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Monday, Dec 4, 2023

GOVERNMENT—Publicly Owned Utilities Studied

Citing “outrageous” electricity rates, the city of San Marcos has taken a step toward creating a municipal utility. Chula Vista may do the same, while county officials have declared they will pay no more than last year’s price for power.

Across San Diego County, local governments are responding in various ways to the recent, dramatic rise in electricity bills.

The San Marcos City Council voted 4-1 on Aug. 22 to create a municipal utility to distribute electricity and natural gas. The council considered the action “to counter the outrageous rates currently being charged by SDG & E;,” said City Manager Rick Gittings in a memo to the council.

As a practical matter, it will likely take years to put the city in the power distribution business.

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The council had a chance, but declined, to include telecommunications in its municipal utility. It was also presented with a proposal to hire ASTRUM Utility Services LLC of Solana Beach to help form its utility but did not take action on that.

The city of Chula Vista may go the same route as San Marcos and create a municipal utility, said City Manager David D. Rowlands Jr.

Chula Vista is investigating buying power from Duke Energy of Charlotte, N.C. and is seeing if it can help speed up plans to rebuild that company’s bayfront plant. The current, 750-megawatt plant may be replaced by a 1,000-megawatt plant, he said.

In action Aug. 22, the Chula Vista City Council postponed consideration of a “peak load” power plant at the request of city staff and the plant’s proponent, PG & E; Dispersed Generating Co., LLC.

Both wanted to gather information on issues raised during the meeting, said a city spokeswoman. Among those who spoke was Rep. Bob Filner, D-Chula Vista. He urged communities to consider local ownership of power generation plants.

The county, meanwhile, is looking at a monthly electricity bill that is $9.3 million higher than it was a year ago.

“This increase is not budgeted and will mean cuts in services,” said supervisors Dianne Jacob and Bill Horn in a memo urging fellow board members to pay SDG & E; only the amount they paid in July 1999.

The board approved the plan Aug. 17. The Santee City Council and the San Diego Unified School District board have taken similar actions.

Another action available to the county government would be a lawsuit challenging a 1945 federal law that, according to Horn, prevents San Diego from buying cheap hydroelectric power.

County supervisors may consider such action in September, Horn said.

The city of San Diego’s most recent 60-day power bill jumped from $3 million last year to $5 million this year, reported Assistant City Manager George Loveland. He said the city is only one month into its new fiscal year, and is not cutting services. City leaders are lobbying for price relief and city workers are working to conserve power, he said.

The city is also at a point where it can renegotiate its 50-year franchise that allows SDG & E; to use public roads. Loveland, who is lead negotiator, declined to provide details on negotiations.

The city is not withholding money from the utility,” Loveland said.


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