WatchSonoma Watch

Study outlines costs, benefits of creating county power agency


A move by Sonoma County government into the role of power supplier to homes and businesses would come with trade-offs, including a higher monthly bill for the average rate payer, according to a report being presented today to the Board of Supervisors.

Over a 20-year period, the typical customer would pay on average $4 to $10 more per month for power provided by the county versus power supplied by PG&E, the report showed.

The difference would be greater in the short term, rising up to $15 more per month in 2017 — the peak year in one county scenario — before dropping to as low as $1 dollar more per month in 2032 under a different scenario.

On the plus side, those higher rates would be supporting the purchase of greener, renewable power, and helping make faster cuts in greenhouse gas emissions than any moves by private utilities, the report showed.

Hundreds of short-term and long-term jobs could also spring from a county move into energy generation. County officials cautioned those estimates were preliminary.

Supervisors are set to discuss the findings today before they vote on whether to continue with further study geared toward the formation of a public power agency.

A majority of the board supports the effort, seeing it as a bold follow-up to previous county energy initiatives, some of them the first of their kind in the country.

So far, only one California county — Marin — is supplying power under a 9-year-old state law that let local governments buy energy on the wholesale market to sell to residents and businesses.

“I think it’s a challenge that this county is up to,” said Supervisor Valerie Brown, who authorized some of the earlier energy initiatives in the last decade.

Chairman Efren Carrillo, seeking perhaps to put the current board’s stamp on the issue, has called the power effort “an imperative” for the county.

“What this report tells me is the program is feasible and that it’s time to take the next step,” he said Monday in an interview.

The report evaluated rate implications for customers under four different scenarios, each with a higher percentage of power in renewables, including wind, solar, geothermal and biomass generation. The two scenarios with the most aggressive renewable push — resulting in more than double the state’s mandated 33 percent standard by 2020 — saw the largest short-term rate hikes with lower comparable rates in future years.

Carrillo and other supporters said cost figures presented in the report were not definitive and would be studied further.

The county’s public power bid enjoys wide backing from environmental groups, public and private sector labor leaders, some former county supervisors, developers and a pair of high-profile Santa Rosa consultants — Herb Williams and Terry Price — who work for the county’s opposing political camps.

But opinion is not unanimous in the community or on the board.

“We need to know the economic impact,” said Lisa Wittke Schaffner, executive director of the Sonoma County Alliance, a coalition of business, agriculture and labor interests.

“We absolutely believe Sonoma County is great about being first on environmental and energy issues,” she said on Monday, before looking at the report. “The bottom line is how this is going to affect taxpayers.”

Risks include a possible hit to county coffers if a program were to fail immediately after start-up and be unable to otherwise repay financing.

The initial estimated outlay of $1.7 million — the only money that would come from the general fund, although it could also come from private loans — has also been eyed as too high.

Sonoma County Water Agency officials, who are overseeing the study work, said a partnership with Marin County’s power program could reduce those start-up costs by up to $1.5 million and annual costs by $2.6 million thereafter.

The Marin Energy Authority, which launched last year, is set to serve up to 130,000 customers and at least 11 of county’s 12 cities by next year. Its $16 million budget supports a staff of six and power purchases of $12.3 million.

Residential rates offered by the program are generally higher than PG&E while commercial rates are lower, said Jamie Tuckey, communications director for the Marin agency.

Billing, metering and transmission remain with the existing private utility under any public power entity. Supervisor David Rabbitt, especially, said he has concerns about the extra costs that would be asked of customers by a public power agency.

Also troubling, Rabbitt said, is the way that so-called “community choice aggregation” programs, or CCAs, allow customers the choice to opt out of any public program, rather than allowing them to opt in.

The process, which requires four separate notices to customers, is standard under the 2002 California law that authorized CCAs.

But Rabbitt said the approach results “in a business model predicated upon a significant amount of people not knowing they’re in the program.

“From a government standpoint, that’s not a good place to be,” he said.

Supervisor Mike McGuire said he was interested in a program with an efficient, low-risk governing structure, reduced start-up costs and lower customer rates.

Supervisor Shirlee Zane said the higher power rates would eventually be outweighed by long-term energy supplies from renewable sources less vulnerable to the political forces that affect fossil fuel prices.

