California Today: Can San Diego Ditch the Power Company

For the last 18 years, California regulators have shaped energy policy largely based on fear. They wanted to avoid repeating the disastrous experience that followed the deregulation of the energy market, which left the state vulnerable to manipulation by energy traders and caused a power crisis that led to soaring electricity prices and blackouts.

In response, they approved new power plants — more than the state could even use. They expanded the network of power lines with billions of dollars. They developed a system of trading electricity throughout the West.

But the choices of state regulators in Sacramento and San Francisco didn’t satisfy local communities. They decided to take control of their electricity.

Using a law passed in 2002, local governments have been working to wean their constituents off the electricity system run by the state’s three big shareholder-owned utilities to form government-run power programs.  The programs, known as community choice aggregation, are spreading increasingly in California where Marin County became the first to adopt the model in 2010.

One of the most heated debates is taking place in San Diego, where backers of such a plan are touting the prospect of lower electricity rates along with increased use of alternative energy like solar and wind power. That’s a potent promise in a state where concern over climate change and global warming has been prominent.

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