‘It’s in our DNA’: San Diego Community Power commits to 100 percent renewable energy by 2035

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Article written by Deborah Sullivan Brennan. Click here to read this article on The San Diego Union Tribune website.

SAN DIEGO —  The board of government-run utility San Diego Community Power committed Thursday to using 100 percent renewable energy by 2035, in an urgent effort to slow the effects of climate change.

Earlier in the day, about 50 local officials, activists and workers demonstrated in support at a rally hosted San Diego County Supervisor Terra Lawson-Remer, the board’s vice chair, and Imperial Beach Mayor Paloma Aguirre, a member. Speakers stressed the importance of quickly slashing greenhouse gas emissions as the region contends with extreme weather, worsening wildfires and coastal problems linked to climate change.

“We face an existential crisis that is already impacting us,” Lawson-Remer told participants, standing on a soapbox amid drizzle outside the County Operations Center in Kearny Mesa.

The board voted unanimously to adopt the resolution, which establishes a “firm commitment” to 100 percent renewable energy by 2035, authorizes the chief executive officer to take all actions needed to achieve that and requires an annual progress review of the transition.

It sets the board’s deadline a decade earlier than the recently adopted state targets of supplying all commercial power through renewable energy by 2045 and reaching carbon neutrality by that year.

The decision came as California endured another week of record-breaking storms driven by atmospheric rivers, and just after United Nations scientists issued dire warnings that the world is not cutting greenhouse emissions quickly enough to stave off climate change’s more serious impacts.

Nations must cut fossil fuel pollution by two-thirds by 2035 in order to limit warming to 1.5 degrees Celsuis, a threshold beyond which more severe effects are projected, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change said in the report released Monday.

“We don’t have time to wait anymore,” Aguirre said at the rally. “We’re seeing the effects not only globally, with people being displaced, the most underserved communities going without water, droughts in our region, wildfires, extreme weather, sea level rise, coastal erosion.”

San Diego Community Power is the county’s biggest community choice energy program. It buys electricity from renewable sources for the cities of San Diego, Chula Vista, La Mesa, Encinitas and Imperial Beach, along with National City and unincorporated parts of the county starting in April, and offers an alternative to San Diego Gas & Electric.

Speakers said the transition to renewable energy is key to the program’s mission and “part of its DNA.” But Lawson-Remer said it needs to translate that philosophy into concrete steps toward procuring renewable power.

“We’re going to have binding benchmarks, we’re going to have accountability, we’re going to have transparency — so that we can make sure that we’re on track to meeting these goals that we put out, so that they’re not just aspirations” Lawson-Remer said.

The resolution didn’t provide a detailed list of actions needed to meet that target. But San Diego Community Power spokesperson Jen LeBron said the agency has a purchase agreement with Viking Solar Energy Generation and Battery Storage Project in Imperial Valley and is reviewing proposals from other solar developers, with projects planned for 2026 through 2028. It is also pursuing infill and rooftop solar projects on warehouses and homes.

Speakers at the rally urged the power agency to diversify energy sources through local projects and invest in neighborhoods that have born the brunt of industrial pollution, such as port communities.

“Part of the work that San Diego Community Power and our organizations need to be doing is building resilience and locally distributed energy resources, including rooftop solar, battery storage and local micro-grid projects,” said Serena Pelka, policy advocate for the Climate Action Campaign.

Members of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 569 demonstrated in support, saying a transition to clean energy would generate well-paid jobs for its union members and other trade workers.

“Our IBEW 569 apprentices and journey level electricians will have the opportunity to work on renewable green-energy projects like wind turbines, community solar, multi-family solar, geothermal and new green energy technologies,” said Christina Marquez, environmental organizer for the union.

Eddie Price, chair of the community advisory committee for the power agency, cautioned that new investments could drive up already high electric rates and asked the board to heed community input during the transition.

“Achieving 100 percent renewable energy will be costly,” he said. “If we’re going to work on this, let’s work on this, let’s make sure everybody can be involved.”