WatchSonoma Watch

Public power agency up for supervisor vote



Sonoma County supervisors are set to vote Tuesday whether to push forward in their effort to form a countywide public power agency.

The concept has drawn strong support from environmental groups, organized labor and most local elected leaders, who see it as a key way to boost investment in clean renewable energy sources, create jobs and cut greenhouse gas emissions.

But the cost to ratepayers has remained a central issue in the debate on whether to move forward.

Supporters say the county can deliver stable, comparable rates to those provided largely by PG&E. But a county study last year found the typical customer could pay on average $4 to $10 more per month over 20-year period for county-supplied power.

Opponents, including some business interests and taxpayer advocates, have hit on those higher cost projections and other worries.

Tuesday’s decision, set for a 10 a.m. hearing at the Board of Supervisors, is the most significant one to date for the county proposal and could set in motion future votes by the county board and local city councils that would go toward formal approval of the effort, spearheaded by the county Water Agency.

Supervisors are being asked to authorize six months more of work on an implementation plan, including study of start-up costs estimated at $2 million to $6 million — money likely to come from bond financing — and formation of a joint-powers agency made up of the county and up to eight local cities.

That joint agency would be responsible for formal approval of any final program, a step that could come in 2013 or 2014.

Healdsburg is not expected to participate because it has its own municipal utility district. Billing, metering and transmission would remain with PG&E under any new public venture, and individual customers would be allowed several chances to opt out.

The vote follows more than a year of study, including last year’s evaluation of potential ratepayer costs. It showed the difference between county and private utility rates could be greater in the short term, rising to $15 more per month in 2017 for county-supplied power in one scenario before dropping to as low as $1 more per month in 2032 under a different scenario. Actual rates would subject to power contracts, a step that could be more than a year and a half away.

Those higher rates could support the purchase of greener, renewable power, help build and operate local energy projects — a potential source of hundreds of jobs — and help make faster cuts in greenhouse gas emissions than any moves by private utilities, the report showed.

Two county-sponsored surveys showed 79 percent of 4,344 residents surveyed — and about two-thirds of 990 businesses polled — support a locally controlled electricity provider.

Nearly 60 percent of residents and two-thirds of businesses, however, also said they were either unwilling to pay much more, or anything extra, for renewable power supplied by a local provider — a message county officials say they heard.

Supervisor Efren Carrillo, a key backer of the proposal, said the study work — accounting for about $120,000 in county Water Agency funds, plus staff time — represented a careful approach to a bold public initiative.

So far, Marin is the only California county supplying power under the 2002 state law that lets local governments buy energy on the wholesale market.

“Our research indicates we have something good here,” Carrillo said.

But some critics who fought Marin’s program have taken aim at Sonoma County’s proposal. They have voiced concern with ratepayer costs, preference for an opt-in choice for customers — rather than the state-mandated opt-out — and fear of a new government bureaucracy.

The joint-powers agency would be subject to state oversight, but unlike privately owned public utilities, its rates would not be subject to approval by the state Public Utilities Commission. “This is just not, we think, the way to go,” said Cynthia Murray, president of the North Bay Leadership Council, a business group.

The board vote today would authorize about $65,000 in additional spending by the county Water Agency on planning and outreach to cities and commercial customers. If advanced, the program could come back to the board before the end of the year.

17 Responses to “Public power agency up for supervisor vote”

  1. Marc says:

    How about the county get their Act together before investing in More questionable investments. Just look at the roads, Lights and parks that are all falling apart and all they want to do is SPEND more money on new projects.

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  2. Skippy says:

    “So who is going to maintain the power lines?”

    Unionized County employees with fat salaries and unsustainable pensions, that’s who.
    So it will work out fabulously!

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  3. Clay Mitchell says:


    While I normally favor local control, and I’m not a huge fan of PG&E, I can’t help but be skeptical when local/regional government comes up with a brilliant idea that will supposedly improve things.

    First, the projections on rates don’t show them being lower at all. In fact, the best case scenario is only $1/month MORE than current.

    Second, I look at other similar projects- like the SMART train. Their financials, which were touted repeatedly as “reasonable and conservative” ended up being completely inadequate- in economic conditions which should have helped the bottom line! They blew through their 20% contingency with upwards of 30% cost overruns, and that is the best ginned up numbers they can present. I know for a fact that they fabricated some of their “savings” to show a balanced budget/fully funded project.

    With that as a benchmark of local/regional government involvement in non-essential projects, I’m extremely hesitant to support a project like this.

    If it was a private company that operated within the constraints of market principles that was challenging PG&E, I’d be interested.

    When you’re in a hole (in this case financially), you have to stop digging. As high-minded or idealistic as this clean power idea is, I can GUARANTEE that it is going to cost us money- both from the County coffers and as rate-payers. We absolutely can not afford some lark of a project, when existing, essential services are in jeopardy.

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  4. GAJ says:

    Missy, SMUD’s electricity is 60% from Natural Gas Electrical plants according to Wiki, not the 100% “renewable” sources our local yokels are planning on buying.

    They are not expecting any savings, quite the opposite; their rates will be higher for the privilege of buying renewable energy (solar and wind have been mentioned), even though, right now, we get all our power from a renewable source called The Geysers.

