IRVINE, Calif. — Some advocates who once helped organize the Irvine community choice energy program now think it’s time to start over.
Irvine invested $7.725 million to bankroll the Orange County Power Authority, an agency that would sell clean energy at an affordable rate.
Now, some advocates worry that the OCPA will be content adhering to state clean energy standards and have even reached out to potential member cities, discouraging them from joining.
The city previously passed a resolution that it would be carbon neutral by 2030, but it is unclear what its plan is to achieve that, said Kathleen Treseder, a University of California, Irvine professor who was appointed to the city Green Ribbon Environmental Committee.
“It is a moonshot. We really have to push for it hard right now,” she said. “It’s possible.”
But the OCPA has yet to show, she said, a concrete plan for achieving the goal. In fact, the founding documents don’t stipulate that it will beat the state-required 60% green energy standard.
“Most of these community choice energy programs stipulate in their founding documents that they will be 100% renewable. OCPA hasn’t done that and I don’t know why,” she said.
Costs for energy can be wildly difficult to pinpoint. What may be affordable now may not be a good deal next year. Treseder said it’s possible the OCPA could proceed with its April launch to supply businesses with energy only for it to be too expensive.
Treseder, who plans to run for Irvine City Council, reached out to the San Clemente City Council, encouraging it not to sign up with the OCPA. Her main sticking point is Brian Probolsky, the CEO of the OCPA, saying he’s not qualified to run an energy agency.
“If the OCPA Board replaces Probolsky with a qualified and experienced CEO, then I will gladly recommend OCPA to San Clemente in the future,” she wrote in an email to the city council.
San Clemente declined to join and is considering other options to meet clean energy minimums.
Other protesters, including a group of students from area universities and colleges, mobilized at Irvine City Hall Tuesday, Nov. 23, demanding the city follow through on its resolution.
The OCPA has said it plans to begin delivering green power in April. To help in its mission, it hopes to attract as many member cities as possible to allow it to buy greater amounts of energy at a more competitive rate.
Several cities have declined. Lake Forrest, notably, joined but chose to withdraw. The Orange County Board of Supervisors, however, agreed to join last week.
Another member of the Green Ribbon Environmental Committee, UC, Irvine physicist Kev Abazajian, is worried the city’s large investment might already lose money. He doesn’t see how the OCPA’s published proposals get the city to its stated goal.
“It’s certainly not carbon neutrality by 2030, it’s carbon neutrality by 2045,” he said. “I kind of want Irvine to get out of this. We should claw back whatever cash is available and start over if this agency isn’t doing what it was supposed to do.”
While the city may not reach its goal, it also has to account for the complicated energy market.
Now certain city councilmembers are getting antsy. Larry Agran, who has a lengthy record of service on the city council, expressed “grave” concerns.
He stressed greater urgency for the city to strive for 100% green energy.
Treseder believes Irvine could be serving 100% clean energy to businesses by now if the OCPA had a faster start.