Both supervisors said low-income county customers would qualify for a government program that helps cover power bills.

PG&E says it will not stand in the way of a county power effort. The utility lashed out at CCA programs in the past, pouring $46 million last year into an unsuccessful ballot measure that would have limited such efforts, requiring their approval by two-thirds of voters.

A new state law requires utilities to cooperate with public power efforts.

“We respect the energy choices that are available to our customers and will continue to cooperate with local governments as they consider pursuing or developing a CCA program,” said Brandi Ehlers, a PG&E spokeswoman.

The same state law expanded the list of government entities that can run CCA efforts, calling out by name the county Water Agency. If its work is endorsed today, the agency would study the effort further and come back to the board in six months.

Supporters said they were encouraged that an effort long in the making appeared finally to be falling into place.

“We believe it will pay off,” said Ann Hancock, executive director of the Climate Protection Campaign, a Santa Rosa-based group that has pushed for the power program. “This is a worthy pursuit.”

21 Responses to “Study outlines costs, benefits of creating county power agency”

  1. GAJ says:

    These people are indeed insane.

    They want to spend multiple millions on this boondoggle, and the SMART money pit, but when it comes to fixing a tiny percentage of our roads, their answer in today’s paper is this as laid out in a new article from today’s PD:

    How to pay for road work

    To cover the $4.5 million cost of adding 63 miles of county roads to a pavement preservation priority list, Public Works officials proposed cost-cutting and revenue options.
    Cost-cutting options with estimated annual savings:
    – Terminate maintenance of 105 miles of lightly traveled roads — $850,000
    – Abandon 109 miles of dead-end roads — 795,000
    – Eliminate brush clearing along all roads — $2.5 million
    (Last two options would transfer maintenance responsibility to landowners.)

    Revenue options with estimated annual value
    – Allocate to road maintenance most of an established solid waste franchise fee paid by the county’s two waste haulers — $2.2 million
    – Increase hotel bed tax in unincorporated area from 9 percent to 12 percent — $2.5 million
    – Quarter-percent increase in countywide sales tax, raising about $17 million a year for all nine cities and the county with an estimated county share — $3.5 million.
    – Extension of quarter-cent Measure M local transportation sales tax for 20 years, generating $17 million, with an estimated share for road maintenance — $600,000.
    – Establish a 6.5 percent utility users tax on bills for gas, electricity, telephone, water and cable television — $3.4 million.
    (The tax options, not including the franchise fee, require voter approval.)


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  2. Social Dis-Ease says:

    To Canthisbe: hard to beleive but-

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  3. Jim says:

    This is really troubling. Let the rural roads deteriorate and yet they can pay for a power plant feasability study.

    I thought the county was broke, where do they find the money for this stuff?

    And where are they going to get the material for it anyway? Truck in chicken poop from Iowa or Mexico? Perhaps SMART can start hauling it in.

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  4. Canthisbe says:

    The goal here is to concentrate all power and control into the hands of a small political oligarchy that will dictate to the masses as to every aspect of how you will live (including how much electricity you can use and when you can use it), including where you will live (densely concentrated, near mass transportation centers), how you will get there (by train, bicycle or tiny electric death – trap cars), how much you can make (minimum wage to “Millionaire’s tax”) what you can buy (no fatty foods, light bulbs without mercury or toilets that flush, etc.), how you will get your groceries home (no plastic, no paper); how you will have to sort your garbage (plastic, paper, cans?); what you will grow, etc. Meanwhile, the political oligarchy will live well in their world, not subject to the same rules as the unwashed masses. How has that worked out historically? Think Czarist Russia, Communist Russia, China’s Great Leap Forward, Nazi Germany. Not so well for the masses and, in the end, not so well for the political oligarchy – though they had a good time while it lasted. I used to think this view was a little flaky. Couldn’t happen in America. But before you dismiss it, look at the pieces to the puzzle and put them together and then see what the bigger picture looks like and decide if you like it.

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  5. Grapevines says:

    Perhaps afterwards they can raise the price of energy enough to fund another trip abroad like the one they all took to Amsterdam to attend the global warming conference. Look at how much bang for the buck we got out of that “junket”

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  6. GAJ says:

    I guess having the largest geothermal electricity plant in the WORLD is not being “green” enough!