    PG&E will still maintain all the infrastructure and charge a “delivery” fee on the electricity.

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  5. Electric Fish says:

    TRagically, no need for this just a Democratic scam to keep continued political control of the county. Efficient solar technolgy for mass public use is not here. There will no wind turbines in Sonoma County. THis is pay off for union support and political backing. McQuire’s friends are in government and real estate development. Rabbit’s buddies are architects, engineers and constractors.The others are uneducated eco nuts.

    If the new system would work that would be great but not as presented.Tragically Sonoma County is going down hill.

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  6. Reality Check says:


    Free or lost-cost stuff from government is always popular, even to so-called conservatives, which is why I guess they lose so often. Never mind that behind the advertised costs are invisible ones that end up being paid in taxes.

    PG&E is a private company. It pays taxes on everything it owns: About $500m in income taxes, another $250m in property taxes and franchise fees, and who knows how much in other fees. Will Sonoma County pay taxes on its power business? We both know the answer.

    And who will maintain the power lines after PG&E is driven out of business, which it certainly will be if forced to compete with subsidized rates from government?

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  7. Steve Klausner says:

    So who is going to maintain the power lines?

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  8. Graeme Wellington says:

    Support from labor unions, environmentalists and local politicians? How many more reasons do we need to oppose this?

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  9. Missy says:

    Just looked it up, TOP TIER and only during super peak hours of SMUD (SACTO PUBLIC UTILITIES) is .24

    PGE’s 4th and 5th tiers are .34 per kwh.

    PGE’s 3rd Tier is .30 per kwh.

    PGE’s 2nd Tier is .15 per kwh (you’re not going to get that rate lol!)

    PGE’s 1st Tier – BASELINE (which is bs as we all know) is .13

    SOURCE for PGE is here

    SOURCE for SMUD is here

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  10. Missy says:

    I’m one of the conservatives on WSC and I support this 100%. Read the rates that people in Sacto get vs what our rates with PGE! They get a 15-20% reduction on their utility bill vs what we get.

    Say your bill is $300 – $400 a month with PGE during the winter like ours is (this is at 67 degrees inside) a reduction of even just 10% would make sense. $270 or $300? Which do you want?

    I have wanted this for the longest time and I’m so glad it might come true.

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  11. Reality Check says:

    One wonders if these projections are as accurate as the county’s PERS cost estimates a decade ago.

    It is difficult not to be sarcastic. But the obvious fact is that decade-out cost projections are iffy under the best of circumstances, when dealing with volatile commodity prices, even less so.

    If ever a little humility was in order, now is the time. Sadly we are cursed with local politicos who can’t be bothered with the humdrum of infrastructure maintenance when there are power system to conquer. Ah, we elected them.

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  12. Dusty says:

    The ISO has been selling wholesale power to SMUD (Sacramento) long before 2002. The MUD act would move the existing CPUC control to the local level, your Sonoma County Water Agency (aka Board of Supervisors). Know that SMUD has various power generation systems including generators on the upper American River. SMUD’s nuclear power plant (Rancho Seco) was decommissioned to a natural gas/solar plant under heavy public pressure but may be resurrected to nuclear in the future. Much of its spent fuel rods are still stored at Rancho Seco due to cost, transport controversy and regulatory constraints at Kettleman, etc. The clear zone around RS is continually monitored for biological mutations.

    SCWA development of off shore wave generation would require on-shore substations and transmission line development. These on-shore facilities would displace coastal resources including the need to clear cut habitat much like PG&E is faced with near Sonoma Mt. Hydro generation would most likely occur on the Russian River. Look at what other MUD utilities have done and are doing before making this decision.

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  13. Grapevines says:

    Anyone who believes that the Supervisors are seeing this as anything other than another way to fleece the people in the country have already “drank the kool-aid.” The Supervisors can’t maintain the roads in a decent manner and now they want us to give them the keys to supplying the power? Allow this to happen and it won’t be long till you see power rates going out of sight.

    And if you think your going to be seeing Supervisor Efren Carrillo getting out of bed on a rainy Saturday night to restore power to Guerneville or anywhere else your dreaming.

    Stop this waste of time and money. They are just looking for another “cash cow” to milk dry.

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  14. Steveguy says:

    They can vote themselves to control our power ?

    I vote they pay me $300,000 for a 2 month ‘study’ to prove them corrupt. Hey, if pie is served, eat it !

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  15. Steveguy says:

    Lemme think.. Have a bankrupt and foolish spending government agency bill me, or a tried and true one. ( though less regulated than I would prefer-remember Enron?)

    This is a boondoggle !!!!!

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  16. GAJ says:

    So the BOS can’t do their most basic job of maintaining County roads yet they feel qualified to launch this project?


    We already get all our power from clean energy via The Geysers so the whole charade is pointless.

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  17. Rydin Shotgun says:

    I seriously cant imagine a worse idea than this. The County and Water Agency are inept in their ability to run a utility.

    The water agency is a true monopoly and is run like a ship of fools. The rates are outrageous and partially because it is used as the counties slush fund for politician “jobs” and grease money. Look who is on their Board of Directors, surprise…


    If you want green power sign up for it, you can buy it today from various suppliers.

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