WatchSonoma Watch

Supes OK study of public power agency


The Sonoma County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday authorized further study of the possible formation of a public power agency.

The board voted unanimously to move ahead with six more months of work focused on what a program would look like, a step that all supervisors said was needed before a final decision is made to become a power supplier to local homes and businesses.

The strongest backing came from Supervisors Shirlee Zane, Valerie Brown and Efren Carrillo. At the end of the hearing, the trio even gave the proposal a name, dubbing it Sonoma Clean Power, the brand originally given by supporters.

“This is incredibly exciting,” Zane said. “We obviously have some work to do. But what this (proposal) does is reflect the values of Sonoma County.”

Supervisors Mike McGuire and David Rabbitt gave their endorsement but offered more pointed comments, requesting a survey to verify that demand exists for a public power bid, and asking for assurances that both customer rates and county costs would be contained.

“Before we move forward on this type of bold investment, we need to be sure that folks in Sonoma County are ready to move with us,” McGuire said.

Among other things, the vote authorized the market survey McGuire requested, an exploration of potential partnerships with other public power agencies, additional outreach to local cities and community groups and further study of the implications for customers and county coffers. County Water Agency officials are set to return to the board in April to report on the work.

The board’s endorsement came before a near-capacity audience, most of whom stood at one point to demonstrate their support of the county getting into the power business. Audience members included at least eight current and former elected officials, candidates for local office, environmental and labor leaders and business and political consultants.

Most speakers touted the reported benefits of a public power agency, including the boost it could give to investments in greener, renewable energy sources, faster greenhouse gas reductions and the possible creation of hundreds of local jobs through the construction and operation of local energy projects.

Andy Simpson, a Rohnert Park energy software professional, called the effort “transformational.”

“The key word is choice,” said Jane Bender, a former Santa Rosa city councilwoman and mayor. “Right now customers have no choice with who supplies their energy. Let’s give to every citizen the opportunity to choose clean energy production.”

Before their vote, supervisors discussed a recently completed county report showing a move into the power business would come with tradeoffs, including a projected higher monthly bill for the average rate payer.

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 higher rates would be more pronounced in the short term before converging and possibly crossing over and becoming cheaper than PG&E’s rates in the long term, the report showed.

The trend was driven by the higher immediate cost of energy from renewable sources, which over the long term could prove more stable than fossil fuel sources, a county consultant said.

Marin County is the only jurisdiction supplying power under the so-called “community choice aggregation,” or CCA, programs that were authorized by a 2002 state law. It lets local governments buy energy on the wholesale market and sell it to residents and businesses. The law allows both cities and individuals to opt out of any public power entity.

Billing, metering and transmission remain with the existing private utility under new public ventures.

In Sonoma County, of the 220,000 customers eligible for participation, an estimated 164,000 might be expected to participate based on a 20 percent opt-out rate, said John Dalessi, the county consultant.

He outlined four scenarios that a county power agency might develop to meet its supply needs. One represented the status quo, similar to the PG&E’s current portfolio. The other three would feature increasingly higher dependence on renewable energy, including geothermal, wind, solar and biomass sources, and would return greater greenhouse gas emission savings.

Brown said if she were vote today, she’d vote for the most aggressive portfolio, which called for 85 percent renewable energy by 2020, more than two and a half times greater than the 33 percent standard required by the state for the same year.

“It doesn’t matter what it costs. It is the long-term greenhouse gas reductions. That is the impetus. That is who we are in Sonoma County,” Brown said.

Zane pledged her full support after throwing a barb at PG&E, which in the past fought CCA programs, spending $46 million on a failed 2010 ballot measure that would have limited them. A PG&E spokeswoman said on Monday that the utility would not stand in the way of any county program.

But Zane didn’t appear to believe it. “The fact that PG&E is out there in the bushes lurking tells us everything. They are threatened by what we are doing here today,” she said to hoots from the audience.

Rabbitt was the most circumspect of the board members. He asked for clearer job creation and greenhouse gas savings projections, and a tighter focus on limiting customer rates. “Some percentage of people are really willing to go deep green no matter the cost, and God bless them,” he said. “What I worry about is that family sitting there at the table scraping to get by. Price does matter. So we need to address that.”

Supporters welcomed the vote but acknowledged that “money issues” — rates, financing, start-up costs, the last of which is pegged at $1.7 million — would all be hurdles to launching any program.

“We think it’s going to come out well, but obviously these are huge challenges,” said Ann Hancock, executive director of the Santa Rosa-based Climate Protection Campaign.

