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Saturday, Jul 13, 2024
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Dirty Work Begins on CAP

Sean Karafin
Jack Monger

Four months ago, the San Diego City Council unanimously approved Mayor Kevin Faulconer’s ambitious climate plan, putting the city on a legally binding path to cut greenhouse gas emissions in half by 2035. Most of those savings will come from the city’s pledge to eventually use 100 percent renewable energy.

But the climate action plan is a series of benchmarks the city wants to hit in the next two decades, without concrete details on how the city will meet those goals. That will be outlined later this month in an implementation document prepared by city staff.

One of the key voices weighing in on that plan will be a working group led by Councilmember David Alvarez, also the chair of the City Council’s environment committee. The group met for the first time last month and has 16 voting members, representing transportation advocates, environmentalists, businesses and others, some of whom sparred during debate over the climate plan. The working group will eventually issue a formal recommendation before the City Council takes up the implementation plan, but members said the exact process is still being determined.

“We’re still figuring our roles out,” said Nicole Capretz, executive director of Climate Action Campaign and a member of the group. “This is new territory.”

Making the Cuts

The climate plan is partially a means to keep the city on track to meet a statewide goal by 2050: cut emissions to 80 percent below 1990 levels. As an interim step, the city’s plan will cut emission levels to half of its 2010 levels by 2035. Much of the anticipated savings will come from regional, state and federal actions — about 7.9 million of the needed 10.4 million metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent.

The plan includes several proposals, including incentivizing walking and biking through land use planning, increasing urban tree coverage, recycling or composting most of the city’s solid waste, and boosting renewable energy use.

San Diego sustainability manager Cody Hooven is preparing the implementation plan, which will address how to achieve various intermediate climate targets, such as reducing energy use by 15 percent per unit in one-fifth of residential units by 2020.

Hooven declined to comment.

Alvarez said he formed the working group to guarantee the city followed through on its pledges.

“I wanted to ensure that we didn’t just forget about this,” he said. “The working group is going to be focused on making sure implementation happens.”

Impact on Businesses?

Business groups will be paying keen attention to the plan’s potential costs. A spot on the working group reserved for a business owner or advocate is still waiting to be filled, but San Diego Regional Chamber of Commerce’s executive director of policy and economic research, Sean Karafin, also has a seat.

“It is too soon to tell how most businesses will be impacted,” Karafin said. “None of these strategies have to come at an unbearable cost to businesses. It’s all about the details.”

Karafin said the chamber will be focusing on the required cost-benefit analysis that will accompany each item before it can be presented to the City Council. Possible costs could come from water rate structures that encourage more conservation or new building requirements.

He said the first phase of the plan, running through 2017, isn’t expected to seriously affect businesses because it mostly deals with “low-hanging fruit” such as landfill waste reductions that have wide support and are the most cost-efficient.

Businesses will also be looking at how the city decides to implement its renewable energy goal. The leading contender is called a community choice aggregation program, or CCA, which would transfer energy-buying power from San Diego Gas & Electric Co. to the city. The city could then buy energy from more renewable energy sources, which would then be delivered through SDG&E’s grid.

Marin and Sonoma counties currently use CCA. They each offer a 100 percent renewable plan along with one that uses more renewable energy than the local utility. In Sonoma, the intermediate plan is slightly cheaper than the utility, which residents can still buy from; in Marin, the intermediate plan is slightly more expensive. In both counties, the 100 percent renewable plan is more expensive.

Jack Monger, executive director of manufacturer public policy trade group Industrial Environmental Association of San Diego, said many of his members might be willing to pay more to further the city’s climate goals, but not at any price.

“That’s one of the biggest concerns on everyone’s mind — what is the cost of power going to be in the future?” said Monger, who is not part of the working group. “It’s a noble, but lofty, goal, and right now we don’t know what that cost could amount to.”

The Energy Picture

CCA accounts for the largest percentage of the city’s anticipated emissions savings, 1.6 million metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent out of 2.5 million, and the city is currently studying the issue. It has also attracted the most controversy. While SDG&E said it supports its customers’ right to choose, it is barred from lobbying against CCA plans by state regulation. SDG&E came out in favor of the city’s climate action plan, but wrote in a comment letter last year that moving to 100 percent renewable energy was unrealistic and that the city would be forced to use natural gas power plants during peak demand periods to maintain grid stability.

SDG&E noted it plans to use 50 percent renewable energy by 2030, which could grow by the city’s 2035 deadline.

“We were the first utility in the state to reach 33 percent renewables last year, about five years ahead of schedule,” spokeswoman Allison Torres said.

SDG&E is seeking regulatory approval to form an independent marketing division that would allow it to speak about CCA plans using shareholder, not ratepayer, funds.

The city’s plan also mentions it could use some other program instead of CCA to reach its 100 percent renewable goal, though it doesn’t say what that could be. If either plan isn’t implemented in time, the city will look into buying renewable energy credits to make up the difference.

There are additional tensions between the working group members’ positions. The Building Industry Association, for example, said a proposed regulation to require new buildings to have conduits for future solar panels and electric vehicle charging stations wouldn’t move the needle on emissions because so few new San Diego homes are sold, in part because of their already high cost. But all stressed that the city could hit its goals and believed in the need for significant emission reductions.

“We have the shared bottom line on reaching those targets,” Capretz said.

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