WatchSonoma Watch

Sonoma County may form power agency



A study that could lead to a pioneering new role for Sonoma County government as power supplier to homes and business was approved and funded Tuesday by county supervisors.

The formation of a public power agency could be a key way to boost investment in local renewable energy sources and make faster cuts in local greenhouse gas emissions, county officials said.

It would also cement the county’s place on the leading edge of local governments focused on clean, sustainable power programs. In California, only Marin County currently operates a public power agency under the 2002 state law that authorized cities and counties to buy energy on the wholesale market to sell to residents and businesses.

“This is a big and bold initiative for this board,” said Board Chairman Efren Carrillo.

Supervisors allocated $150,000 in county Water Agency funds for the study and directed the Water Agency to lead the effort involving several other county departments.

The six-month process will evaluate rate implications for customers, financial risks for the county, potential partnerships and opportunities for job creation that could come with any county move into the power business.

Two challenges are clear even before the study begins, officials said.

First, Sonoma County is a long way from energy independence, with local government-owned power sources — installed and planned — accounting for 10 percent of the population’s current energy demand of 350 megawatts.

A public power initiative could boost investment in that local supply with solar, wind, wave, geothermal and biomass projects spreading across the county, officials said. They added that dollar estimates were not available. Out-of-the-area energy purchases would have to suffice in the meantime, they said.

The second challenge: getting buy-in from individual customers and eight eligible cities — Healdsburg is the exception because it has its own municipal utility district. State law on so-called “community choice aggregation” or CCA programs allows both individuals and cities the choice to opt out of any public power entity.

Billling, metering and transmission would not change under any public power entity. PG&E would continue to handle those services for most customers, but power rates would have to stabilize if not drop to allow a public program to compete with PG&E, the region’s main power provider, county officials said.

“(Customers) are going to want to vote with their pocketbooks,” said Supervisor Shirlee Zane.

PG&E has fought CCA programs, pouring $46 million last year into an unsuccessful ballot measure that would have limited such efforts, requiring their approval by two-thirds of voters.

“We believe there’s compelling reasons (for customers) to keep PG&E as their power purchaser,” said Brandi Ehlers, a company spokeswoman.

Environmental leaders, meanwhile, cheered Tuesday’s move, calling it a “wise investment in the future” that would help the county and cities meet their shared greenhouse gas reduction goal.

Trade union leaders also were supportive, saying any public power initiative could lead to job opportunities for their members.

“Let’s get this going. We’ll be there to support you completely,” said John Lloyd, a representative of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 551.

The Water Agency was chosen to lead the study effort because it is a large local power producer and consumer, operating solar and hydropower projects and buying electricity on the wholesale market. The agency could not be a customer under any eventual county deal, but it could be a power provider or a contracted administrator, agency officials said.

Supervisors will return to the issue after the study is completed.

22 Responses to “Sonoma County may form power agency”

  1. WoolseyMammoth says:

    We are EVER closer to the incompetance level of the former Soviet Union, just look at the Water Agency and you will see, brown nosing incompetance will take anyone with a failed education a long way!

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  2. Phil Maher says:

    Can you just hear it now? “Conserve energy to save money…oh wait, you conserved too much, your rates are going up”, or, “Our wave generators are coming in over budget.” It’s not leadership and innovation, it’s just an incredibly expensive comedy show. For a mere $75k, I’ll solve all your problems: Good ideas and stupidity are mutually exclusive. Stop trying to combine them. Where do I send the bill?

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  3. Frank says:

    a bunch of liberal arts supervisors making a decision on another government program.
    Taxes, Taxes, Taxes.
    those with solar panel on there roofs please step forward, i have a sign for you

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  4. NOTUTOO says:

    Solar, wind, wave and biomass don’t even exist on a realistic scale. If these were viable solutions then private indutries would be all over it. It’s still mostly research with some limited commercial viability that mostly has some kind of government subsidy. Some of them are promising, others are years off. Does anybody really think that there are going to be wave machine farms off the coast or wind turbines in the hills of Petaluma? You would end up in court battling the Sierra Club Law Firm and the County knows it. This is more about “power” than energy.

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  5. Fiscal Conservative says:


    Sonoma County can not clean out drainage ditches,operate a garbage dump or maintain the existing infastructure, Why in the world would anyone make the assumption the County has the ability to operate a a electrical powerplant(s).

    The truth is our electricity is sustainible. It comes from the Gysers geothermal plants that reuse city watewater to recharge the steam.

    I see this as nothing more than a power and control issue. Something this large should have been put to a public vote.

    One thing is for sure, we need to remove our current County supervisors at the next vote.

