Sunrise Powerlink
SDG&E’s Sunrise Powerlink brings power through the desert to San Diego. Photo courtesy SDG&E

The City Council gave final approval Tuesday to a 10-year agreement with San Diego Gas & Electric to provide energy services to San Diego residents and businesses, with the option of extending it a second 10 years.

The City Council gave its initial approval of the agreements in a 6-3 vote on May 25. The same members of the council who dissented then — Joe LaCava, Monica Montgomery Steppe and Vivian Moreno — voted no on Tuesday.

“In giving its final approval to the gas and electric franchise agreements I negotiated with SDG&E, the City Council has made a responsible decision in favor of a better deal for all of us,” said Mayor Todd Gloria.

“These financially sound, short-term pacts will ensure continued reliable delivery of energy to San Diego residents and businesses and give the city the flexibility to change course when and if it makes sense to do so,” he said. “I want to thank the City Council members who recognized this deal creates certainty, accountability and a pathway to achieving climate equity in all our neighborhoods.”

SDG&E has held exclusive franchises with the city to provide gas and electric service since 1920. The agreements allow the franchisee to use the public right-of-way to install and maintain the infrastructure — such as pipes, poles and wires — necessary to provide energy to San Diego’s residents and businesses.

The previous franchise agreements, signed in 1970, were set to expire on Jan. 17. Under a process created by the previous administration, SDG&E was the lone bidder for new franchises. Gloria and City Attorney Mara Elliot determined SDG&E’s bid, which met the minimum bid of $70 million for electricity service and $10 million for gas, was unresponsive to the minimum requirements. Gloria canceled the invitations to bid process and reached an agreement with SDG&E to extend the agreements through June 1.

In March, Gloria released new bidding invitation, and SDG&E was again the lone bidder.

The deal, worth $80 million for the franchise agreements themselves and an additional $20 million to advance the city’s climate equity goals and $10 million in solar-energy rebates in historically underserved neighborhoods, also features multiple opt-out clauses for the city.

During the initial 10-year agreement, the city may at any time end franchises to SDG&E if there is a breach of contract or should the city elect to municipalize, or purchase and put the city’s utilities under public control.

After 10 years — if the utility has operated in good faith — the council may vote on whether to extend the agreements another decade, needing a six-person supermajority. Opting out at that point, however, could potentially cost the city millions of SDG&E’s minimum bid.

Highlights of the deal include:

  • Providing nearly $3 billion in revenue over 20 years, including an $80 million bid payment from utility shareholders, certainty in franchise fee and undergrounding revenue — estimated at roughly $130 million annually — providing the city with certainty in funding for essential resident services, $20 million to advance the city’s climate equity goals and $10 million in solar- energy rebates in historically underserved neighborhoods.
  • An “Energy Cooperation Agreement” focusing on environmental and greenhouse gas reduction benefits, safety, equity and reliability.
  • Accountability and financial transparency measures including biannual audits by an independent auditor, a performance bond, options for liquidated damages and increased insurance requirements,
  • Creation of a citizen-focused Franchise Compliance Review Committee, which will ensure public engagement on energy matters.

Heather Hofshi of the climate-action advocate SanDiego350 said her group was disappointed in what she called a bad franchise deal that “spells disaster for our climate.”

She said the group was deeply saddened the mayor and six City Council Members chose “bolstering SDG&E’s corporate profits over a sustainable future that works for all San Diegans.”

Hofshi called SDG&E a fossil fuel corporation that has “repeatedly violated their current agreements with the city, tries to kill rooftop solar, and charges us the highest rates in the country. This deal will not change that arrangement, to the detriment of our climate, our health and our pocketbooks.”

The Community Energy Action Network also faulted the council for not getting written assurance that shareholders — and not SDG&E customers — would pay the $20 million SDG&E has pledged for the city’s Climate Equity Fund.

“The supporting documents published on the city website in support of Item #57 as of the hearing today, June 8, did not include any aspect of the amendments made by any council members and passed on May 25,” the group said in a statement. “The Public had no access to a publication of the actual motion since the minutes for May 25 have not been published or posted as of the June 8 meeting.”

Contributing editor Ken Stone contributed to this report.

Updated at 3:01 p.m. June 8, 2021