Irvine is largest city in O.C. to choose 100% renewable energy
Irvine is now the largest city in Orange County to choose to receive its energy from 100% renewable sources.
The City Council unanimously voted Tuesday night in favor of a resolution, becoming the last member of the Orange County Power Authority to decide its renewable energy rates. In the last few weeks, Huntington Beach and Buena Park also chose 100% renewable energy, while Fullerton settled on 70%. Each city had the chance to choose from tiers of 100%, 70% or 38% renewable energy.
The Orange County Power Authority 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. A CCE can choose to purchase more renewable energy sources.
Now that each of the cities have decided their energy rates, the authority will begin providing commercial service to them in April and will launch residential service in October. Last month, the county of Orange also became a member of the authority. The unincorporated areas of the county are slated to receive service in 2023.
The renewable energy rates set by each member city are meant as a default option. Residents can still choose their own renewable energy rates or can completely opt out of the program and stay with Southern California Edison.
“Today is an exciting day for environmental justice and for the future of Orange County,” Mayor Farrah Khan said at the council meeting. “It’s no secret that California and Irvine are leading the way in achieving carbon neutrality. And I want to thank those leaders who have been in this fight for decades. Your work and advocacy has led to the gains we are seeing.”
Khan referenced that Irvine is quickly moving to help combat the climate crisis. In August, Irvine became the first city in Orange County to pledge carbon neutrality. The city aims to reach this goal by 2030, which is earlier than the 2035 mandate from the state.
As California begins exploring ways to become carbon neutral by the state’s mandate, cities are faced with quickly finding ways to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The issue has become all the more crucial following a report from the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which called climate change a “code red for humanity” that is already being felt across the world and will only continue to accelerate.
Orange County cities have for the last year been considering CCE programs as climate change has become a more important issue for residents. A Chapman University survey found this year that 79% of respondents consider the threat of climate change to be a serious problem.
Irvine largely spearheaded the formation of the Orange County Power Authority.
“Across California, 30 municipalities so far have adopted 100% renewable as the default with their community choice aggregation programs,” Councilman Mike Carroll said prior to the vote. “So Irvine, if we choose this tonight, will be in very good company and will be helping to lead the way to a clean energy transition. We will be setting an important precedent, which will have a large impact and hopefully will inspire others around the state and around the country to follow suit.”
Several environmental advocates spoke in favor of 100% renewable energy at the meeting, and the council received emailed comments in favor of that energy rate.
Many of those emails were sent from community organizations, including Friends of Harbors, Beaches and Parks, Irvine United Congregational Church, Orange County League of Conservation Voters, Jewish Collaborative of Orange County, Roman Catholic Diocese of Orange, Surfrider Foundation and Women for American Values and Ethics.
“The Islamic Declaration on Climate calls on influential governments like the United States to recognize their ‘moral obligation to reduce consumption so that the poor may benefit from what is left of the Earth’s non-renewable resources,’” read a letter from Azeem Syed, board chair of the Islamic Shura Council of Southern California. “Emissions created in Irvine can affect our global environment. By choosing 100% renewable energy now, you can create a meaningful reduction in emissions and provide a strong example to inspire other Orange County cities to do the same.”
Despite voting in favor of the resolution, Councilman Larry Agran also voiced concerns about the Orange County Power Authority. He said that residents had initially been promised cleaner electricity at a lower price as compared with Southern California Edison. However, the 38% renewable energy rate, or “basic choice,” is the only tier that has financial parity with Edison, according to a city staff report. The 70% renewable choice is estimated to be about 3.7%, or $4.25, more monthly than the basic choice. The 100% renewable choice is estimated to be about 5.6%, or $6.38, more monthly than the basic choice. The staff report called the cost differential “nominal.”
“It remains to be seen if there can be delivery on that,” Agran said. “Certainly not in the short-term, but even over the longer term. I appreciate all the positivity about 100%, we’re all onboard 100%. But again, getting from here to there, saying it is one thing, actually getting it done is another. Does OCPA have the capacity and the competence and the personnel to do it? I hope so.”
Ayn Craciun, a policy advocate with the local Climate Action Campaign, said after the meeting that Irvine’s decision was historic.
“Irvine has now joined Huntington Beach, Buena Park and Fullerton and really made history by voting to slash emissions and become the first cities in Orange County to prioritize community health and clean electricity starting this year,” she said. “This really sets a standard for all other Orange County cities. These are exactly the kinds of changes that we need to meet the climate crisis and to prioritize the health of our most vulnerable communities ... Orange County is the sixth most populous county in the United States. So what happens here matters very much. It can really have an impact at the large-scale that we need.”
Lexi Hernandez, organizer and advocate with Climate Action Campaign, said Irvine’s 100% renewable decision will have a huge impact on health inequity in the community by slashing pollution in vulnerable neighborhoods. Citing CalEnviroScreen, a screening tool developed by a branch of the California EPA, Hernandez said that most polluted neighborhoods in the city are also the most racially and ethnically diverse.
Hernandez said there are vulnerable communities in all of the cities in the power authority that will benefit from cleaner energy.
“They have communities who are experiencing really similar stories of environment injustice, where we have really racially diverse and ethnically diverse neighborhoods who are experiencing a lot of pollution in our cities,” Hernandez said.
Craciun said now that the power authority’s cities have decided their rates, the Climate Action Campaign will be turning its attention to pushing Orange County cities to transition buildings from using methane gas to using clean electricity. Craciun said more than 50 cities in California have adopted policies accelerating that transition.
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