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Buena Park chooses to remain in community choice energy program

Buena Park chose to remain in a community choice energy program with other Orange County cities.
Buena Park chose to remain in a community choice energy program with other Orange County cities.
(Photo by San Diego Gas & Electric)

The Buena Park City Council decided Tuesday night to remain in a community choice energy group that could increase local use of renewable energy and potentially lower rates for residents.

Buena Park is part of the Orange County Power Authority along with Huntington Beach, Fullerton and Irvine, which is spearheading the effort.

The program is the county’s first iteration of community choice energy, or CCE, which is at the forefront of a California energy revolution.

CCE programs provide cities with an alternative to major energy providers like Southern California Edison, the energy titan serving most of Orange County and the region.

Through a CCE, local governments can retain control of purchasing power, setting rates and collecting revenue, though the local utility still maintains the electrical grid. CCE’s can choose to purchase more renewable energy sources.

While the concept has spread throughout the state, it is still controversial. The Lake Forest City Council chose to drop out of the authority last month. That decision sparked controversy as Voice of OC reported that the mayor has connections to Southern California Gas Co.

The Council votes 5-2 to stay as one of the founding members of the CCE program.

A narrow majority of the Buena Park council came out in support of the continuing with the authority on Tuesday night as they rejected a motion to drop out of the program with a 2-3 vote. Councilman Art Brown and Mayor Pro Tem Sunny Youngsun Park voted in favor of pulling out.

“I think it’s a very good predictor of how successful this Power Authority community choice energy will be because of every single CCE in the entire state ... 100% are saving money right now,” Mayor Connor Traut said. “I don’t even know how you can argue with that.”

Irvine and Fullerton agreed to form the O.C. Power Authority in late November. Irvine has agreed to fund the program through 2022.

Buena Park, Lake Forest and Huntington Beach joined the group in December. Other cities have expressed interest in potentially joining the CCE.

“I’ve been working on this since before I was elected, because I want to create a more secure environment for our children’s future,” said Councilwoman Susan Sonne, who is the city’s representative on the O.C. Power Authority board. “I want to give residents more choices, and I want to ensure we have access to the programs that are going to serve us. So I’m convinced that the Orange County Power Authority is the best option to achieve these results.”

Brown said during the meeting that the city has not been transparent enough with residents about the authority. He said he’s been approached by residents who don’t understand the program.

Brown also said it’s challenging for residents to opt out of the program.

“They have to pay a fee, which is unfair to the public because we forced them into this,” Brown said. “Why should they have to pay to get out?”

Brown also said the state already mandates green energy from the power companies.

“So we’re coming to that anyway whether we join the [O.C. Power Authority] or not,” Brown said.

Park echoed Brown’s comments and added that the city should do more research into the energy market before coming to a conclusion.

“Just like any contract that the city has ascertained, don’t we go through a competitive bidding process to see if this particular vendor is providing good and beneficial programs and services?” Park said. “We haven’t done any of those.”

Park also took umbrage with the fact that Irvine has two board members on the authority while other cities have one.

“It’s actually no upfront costs, but that is at the expense of giving two votes to Irvine,” Park said. “And I know that Lake Forest had a big issue about this weighted voting system. And because it ultimately kind of dilutes the local control of the residents of Buena Park.”

A poll taken by the city showed that 63% of residents, or 182 respondents, supported the CCE and 37% opposed it.

The public submitted 12 letters in support of the program and 18 letters in opposition.

While the letters were not read aloud at the meeting, a few residents showed up to provide public comments.

“Community choice energy is one of the most impactful tools the municipality has to address climate change,” said Jose Castaneda, who is the Orange County policy manager of the climate action campaign. “It would benefit all Buena Park residents, businesses, schools and stakeholders for the city to stay in Orange County Power Authority.

”OCPA offers local control compared to [Southern California Edison]. You can’t have local control with a monopoly entity that serves 10 million customers in the Southern California region.”

Val Sadowinski, a former Buena Park council candidate, said at the public comment section of the meeting that they don’t need another bureaucratic entity in the city like the CCE.

“I have lived in the same house for more than 46 years, and Southern California Edison is my electrical power provider — very dependable, responsive to transformer blowouts and power outages,” Sadowinski said. “I refuse to change and depend on a new entity ... I’d rather stick with the devil that I know than the devil I do not know.”

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