By Karen Villasenor.

Lancaster Choice Energy (LCE), the City of Lancaster’s Community Choice Aggregation (CCA) program, is rooted in the City’s innovative efforts to promote renewable energy and become the nation’s first net-zero energy city. While the City of Lancaster originally set a goal to become a net-zero city by 2020, as of 2017 the City already has achieved net-zero status, purchasing and generating more renewable energy as a City than it consumes.

“At the City of Lancaster, we are ambitious in our efforts to find and implement sustainable energy solutions,” says City of Lancaster Mayor R. Rex Parris. “We’ve worked hard to implement effective renewable energy programs for our community. Implementing a Community Choice Aggregation program to help achieve our goal of becoming a net-zero city was an opportunity we refused to miss.”

CCA programs enable local governments to purchase and generate electricity for residents, businesses and municipal facilities within a community. Through LCE, the City of Lancaster can purchase and generate more renewable energy for its community than the local investor-owned utility.

“The City of Lancaster initiated its efforts to form a CCA program as a method to increase clean energy consumption in the City. The City was eager to put cleaner energy into the grid, and CCA provided the control we needed to purchase and generate the amount of renewable energy we wanted for our community,” says Parris.

In 2013, the City of Lancaster initiated the CCA implementation process with a detailed, two-phase CCA feasibility study.

Following the feasibility study, completed in the second quarter of 2014, the City prepared a draft implementation plan for public review and feedback that May. Later that month, the City Council voted to adopt an ordinance allowing the City to form a CCA program and submit the final implementation plan to the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC).

In October 2014, the CPUC confirmed LCE’s registration as a Community Choice Aggregator in California.

LCE launched on May 1, 2015, for all municipal accounts, and began serving energy customers citywide on October 1, 2015. At the end of 2015, the City finished the year with a net position of $1.9 million.

LCE currently offers ratepayers in the City of Lancaster three options: Clear Choice, Smart Choice and Personal Choice. LCE’s Clear Choice rate plan provides ratepayers with electricity purchased and generated from 35 percent renewable energy sources while the Smart Choice rate plan provides electricity from 100 percent renewable energy sources. The Personal Choice rate plan is geared towards those who generate their own solar or wind power. Ratepayers who choose the Personal Choice option may sell excess energy they generate to LCE and LCE will offset the ratepayers’ power cost. Lancaster residents are automatically signed up for the Clear Choice plan and have the option to opt out of LCE services altogether if they choose to continue service with the local investor-owned utility.

Since LCE’s launch, the City has exceeded its sustainable energy goals and now purchases and generates more renewable energy than it consumes. In 2016, the City announced completion of the Western Antelope Dry Ranch solar power facility. The solar power facility provides 10 megawatts of solar energy for LCE. Without CCA implementation in the City of Lancaster, building the solar power facility would not have been possible.

With LCE successfully established and operational, the City of Lancaster aims to spread its expertise and knowledge about CCA program implementation to surrounding cities that wish to implement their own CCA program. In 2016, the City of Lancaster, in partnership with the City of San Jacinto, formed the California Choice Energy Authority, a hybrid Joint Powers Authority (JPA) designed to guide cities in California through the CCA implementation process. CCEA’s hybrid JPA model allows cities to form a CCA without the risks of forming a single-entity CCA and without sacrificing local control by joining a traditional JPA.

“Implementing Lancaster Choice Energy in the City of Lancaster was not an easy task. Gaining first-hand experience in the CCA implementation process by establishing Lancaster Choice Energy has given City of Lancaster staff members the opportunity to become CCA implementation experts. The California Choice Energy Authority is our effort to assist our neighbors in the difficult CCA implementation process,” says Parris.

In its three years of operation, LCE has saved customers over $1 million dollars on their generation costs. LCE has also collaborated with several agencies including the Antelope Valley Transit Authority (AVTA) to support their bus electrification efforts. AVTA is in the process of electrifying its entire bus fleet by 2018. LCE is also working with the Antelope Valley Air Quality Management District to expand the City’s electric vehicle infrastructure.

Lancaster has seen positive outcomes from the operation of LCE. A net position of $2.5 million is anticipated for the end of 2017. LCE will also repay the original Line of Credit offered by the City’s General Fund in the FY 17-18 budget.

“Through LCE,” says Parris, “our City Council has aggressively pursued programs to help our community, reduce energy consumption and remove greenhouse gases.”

Sample programs that LCE has been able to implement include:

  • small business programs that offer customized rate schedules, private energy efficiency analysis and localized customer service;
  • an economic development incentive program to increase jobs, attract new business and create local development;
  • procuring and retrofitting to LED 19,000 city street lights, allowing for optimal operation and efficiency of the lighting system;
  • a 10MW local solar project, creating local jobs and development;
  • and transit electrification projects such as the installation of 34 electric charging stations and a partnership with local transit authority to be the first transit agency to go 100 percent electric by the end of 2018.

“By bringing energy decisions closer to home,” says Parris, “Lancaster Choice Energy provides those who live and work in the City of Lancaster with a far greater say in how their community approaches power generation, energy conservation and sustainability.”

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