Commentary: Should OCPA still light Surf City? Not without major changes 

Electric transmission lines.
Electric transmission lines. Huntington Beach Mayor Tony Strickland writes about improvements and changes he feels should be made at the Orange County Power Authority.
(Rob Nikolewski / San Diego Union-Tribune)

The Orange County Power Authority finds itself at a crossroads. It started with the idea of making energy cheaper for most, greener for some, and offered by a competent, accountable, transparent and local Orange County provider. But since its inception, OCPA has remained in the news for all the wrong reasons, repeatedly discrediting itself and its mission.

Any government organization that begins with serious questions of leadership qualification, basic transparency failures, early executive resignations, city investigations, county investigations, state investigations, grand jury reports and even whistleblower complaints needs more than just a look in the mirror. Anything short of wholesale change shows a rubber stamping of the status quo.

The reason you see the county of Orange leaving, and cities like Huntington Beach considering being next in line to go, is because OCPA has yet to show an ability to even execute the basics of government or make the changes necessary to do so.

From my perspective, just as troublesome as OCPA’s operational issues is that it continues to tout supposed cost savings enjoyed by OCPA customers, when almost every member city of OCPA automatically sticks every resident into a 100% Renewable Tier, where costs skyrocket for most customers who don’t go out of their way to read the fine print and take action to maintain a more affordable rate.

This directly goes against what was, and still is, being sold to the public about the very idea of CCE, generally, and OCPA specifically. A rate increase being sold as a cost savings is a simple bait and switch, and the kind of blatant dishonesty that erodes trust in government.

As the new mayor of Huntington Beach, I am working to find a solution to this mess that first and foremost protects Huntington Beach ratepayers. We have already remedied the backdoor rate increase, knocking Surf City residents back down to the Basic Tier that more closely mirrors our old rates.

Last week, the Irvine City Council voted to stay in OCPA by a 3-2 vote. Huntington Beach, meanwhile, is gathering information as it also prepares for a possible withdrawal.

But a more fundamental question exists: Should Huntington Beach even stay part of such a troubled organization? In this case, there are a few obvious changes I believe are essential for OCPA to credibly continue:

• Whatever the path, OCPA needs to make major changes to once and for all clean up its act in a way compelling enough to restore the public’s trust.

• Change doesn’t end with internal operations. Appointed members who have steered this agency astray from its mission ought to be replaced, too. Skepticism will remain until those who squandered the public trust are replaced by new policy makers. To this end, as long as we are still a member, I have appointed my colleague, City Council member Casey McKeon, to look out for Huntington Beach’s interests on the OCPA Board.

• OCPA needs to do away with defaulting residents to any level but the Basic Tier. That’s what was, and still is, being sold to the public. What’s more, if higher participation in the 100% tier is a goal, OCPA staff can work to encourage environmentally conscious residents to voluntarily sign up. That’s what we were told the second C meant in Community Choice Energy.

But if OCPA remains unwilling or unable to make such changes, the choice for Huntington Beach becomes simple and straightforward.

We’re not opposed to energy that’s cheaper for most, cleaner for some, and local for everyone. What we’re against is OCPA’s, to-date, failed implementation of that idea.

Tony Strickland is the mayor of Huntington Beach. He is a former California state Senator and member of the Senate Energy Committee.

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