    I think Kay Tokerud sumed up the direction this county is headed. Views like this seemed extreme back in the 90′s when this was coming about. Now they are mainstream and supported by the actions of our local government.

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  6. Reality Check says:

    If putting solar panels on rooftops saved money, people would do so without requiring a tax subsidy. The economics of solar power is not a mystery, however much proponents disguise its costs.

    PG&E has a monopoly that comes with an expensive obligation: to provide power to widely separated small towns in northern California. It charges rural customers the same price as urban customers, despite the higher costs of providing service to rural areas.

    If too many areas opt out of PG&E, then this arrangement collapses. Either power prices to rural areas rise significantly or we all face a “universal service” tax to subsidize the arrangement.

    I’m afraid when Sonoma County officials promote their power plan the full costs won’t be known until it’s too late. Nothing surprisingly about that.

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  7. Skippy says:

    As long as it makes money rather than costs money, go for it.
    Just don’t go putting windmills everywhere.
    Like ethanol, they sounded great but didn’t work out.
    First, blanket the roof of every single govt. structure with solar cells and reduce the tax $$ spent to light them.
    Replace lighting, curtail travel, insulate. Fix their own house first. Lead, don’t decree.

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  8. NOTUTOO says:

    @Richard Canini…I appreciate and agree with your comment. “We should be concerned about too intrusive government”

    I also agree with “Power to the people, from the people, for the people.” But just as long as those people are elected and not appointed to a committee consisting of the-new-buzz-word: “Stakeholders.”

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    During the 1980′s Enron induced power crisis, public-owned-power customers did not experience the huge cost increases that PG&E customers experienced. Public-owned-power customers in Healdsburg were paying a lot less for power than PG&E customers in Santa Rosa.

    Sonoma County already produces power from decaying waste at the dump. PG&E pays far less for the power the county puts into the grid than what it charges for the power the county takes out from the grid.

    We should be concerned about too intrusive government. However if this is done right, it can be a good thing.

    Power to the people, from the people, for the people

    Richard Canini Civil Engineer

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  10. Lets be Reasonable says:

    I wish that Santa Rosa had made a better deal with Calpine to get a portion of the power generated from the Geysers created by injecting wastewater piped up there from the Laguna Treatment Plant…

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  11. Rosa Koire says:

    The Ministry of Propaganda is at work. Have you noticed that the Water Agency is administering this? Wonder why?

    When I reported Michael Allen to the FPPC for taking money from the Water Agency to influence the city of Santa Rosa, I also reported the two top people at the Water Agency. What happened with that investigation? Nothing. Were they guilty of buying influence? Yes.

    Here’s what’s interesting. The Water Agency was paying Michael Allen (nearly $100,000) for something that really was not necessary–a zone change that probably would have happened anyway. So the question was: Why would the Water Agency give him money? He was working for Senator Pat Wiggins, who had Alzheimers. Did he write the legislation that put the Water Agency in control of a massive program that REQUIRED every building in Sonoma County to have solar water heaters? They were going to be able to raise your water and electricity rates as a penalty if you didn’t get a solar water heater. The Water Agency was going to control that program. That’s a big deal. When I filed my complaint they cancelled that legislation (Senate Bill 730) on the same day.

    The Water Agency is not run by an engineer. Grant Davis is a lobbyist. A public relations person. That is unusual. Now we see another huge money drain coming at us like the train that isn’t. Power. PG&E still will control the distribution lines, so it will be a new layer of charges—you’ll be paying the County as a middle man. AND the electrical unions, the big backers of Michael Allen, the good ol boy club that stands to make a bundle, is backing it. Do you recognize this same group? They were also the ones to benefit from SB 730, the solar hot water heater manipulation legislation that got cancelled.

    So do you see? It’s the Water Agency, the Electrical Workers, and the County manipulating rates, holding you hostage, and feeding you a line that it’s GREEN. You voted for this when you voted for Prop 16 (the ‘Oh No I Don’t Want To Be Asked To Vote on Whether There Should Be Community Choice Aggregation’ Proposition).

    Got Fooled? YES. It’s Agenda 21.

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  12. Kay Tokerud says:

    Isn’t it ironic that Sonoma County spends money on the concept of sustainability yet cannot balance their budget? Why is that? It’s because the definition of sustainability has morphed into big government that wants to control the people rather than serve them.

    Sustainability was created by the United Nations Agenda 21-Sustainable Development protocol signed onto by 179 nations in 1992. They say it means providing for the people now without compromising the people of the future. Are they providing for us now? Not very well. Are they compromising the future people with huge debt? Yes. If they aren’t accomplishing their stated goals, then what are they really trying to accomplish?