    “The largest group of geothermal power plants in the world is located at The Geysers, a geothermal field in California, United States.”


    And this was just posted on the PD site today:

    “Calpine Corp. plans to boost geothermal power production at The Geysers in Sonoma County, building two new power plants that could generate 98 megawatts of electricity.

    The energy company’s $700 million project will go before Sonoma County’s zoning board Thursday in Santa Rosa.”


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  7. On To Truth & Justice says:

    Sonoma County doesn’t need a Brown out. Keep the power on and power to the people. Valerie has been reading too much Maxist doctrine again and spouting that old familiar Maxist doctrine. One power plant, one county government, one decision making board.

    Keep the power on and keep the Board doing what they do best, nothing.

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  8. J.R. Wirth says:

    This has very little to do with “being green” and very much to do about “getting green” as in money that is. This is a power grab (no pun intended).

    To look at government owned power companies take a look at LADWP. The politicians in LA are using it as a private piggy bank for other programs. Politicians can go years doing this while the power infrastructure ages, then you wake up one morning and have no juice because the transformer which should have been replaced five years ago blew up.

    The added bonus is that they can channel funds to their favorite green energy campaign donors.

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  9. GAJ says:

    So over 20 years it will take about $70 million out of the pockets of Sonoma County consumers.

    Wow, now THAT’S business friendly!

    Good news is that at least it is less than the amount SMART will be draining from our wallets!

    Isn’t it about time the financial needs of the taxpayer were taken into account rather than the “legacies” of our elected numbskulls?

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  10. Social Dis-Ease says:

    Kay’s post outlines EXACTLY what’s ‘goin on.
    If you don’t want to be on a road to civil and financial oppression, then you have to kick ICLEI out of your community.

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  11. Marsha Thornbrook says:

    No thank you. The Sonoma County government has already been too generous. There is no end to the schemes and plots from the Board of Stupidvisors to grasp more power (a pun) in their claws.

    We have a bloated government which is now over taxing us and refusing to spend our tax money on essential services like road repair.

    We have a Board of Stupidvisors out of touch with the majority of county residents wanting more power and more of our tax dollars.

    Many of us are not fans of PG&E, but putting our power in the direct hands of county government is a contract with the devil. The county cannot be allowed to control this basic service we all require.

    With total control over our power the county government controls costs to the consumers, when, where and how power is to be used and decides what is good for us. A very bad bargain.

    Keep the county snout out of the power tent and keep they from controling the power grid in Sonoma County!

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  12. Farmer West says:

    The Green Initiative I am on is greening my wallet.

    I will opt out.

    Thank you Supervisor Rabbitt for at least questioning staff.

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  13. Unfounded Speculation says:

    Whenever you see the term ‘Green House Gas Reduction’ think quality of life reduction.
    Because that is exactly what the ‘global warming’ lie was DESIGNED to do.
    OPPRESS(impoverish-same thing).
    The biggest cause of ‘global warming’ is government grants.
    The smartest scientists in the world agree, and have all signed a report saying so.
    A lie used as an instrument of oppression by the New World Order(A21).
    In the wake of a deliberate municipal impoverishment, the grant money leverage has been used to great effect through ICLEI, it’s local implementation arm.
    Climate Protection Agency is another installed NGO who’s purpose is to reiterate the lie.

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  14. Frank says:

    Government is the biggest waste on energy.

    it takes ten times the energy to produce a CFL curly-q lite bulb vs a standard bulb

    were are the CFLs made?

    CFLs have mercury, yet envoirnmentalist/government forced this on the rate payers.

    CFLs require a drop off to a hazmat site does anybody know how much energy is used to house spent/recycle mercury bulbs

    so now we want the green energy government to run a program for us taxpayers

    sad part, Sonoma County will vote in favor of this waste
    oh and has anybody red the story on Sylandra and Sun Power
    you know how much energy we taxpayers would save with less government

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  15. Kay Tokerud says:

    The county has to comply with ICLEI directives, didn’t you know that? This international non-governmental group directs them to lower their GHG emissions. Valerie Brown is on the national board of ICLEI USA and has done everything in her power to follow their program including busting up our county’s roads. It’s all to implement smartgrowth, the development style being imposed by the United Nations Agenda 21 Sustainable Development model. Hijacking our power supply fits in exactly with ICLEI directives. They will determine that energy supplies will have to be ‘renewables’ that will substantially jack up costs to the consumer.