11 Responses to “Supes OK study of public power agency”

  1. Grapevines says:

    Lets just look at what the supervisors have done to the county roads to see what would happen if they got into the power business. Right now they say that they have to abandon fixing certain roads because they have spent all the county’s money on their retirements.

    So what would they do if they were in the power business. Stop providing power to certain parts of the county?

    “Cloverdale, your going to have to accept that your being ushered into the stone age for awhile. We can’t afford to give you any more electricity!”

  2. GAJ says:

    If every Sonoma County resident were dumb enough to opt in to this insane program, and the average bill was $7 more/month compared to PG&E, (the article states between $5 and $10/month more), then in 20 years they will have thrown away about $750 million.


  3. Canthisbe says:

    This had me worried at first:


    Electricity bills ‘set to soar for next 20 years’

    Published on Monday 17 October 2011 19:24

    “BUSINESSES and households across Europe are likely to suffer jumps in their electricity bills for at least the next 20 years to pay for pricey renewable energy infrastructure, according to a leaked report from the European Commission.

    It claimed that average electricity prices would rise “strongly up to 2020-2030”, no matter what the energy mix, while the highest prices would occur after 2030 if renewable power sources make up the lion’s share of the production of energy.

    Average prices would spiral by as much as 100 per cent by 2050 if a high amount of renewable energy is used – as is expected to happen in Scotland, where First Minister Alex Salmond has pledged to lead the way in the development of wind, wave and tidal power.”


    but I know that the Sonoma County Water Agency will be able to do a much better job than the European Union and will figure out how to socialize the Sonoma County electrical supply grid with renewable energy without these huge cost increases.

  4. RICHARD says:

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

    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.

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

  5. Steveguy says:

    So our elected reps want us to pay $15 a month more to heat my burrito.


  6. Really Big Fish says:

    This is where the supervisors make thier retirement money. Another Water Agency to control the county taxpayers. See which supervisor(s) has a real estate developer, big contractor, engineering firm as an advisor, contributor or close associate business partner and bingo. None of the supervisors have the business entrepeneurship to present such a plan. Green energy is just a marketing program.

  7. Jim says:

    Sweet…spend more taxpayer money on a “study” on whether the taxpayers should pay higher rates. Unanimous vote…they ALL need to go.

    What am I saying? The Sheeple are too stupid to vote for someone else. That’s why every city, county and the State are in the mess they are. It is all about “green”, “climate” garbage, etc. Voters are so stupid.

  8. Average Joe says:

    I’m no huge fan of PGE or utility monopolies in general but I’m even less of a fan of local government running a utility and then becoming a monopoly.

    Look at the SONOMA COUNTY WATER AGENCY, they are awash in money, they are doing MILLIONS upon MILLIONS of dollars worth of work COMPLETLY out of their scope every year.

    Why? I’ll tell you why, they are a self governed monopoly! That’s right, they make their own rules and set their own rates for you to pay. It is criminal!

    This is what those 99% fools at the courthouse SHOULD be protesting about. If they had any idea if what really goes on it would blow their SRJC minds.

  9. On To Truth & Justice says:

    The County presidium acts again. This time to take over from PG&E the power company. The collectivists on the Board of Stupidvisors want all power so they can control our lives a little more.

    This isn’t about green power, its all about Supervisor power or government power. They and their band of faithful Marxists want to turn this county and state over. Make no mistake about that.

    This is another piece of capitalism these Marxists want to chip away on their march to a total socialist government run county.

    It a shame the few are able to elect these ideologues who move the silent majority ever closer to the left.

  10. Grapevines says:

    Of course Supervisor Valerie Brown is going to back it. She just see’s this as another opportunity of fleece the public in an area she thought was untouchable. I’ll tell you now Sonoma County, you let them take over providing power to the county, and you’ll never see the end of price hikes for every one of you. First thing is to set some favorite up with another high salary (see SMART Train as an example) Then start studies on every thing under the planet. Let the infrastructure degrade to a point where it’s failing. Point the finger everywhere but inward on assigning blame. And then raise rates again, and again, and again.

    Let this happen and you’ll deserve what your going to be getting.

  11. GAJ says:

    Talk about not focusing on priorities…like pension reform for crying out loud.

    Finding “feel good” things to send money on is idiotic and to think that 80% of the people will opt in to paying higher bills is stunningly counter intuitive.

    Never mind the facts below that I posted in the other story on the same issue:

    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 yesterday:

    “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.”