By Haney Hong
The unending quest to solve our “first world problems” here in San Diego leaves some of our very own living in “third world conditions.”
Take, for instance, this brewing conversation on something called “Community Choice Aggregation” (CCA) or “Community Choice Energy:” the idea that local governments instead of the local utility should buy energy on our behalf. This week, the La Mesa and Chula Vista city councils decided to move forward with the City of San Diego to go into this business together. That’s more than half of all taxpayers in San Diego County taking on this public risk!
Proponents say CCAs will foster market competition. They say we will get cheaper energy, because the government has no profit motive. And they say it will be greener, too.
Now I get the appeal — as president and CEO of the San Diego County Taxpayers Association, and as a taxpayer myself, I love market competition. As a ratepayer, I also want cheaper energy. And as a person who wants clean air, I like green just as much as you.
It’s true that for some of us San Diego, our power bills are among the highest in the country. We all want relief, and like you, my air-conditioning bill is top of mind every summer. If we have a summer like we did last year, my wallet is definitely going to take a hit!
I also know the electrical energy I’m using is some of the cleanest and greenest anywhere. We the People of California required the utilities to start purchasing heavy volumes of renewables nearly twenty years ago. Our power bills are high, and that’s because we are paying for energy that’s new, that’s different from before — it’s called environmentally-friendly.
Don’t get me wrong: I worry about climate change, too. I was working at the Pentagon when the CIA established its Center for Climate Change in 2009. We in the five-sided puzzle palace decided to integrate climate change into our quadrennial defense planning. If changing ecosystems and weather patterns create shortages or emergencies that lead to war or disasters, I’m actually signed up today as a Navy Reservist to help put those fires out. Maybe we can reduce the likelihood I’ll have to deploy in uniform by addressing climate change.
And that’s why I’m okay with higher bills. What I’m not okay with, however, is getting sold a potential bill of goods!
Let’s suppose, though, that I put aside my gut intuition, my Stanford engineering and Harvard public policy background, my time in the Navy running electrical power plants ashore and at sea, and my experience working in and with local and state governments to believe that it’s possible to get cheaper and greener energy at the same time.
That belief of what CCA might achieve doesn’t change the fact that the people across San Diego County who would theoretically be getting cheaper and greener energy are actually living in homes and working in businesses. Nor does this hypothetical scenario change the likelihood that some bureaucracy is created to service these people turning on the lights and air conditioning at home or work.
The CCA concept is solving problems for the people who are, in the scheme of things, pretty well off. We’re spending limited time and plenty of public treasure on trying to figure out if we can get cheaper and greener energy through the government for those of us with “first world problems.”
We should instead be focusing our limited time on the problems facing homeless San Diegans who are — no kidding — living in conditions on the street that the politically incorrect would say are classic “third world.” And to be fair to the mayor and numerous other local leaders, including San Diego City Councilmember Chris Ward and County Supervisor Nathan Fletcher, I should note they are spending a lot of time on this.
I think they’d all likely agree with me, though, that they would much rather spend more of their time addressing homelessness. And then they could turn their attention to housing problems for their regions and the state — and, further up Maslow’s hierarchy, for the bulk of San Diegans.
This is all to say that we in the community should help our leaders focus. We really do need to have the CCA conversation and whether it can achieve cheaper and greener energy. But let’s have it later — after we find a way to help people to keep a roof over their head.
Haney Hong is president and CEO of the San Diego County Taxpayers Association, a nonprofit, non-partisan organization, dedicated to promoting accountable, cost-effective and efficient government and opposing unnecessary new taxes and fees. For the last 73 years, SDCTA has served as “San Diego’s Taxpayer Watchdog Group” by educating the public and helping save the region’s citizens millions of dollars.
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