Is California risking another energy crisis with community choice programs?

The Desert Sun

Californians have more options than ever for buying energy.

Rooftop solar and batteries have made it possible for homeowners and businesses to generate and store their own electricity. Community-led energy programs, which started in the Bay Area and are now rolling out in the Coachella Valley, have allowed cities to abandon their traditional electric utilities. And corporations looking for cheaper, cleaner energy are increasingly buying power directly from big solar and wind farms.

While those innovations have generally been celebrated for democratizing the energy landscape — and taking control away from monopoly utilities — the state's top utilities regulator is worried they could have dangerous unintended consequences.

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Michael Picker, president of the California Public Utilities Commission, sees the seeds of another energy crisis in the growing universe of energy options. He's concerned about the state's ability to guarantee reliable electricity service as consumers ditch investor-owned utility companies like Southern California Edison, Pacific Gas & Electric and San Diego Gas & Electric, which are heavily regulated. In a world where most Californians don't buy electricity from those regulated monopolies, he asks, how will state officials ensure that the lights stay on, and that California meets its clean energy targets?

"These are electricity markets. There’s no guarantee that everybody will be successful," Picker said in an interview with The Desert Sun. "There's a lot of ways people can fail."

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