    Supervisor Valerie Brown serves on the U.S. board of directors of the group ICLEI-Sustainable Development, an international NGO that works to influence policy to conform to the tenets of UN Agenda 21. Don’t believe it? A quick Google search confirms this. Sonoma County is paying ICLEI for consulting (over $83,000) and is a member of that group paid with taxpayer money.

    Sonoma County spends a lot of money working on conforming to the international plan which does not respect the U.S. Constitution or the Bill of Rights. In the end game, we will no longer be a sovereign nation but will be merged into larger regions of control. Our currency will be replaced with a new currency. Housing will all be government controlled. Property rights will be gone. As I observe the actions taken by the county supervisors, it is clear that they are no longer working for us but rather an ideology that includes lowering our standards of living in the name of social justice. For the record, I am a Democrat and have been for 40 years.

    We’re in the 19th year of Agenda 21 and it’s happening fast now. It’s practically all they work on anymore. Ending maintenance of county roads, mandatory green retrofits, well-monitoring and metering, septic tank inspections, Smart Meters, Smartgrowth, pedestrian friendly, bike friendly, sustainable, green, open space, wildlife corridors, creek paths, redevelopment, amnesty for undocumented, socialized healthcare, general plans, formed-based zoning, the list goes on. All of it is part of their international agenda in which Americans will lose. We can stop this if we want but you have to know what is going on first.

    Social Justice means socialism or communism. Individual liberties must give way to the collective, they say. According to the United Nations, we are too rich, too fat, too free, have too many rights and must be brought down to the lower standards equal to that of most other countries. In other words, we are to become peasants washing our clothes by hand. Think it’s cool? Try it for a month.

    The United Nations says that rich Americans are responsible for the poverty in other nations. The fake goal of the UN is to end poverty in the world. The real goal is that we are all living in poverty except the rich elites who are implementing the UN’s Agenda 21 program.

    The last election shows that many Americans are not happy with our leadership and do not support the direction they are taking us in. We need to vote out the U.N.-Americans and get back to our Constitutional system of individual liberties.

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  13. More of the same says:

    More control, more gouging, more Agenda 21.

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  14. NOTUTOO says:

    “The formation of a public power agency could be a key way to boost investment in local renewable energy sources and make faster cuts in local greenhouse gas emissions, county officials said.”

    “It would also cement the county’s place on the leading edge of local governments focused on clean, sustainable power programs.”

    “that would help the county and cities meet their shared greenhouse gas reduction goal.”

    I’m am so sick and tired of hearing about reducing greenhouse gas and sustainable power program nonsense. Should government even be in the energy business? Did your supervisor ask you if you wanted Sonoma County to pursue this…Mine didn’t ask me. Does anybody realize that China is responsible for 29% of Northern California air pollution? http://blogs.wsj.com/chinarealtime/2010/12/01/california-pollution-made-in-china/

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  15. Greg Karraker says:

    What a wonderful concept.

    The people who want to let 90% of Sonoma County’s roads devolve into mud ruts, and plan to deliver about half of the SMART Train they gulled us into supporting, now want to go into the energy business.

    I’m giddy with glee imagining how green this county will be when electricity only travels 55% of the way to our wall sockets.

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  16. FedUp says:

    @Waitasec: If even some of the Utopian boondoggles the government fostered off as an “investment in the future” delivered as promised, they’d be sending us a dividend check instead of a tax bill.

    Wake up. Government is the problem, not the solution.

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  17. Skippy says:

    The naysayers lack money. As do the supporters.
    Govt. has shown its natural proclivities clearly. It grows and grows until it is completely unsustainable, requiring massive emergency funding to avert the inevitable crisis.
    Wanna bet this will become too big to fail?
    Energy companies make energy; govt. makes expensive boondoggles.
    Sorry, I’m not buying.
    I’m too busy fending off bankruptcy while govt. tells me the recession is long over.

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  18. Waitasec... says:

    This is the kind of innovative thinking we need to put us in a better economic position 10-15-20 years from now. This is a management plan for sustainability at an affordable cost.

    The nay-sayers lack vision.

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  19. The Hammer says:

    They just simply can’t control spending.

    And the Water Agency is one of the most mismanaged departments in the County. According to the Water Agency 1/3 of their expenses is for wages.

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  20. GAJ says:

    Let’s see, the County can’t maintain its roads but wants to get into the oh so “easy and inexpensive” energy business?


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  21. Steele says:

    Run for the hills!

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  22. Reality Check says:

    One wonders about a government that can’t fund the obligations it currently has, is cutting staff and struggles to meet pension obligations, yet wants to expand its operations.

    I guess it’s easier to promise pie-in-the-sky than deal with today’s problems.

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