Q&A: Why did L.A. County create another utility?

Mark Gold, associate vice chancellor for environment and sustainability at UCLA, speaks in favor of the new government-run utility.
Mark Gold, associate vice chancellor for environment and sustainability at UCLA, speaks in favor of the new government-run utility.
(Ivan Penn / Los Angeles Times)

As Los Angeles County moves to set up its own utility, customers will have a chance to break with longtime power provider Southern California Edison beginning in mid-2018.

The Board of Supervisors’ unanimous vote Tuesday to create the public energy program requires customers to decide whether to stay with Edison or sign up with the government operation. Los Angeles County is joining a broad shift in how electricity is produced and delivered to homes and businesses.

Here are some key questions about the effort:

What is the purpose of the new public utility?

L.A. County supervisors began investigating the creation of a public energy program two years ago and determined that offering residents the choice could save an average of 5% on customers’ electric bills.

In addition, the county said the public program would allow customers to determine the source of their energy. The aim is to focus more on clean energy, including the development of new community solar projects such as solar canopies in urban parking lots.

Eight such community choice aggregations programs are operating in California, with seven more set to launch this year.

L.A. County creates a lower-cost alternative for Southern California Edison customers »

Who is eligible for the new public energy program?

The new government-run utility will compete directly with Southern California Edison. All L.A. County residents in unincorporated areas will automatically become eligible to join the government-run program.

Utility customers in incorporated cities must wait for approval by their local government before joining the county program.

It will allow us to buy and create new sources of green energy while leaving more money in ratepayers wallets.

— Mark Ridley-Thomas, L.A. County supervisor

Who will oversee the new government-run program?

The public energy program will be governed by the Los Angeles Community Choice Energy Authority, which include representatives of the cities that are apart of the agency.

If I want the public energy program to provide my electricity, what do I need to do?

Call or email your local elected officials and tell them you want your city to join the county’s new LACCE Authority. Once your city joins, residents and businesses will receive access to government-run utility power, rates and programs when the rollout begins in mid-2018.

If your city already operates its own municipal electrical utility, such as the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power, then your city is not eligible to join.

When will I know if my city will be part of the public energy program?

Cities have 180 days to join the government-run program, which will give them a seat on the governing board and provide their residents and businesses with access to the utility’s programs and power. Cities can continue to join after the open enrollment period but may be subject to additional requirements as determined by the governing board.

What if I want to stay with Southern California Edison?

You will receive four notices alerting you that your city has joined the program, and you will be able to opt out with each notice, which allows you to stay with Southern California Edison. Notices will be sent 60 days before the start of the program and will include directions for how to opt out.

Will it cost me anything to choose?

Initially, the decision to switch or to stay with Edison will be free for consumers. But if consumers choose to stay with Edison and then change their minds — or vice versa — they may be charged a small administrative fee to cover the cost of the change.

Who handles consumer billing questions and power outages under the government-run program?

Account, billing and outage concerns will continue to be handled by Southern California Edison, but questions related specifically to the government-run program will be directed to the public utility’s call center.