students at Cal Poly.
“A SLO Clean Energy club here at Cal Poly would create a good bond with the SLO community, so people don’t think we’re using these four years as a pit stop to party,” Villacis said.
The Cal Poly SLO Clean Energy Club would work specifically to connect the Cal Poly student community with the SLO resident community, Villacis said.
SLO Clean Energy plans for the club to organize speakers to present on campus and raise awareness among other students. The organization also hopes the club would organize teams of students to attend council meetings and reach out to businesses in the county.
Journalism sophomore Anna Jacobsen, an intern for SLO Clean Energy, hopes her fellow Cal Poly peers become aware of the cause and join the movement to endorse a CCA.
“It’s a good thing to learn more about because it is becoming more popular,” Jacobsen said. “Right now, SLO does not have the choice to use clean energy, and I feel students here should want to learn more about what that entails.”
“It’s actually a big deal, and it does affect us because we’re a part of this community,” Jacobsen said.