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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Community Choice Aggregation: Technologies, Institutions, and Values

  • Author(s): Clegg, Mariah Brennan
  • Advisor(s): Pellow, David N
  • Flacs, Richard
  • et al.

Over the past decade, community choice aggregation (CCA) has emerged in California as a means to shift energy procurement decisions from investor-owned utilities to locally-controlled public agencies. In this way, CCAs use local control and the possibility of public participation to achieve substantive goals such as local renewable generation and cost-savings. While many policy documents and academic works have taken a wide view of the CCA policy movement, in this work I pursue a focused, grounded theory study of the CCA movement in Santa Barbara County to explore the following questions: What are the promises of community choice aggregation in Santa Barbara County, and under what conditions might they be met? I argue that those actors who have the most ambitious and full-fledged understanding of the promises of the movement are committed to generating positive socio-technical change in the energy system through energy democracy principles. I show how CCA policy is currently a disorderly bundle of contradictions, reaching toward energy democracy yet hobbled by structural and ideological eco-modernist constraints. Conceits to customer choice and cost competitiveness that are built into the structure of CCA policy itself serve to undermine the viability of CCA programs and, most importantly, limit the extent to which CCA can engage in local renewable generation. If CCAs are to be used to pursue radical energy system transformations, their advocates must confront the contradictions residing in the core of CCA policy. As such, I argue that in order for the energy democracy aims of the CCA to be met, advocates must use insights from the energy democracy framework to move through eco-modernist constraints, especially by engaging in strategic planning to build local renewable generation early in program design and by cultivating meaningful public participation in energy questions.

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