    ICLEI’s five milestones have been met according to the SC board of Supervisors. They voted to give themselves an award for meeting the five objectives.

    Five ICLEI things they’ve done:
    1- Started the Property Assessed Clean Energy program. ICLEI is lobbying for the county’s lawsuit against federal mortgage holders that don’t want their loans to be subordinated to green energy loans. Bob Dole, Tax Collector, lobbied hard for this and now is in the green loan business.

    2-Made draconian new land use rules disallowing most development in rural areas in their latest General plan. The restrictions fill a three inch thich land use section.

    3-Pushed through the Smart train tax. Valerie Brown is the head of Smart now.

    4-Voted to not maintain 85% of county roads.

    5-Pushed through the Open space tax.

    Also underway is the proposed ONEBAYAREA plan where transportation funds are used to support smargrowth. Property rights will be severely restricted in most areas of cities if this is imposed. If cities want this money they will have to agree to restrict development to only very small areas of their city. This plan is being coordinated by ICLEI too.

    The worst thing that will be coming along with the county energy business will be how they use it to punish those who use ‘too much’ energy by charging them a lot more (tiered rates) and then using that money to incentivize solar installations. Rates will be manipulated to the point where people will have no choice but to cooperate and buy expensive solar panels, furnaces, new appliances and all the rest. The CCA will give the county the right to set rates however they want. Private investors, banks, organized labor, vendors, and the politically well-connected are lined up waiting to take part in the profits that will come from manipulations of the energy markets. How high can energy prices go? We will see. When will the voters realize what they are voting for? Do some research, please.

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  16. Reality Check says:

    All the cost estimates should be taken as seriously as the public has learned to take SMART numbers.

    Across Northern California we are in the process of undermining PG&E. That’s not a problem if we understand the consequences of what we’re doing. But we don’t.

    PG&E is obligated to provide power to rural areas at the same price it provides it to cities, which are much cheaper to serve. If local government keeps on taking away the heart of its business, eventually PG&E won’t be able to meet its service obligations to rural areas, at least not at current prices. Do we care?

    The county has huge budget problems and unfunded pension obligations that it should address before taking on any complex projects with many unknowns. It reflects politicians who’d rather dazzle voters than address today’s problems.

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  17. Money Grubber says:

    Cost? Huge.

    Benefit? Plenty of benefits. To public workers. Otherwise, none.

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  18. brown act Jack says:

    Another green program that will cut GHG’s , (but, of course,not China’s or India’s which will continue to load the air that comes to us from that area), but , hey, it is green jobs, isn’t it?

    Wait, did you notice it didn’t say anything about hdyroelectric which is where PG&E be a lot of their power?

    So, we will be paying for local power supply using green power, pay more, and cut the usage of hydroelectric power.

    But the politicans don’t care about what we pay, as long as they can get more money from the ratepayers and provide nice amounts of money to distibute to their friends.

    Green government in action, a recipe for disaster for the public, and more money for the plutocrats! Is that not so?

    After all , what is another $180 a year to the citizens.

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  19. TheUnObserver says:

    I say we dam the Russian River just above Cloverdale and build a Hydroelectric plant!

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  20. David says:

    “Over a 20-year period, the typical customer would pay on average $4 to $10 more per month for power provided by the county versus power supplied by PG&E, the report showed.”

    Like every government estimate, you can triple or quadruple these figures and then probably be under the actual final cost to the consumer (taxpayer).

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  21. Jim says:

    “The initial estimated outlay of $1.7 million — the only money that would come from the general fund, although it could also come from private loans — has also been eyed as too high.”

    Well, we all know the government estimates are always spot on. And we also know how much extra money the county has to spend. All of us county citizens definitely have EXTRA money laying around to pay for higher energy bills. So I say, let’s go for it.

    More county jobs. More county liabilities (i.e. pensions), unfunded of course. But hey, we get “green” energy and a “reduction of greenhouse gases”.

    Another joke. Can’t those in county government realize that they are freaking broke and just do nothing but run the current overspending, rather than constantly make it worse??

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