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Climate and Environment

Huntington Beach, Irvine And Buena Park Are Moving To 100% Renewable Energy

Rows of solar panels sit under a bright sun.
A solar farm in central California.
(Cavan Images/Getty Images
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Starting Oct. 1, homes in Irvine, Huntington Beach, Buena Park will be automatically enrolled in a 100% renewable power plan from a new community choice energy provider, the Orange County Power Authority (OCPA). Fullerton residents will be automatically enrolled in a 69% renewable energy plan offered by the OCPA.

Most residents and businesses of unincorporated Los Angeles County and in the cities of Beverly Hills, Claremont, Hawthorne, Redondo Beach, Rolling Hills Estates and South Pasadena will be enrolled in a 100% renewables plan from the Clean Power Alliance (CPA). Residents and businesses in some of these and other L.A. and Ventura County cities already get energy through the CPA.

Community choice energy, also known as community choice aggregation, is a model that allows local boards to purchase the energy that feeds a community's grid. It's an alternative to relying on the major electricity providers, like Southern California Edison, that have historically controlled generation, transmission and distribution to homes and businesses.

Why Now

Proponents of community choice energy say the model can:

  • Move the state, and country, toward a cleaner power grid;
  • Deliver cheaper energy to customers, though not always in the short-term; and
  • Give communities more control over energy-related investments through a not-for-profit structure. 
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Southern California Edison will still deliver electricity to customers and bill them. And households can continue receiving their same service from the company, but they'll have to take some steps to opt out of the OCPA or Clean Energy Alliance.

Here's what else you need to know about the OCPA and community choice energy. (For more on the CPA, if you're in its service area, and what it means for you, read this.)

The Origin Story

California passed a law in 2002 (AB 117) that created the community choice energy model. There are now 24 local programs that serve about one-quarter of the state's population, according to the California Community Choice Association.

The OCPA was formed in 2020 by the cities of Irvine, Huntington Beach, Fullerton, Buena Park and Lake Forest, although Lake Forest has since withdrawn. Orange County joined in 2021 to provide services to residents in unincorporated areas, like Coto de Caza and Midway City.

County residents aren't slated to get service from the OCPA until late 2023. And maybe they won't get it at all because the county is talking about bowing out (more on this later).

How Enrollment Works

Depending on where you live you might be wondering: Why am I automatically enrolled in 100% renewable energy?

The law requires customers in the service area of community choice energy to be automatically opted in. But the OCPA offers different plans, with different rates, that cities can choose from:

  • Basic Choice (38% renewable energy)
  • Smart Choice (69% renewable energy)
  • 100% Renewable Choice
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Huntington Beach, Irvine and Buena Park chose to opt customers into the 100% renewables plan while Fullerton chose to opt customers into the mid-level (69% renewables) plan.

BUT individual customers can change their plan at any time.

Customers also have the right to opt out and stick with their original provider, in this case, Southern California Edison.

If you want to change your plan or opt out as a resident or business, you can do it on the OCPA website or call 866-262-7693.

About Your Bill

What exactly does this mean for monthly electricity bills? 

It depends on which plan you're enrolled in. If you choose the basic plan, your rates shouldn't change. If you stay enrolled in the mid-level or 100% renewables plan, your rates could go up, at least at first, depending on how much electricity your household consumes.

You can use this handy calculator to compare your latest bill with OCPA rates. I tried it, and for my small townhome, my bill under the 100% renewables plan should go up less than $0.50 (assuming, of course, that I use the same amount of power in October that I did in September).

According to the OCPA, for an average three-bedroom household using 595 kilowatt hours (kWh) per month, you could expect your bill to go up approximately 3% under the Smart Choice (69% renewable) plan and about 5% under the 100% renewables plan.

About Your Power Sources

You might also be wondering: Will my house actually be getting 100% renewable energy?

Not exactly. That’s because there aren't currently enough local, renewable energy sources to power the grid. But you will be paying for 100% renewable energy to be added to the grid somewhere in California. That sends a powerful signal to the market, said Huntington Beach City Councilmember Dan Kalmick, who's on the OCPA board.

"Build more renewable power, bring more online, build more battery storage that can store more solar, bring more solar panels online, bring more wind, and invest in that 100% renewable because we're looking to buy it," he said, noting that the OCPA is the state's sixth largest community choice energy provider.

For the coming year, OCPA projects that its renewable energy sources will be split about 50-50 between wind and solar.

Is OC Committed To This?

Actually, not fully. Orange County is considering pulling out of the OCPA, although that wouldn't affect individual cities' participation.

Several members of the county board of supervisors have expressed concerns about OCPA's management and what they say are higher-than-expected rates and flawed communication with their members and customers. The board has called for an audit of the power authority and threatened to withdraw.

Kalmick said rates should go down in the next few years as the OCPA ramps up. And he hopes other cities will see the benefits and sign on.

What’s Next

Another question we’ve heard: What kinds of energy-related investments could come back to the community from all this?

Supporters say one of the benefits of community choice energy is that the local agency, in this case the OCPA, can decide to invest money paid by customers in local projects rather than pay it out to shareholders.

Kalmick said in Huntington Beach that could mean things like solar canopies over beach parking lots or upgrading the city's electrical infrastructure to be more efficient. Maybe even incentives to buy eBikes.

Have a question about Orange County?
Jill Replogle wants to know what you wished you knew more about in the OC and what’s important to you that’s not getting enough attention.