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Orange County Considers Renewable Public Energy Option

The City of Irvine has officially initiated the implementation of the Community Choice Energy (CCE) plan within Orange County after the Irvine City Council unanimously approved continuing with the program on Nov. 10. This public energy program allows local governments to enact greater control over the energy market by establishing pricing rates and collecting revenue. 

The energy initiative was met with widespread public support at the City Council meeting, including a series of 56 public comments supporting the CCE with no objections.

The program would increase renewable energy distribution to its customers, ranging from 50% to 100% based on the customer’s individual preference. However, the local private utility company, Southern California Edison, would remain in control of the electricity grid and billing process.

“CCEs are the best way to go for our community,” Irvine resident and UCI ecology and evolutionary biology professor Lynn Carpenter said in a submitted public comment. “Not only because of climate change, but also because they stimulate innovation and, in the long run, the economy.”

Businesses and households would be automatically enrolled into CCE but given the option to continue purchasing energy from Southern California Edison if desired. The county’s CCE Joint Powers Authority (JPA) has been tentatively named the Orange County Energy Authority.

To unite cities across Orange County within the JPA, the City of Irvine contracted EES Consulting, Inc. to conduct a CCE feasibility study beginning in Sept. 2018, which was concluded in Jan. 2020. A third-party review was then completed in June 2020 by MRW & Associates.

According to the feasibility study, the CCE would produce an estimated $10.6 million in revenue yearly, and customer rate savings may reflect upwards of 2% compared to private utility energy pricing. The CCE would save Irvine’s residents and businesses approximately $7.7 million yearly.

“The savings to customers under the CCE’s rates would drive additional local economic development benefits, such as 85 new jobs and a total of $10 million in annual economic output,” the study said.

The third-party review by MRW & Associates suggests that to facilitate the implementation of the CCE, Irvine may begin the program at a city-wide level and establish the JPA over time rather than wait for a county JPA to form prior to initiation. However, Irvine has chosen to formally introduce the program to other cities in Orange County to increase rapport and promote widespread adoption of the initiative. 

A letter from Irvine Mayor Christina Shea on Jan. 9 invited all Orange County cities to consider participation in the program.

“I am inviting your agency to join the City of Irvine in this landmark action as we review options to develop a Joint Power Authority and launch a CCE program in Orange County,” Shea said in the letter. “We see Community Choice Energy as an opportunity to bring competition, local control and freedom of choice to the electricity market.”

According to Orange County Clean Power’s most recent JPA update, cities that have expressed interest in joining the JPA include Fullerton, Costa Mesa, Huntington Beach, Tustin and Santa Ana.

“The City of Irvine has received comments on the JPA agreement from the cities of Fullerton, Costa Mesa and Lake Forest,” Mark Steuer, the City of Irvine’s Director of Public Works and Transportation, said in a presentation on the updated status of the CCE JPA at the City Council meeting.

The program was introduced at a Fullerton City Council meeting on Nov. 2, where the mayor was granted authorization to execute the JPA agreement. On Nov. 17, the City of Costa Mesa motioned to adopt the CCE ordinance and negotiate their JPA agreement by the final 2020 City Council meeting on Dec. 15.

Once final approval takes place, Orange County will join seven of nine eligible counties in Southern California that have voted to establish a CCE or are already serving customers with the program.

The deadline for the City of Irvine to file a CCE JPA implementation plan with the California Public Utilities Commission is Dec. 31.


Ariana Keshishian is a City News Intern for the 2020 fall quarter. She can be reached at ankeshis@uci.edu.