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Questions are emerging over how many cities will be left in Orange County’s first community choice energy program roughly two months after it was officially formed in a partnership between five cities.
Earlier this month, Lake Forest bailed out of the five-city agency partnership expected to lower rates for residents through renewable sources and Buena Park may follow suit.
Lake Forest and Buena Park — cities who for decades acquired their energy from Southern California Edison — joined the newly minted regional agency in charge of the program, Orange County Power Authority, in December one day prior to the agency’s inaugural meeting.
Huntington Beach and Fullerton don’t look like they’ll be backing out any time soon.
Irvine is covering the start up costs and spearheaded the effort hoping to save customers money on their electricity bill.
Irvine officials say the move gives cities more control over electricity rates and could generate revenue that could be reinvested in renewable energy like solar panels and electric car charging stations.
This plan could deliver 50 to 100% renewable energy to consumers, according to the City of Irvine’s website.
Buena Park still has a chance to opt out of the program without any fines through a provision in the agency’s joint power authority agreement.
Proponents of community choice energy argue the program will help address the impacts of climate change and lower the rate of wildfires, which just months ago forced thousands of people in Orange County to evacuate their homes.
Critics like Buena Park Councilman Art Brown, who voted against joining the program last year, say there are too many unknowns about the program.
“I still have some of the concerns. Yes, there’s a lot of unknowns and I’m waiting to see what the public thinks about it,” Brown said in a Friday phone interview. “I think that it’s very important to find out whether or not the residents want that before we force it on them.”
Brown said he has never had a problem with Southern California Edison through his time as a customer and pays $7 a month for solar electricity.
“I’d be one of the last people they would be looking at to put us into it but that has nothing to with how I’ll vote,” he added. “I’ll vote on what’s best for the people of Buena Park.”
On March 9 the City Council is set to decide if the city will stay in the power authority.
The OC Power Authority’s “purchasing power introduces competition into the energy market, providing customers with a choice, where none currently exists,” reads a Buena Park news release.
Even though the authority will purchase the energy, Southern California Edison will deliver it to consumers using their power lines.
Lake Forest, a founding member of the power authority, backed out of the program on Feb. 16 at a contentious meeting where councilmembers listened to residents for nearly two hours, pleading with them not to bail out.
Lake Forest City Council members argued that being a founding member of the program didn’t benefit them and that they could potentially rejoin after exploring other options first. Only Mayor Scott Voigts voted to stay.
The Council is expected to vote Tuesday on repealing an ordinance about implementing the program in the city passed when they first joined the OC Power Authority in December.
Hosam Elattar is a Voice of OC Reporting Fellow. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @ElattarHosam.