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Sebastopol council hears pitch for county power agency


A plan to form a public agency to provide electric power in Sonoma County, which is touted as a boon for renewable energy and the environment, was pitched Tuesday night to the Sebastopol City Council.

The process, called Community Choice Aggregation, would create a power agency consisting of Sonoma County government, the county water agency and the nine cities. It is allowed under a 2002 state law that lets local governments buy energy on the wholesale market.

“We would no longer be dependent on PG&E, which is a monopoly,” said Cordel Stillman, deputy chief engineer for the water agency, which is developing the program.

The Sonoma County Board of Supervisors endorsed the program April 10 and it is being presented now to city councils to gauge their interest.

The next step is a series of workshops for the cities later this year and negotiations to form a joint powers agreement, at which time cities can decide whether to join. The final steps would be a request for supply proposals from energy companies and service that could begin as early as next summer.

Under the program, the local agency would purchase power, but the utility company, in this case PG&E, would retain billing, metering and transmission operations.

Supporters contend the goal of 50 percent renewable energy sources would provide a boost for the environment and cut greenhouse gases, as well as create local jobs.

“We are talking about jobs that will come from the solar contractors and the contractors who will be doing retrofits to homes,” said Jeff Mathias of Solar Synergy, a Sebastopol solar company.

Backers also contend that PG&E collects $160 million to $200 million a year from local ratepayers, which is money that could go back into the local economy.

However, the move could prove costly to ratepayers, Stillman said. A study last year predicted that over the first 20 years, a typical customer’s monthly bill would be $4 to $10 more than what PG&E charges. After that, rates are expected to be lower than what PG&E charges.

The program also could cost $3 million to $8 million to start and would need oversight boards to run it.

“Is there going to be a place for people to hold the organization accountable?” asked Bryan Cooper of Sebastopol, who was one of a few people who warned about jumping on the bandwagon too soon.

The Sebastopol council didn’t take a position, but a few members said they wanted it to proceed.

“It is an incredible project, it will create jobs and it will decrease greenhouse gases,” Councilwoman Kathleen Shaffer said.

You can reach Staff Writer Bob Norberg at 521-5206 or bob.norberg@pressdemocrat.com.

7 Responses to “Sebastopol council hears pitch for county power agency”

  1. andrew simpson says:

    A Water Agency proponent has used the word “exemplary” to describe its leadership. I agree. The Water Agency is exemplary, under the second definition shown here:


    1)Serving as a desirable model, or
    2)Characteristic of its kind or illustrating a general rule.

    The Water Agency is an exemplar, characteristic of its kind: it’s an exemplar of the insider politics by which the County of Sonoma is governed. In Cook County, Illinois, it’s called machine politics. It’s Sonoma County it’s more of a tribal ritual, like line dancing: everybody, knows, without being told, to wear cowboy boots to the dance. Only instead of showing up in cowboy boots, our County insiders’ ritual behavior—mirrored with consistency by the Water Agency—includes the following unwritten rules for managing public resources:
    1. Take care of the insiders first
    2. Invest heavily in public relations
    3. Make it look beneficial to the public , especially when it isn’t
    4. Make it look legal, especially when it isn’t

    That the County’s senior leadership—including the Water Agency— operates on these principles is by no means a controversial observation. When the economic tides receded beginning 2008, it became increasingly apparent that our leaders were swimming naked.

    What’s interesting is that having run up a billion dollar pension obligation and a massive, tangible, here-and-now gutting of our roads budget—resulting in another billion dollar charge, which we still have to fund—our County leaders are still relying on their traditional, pre-2008 methods of deception and manipulation.

    Our County leaders want to put the citizens on the hook for another billion dollars, for Sonoma Clean Power.

    Our County insiders are relying on this premise: nobody’s paying attention; nobody’s going to notice that the Water Agency doesn’t know how to analyze, plan for, fund or operate a $60 million renewable energy project (“SCEIP”); let alone a $1 billion project for Clean Power; nobody’s going to notice that the Water Agency is in the habit of misrepresenting the facts, misusing public funds, then having County Counsel, the Auditor/Controller and the Supervisors cover for them.

    We’re paying attention.

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  2. GAJ says:

    Mmmm…if Sonoma County already gets all of its power from the largest renewable Geothermal energy source on the globe, The Geysers, remind me why this is even being contemplated?

    Or is geothermal energy not considered “green” anymore by the likes of Ann Hancock?

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  3. Steveguy says:

    Anyone who thinks that your PG and E bill will be ‘only ‘ $4-10 a month more are delusional. For 20 years.

    Most of our electricity use comes from the Geysers Complex, and is as green as it comes. I don’t think that they even count that in the reduction goals.

    These ‘crusaders for the planet’ want to change everything. They want to end the use of natural gas in the home, even though natural gas is very efficient and cost effective. ( Compare costs between operating gas or electric clothes dryers, the difference is very noticeable, same with gas ranges versus electric )

    We actually trust our politicians with this much money and ‘power’ ? – pun intended – oh my

    And Andrew, keep it coming, as like the article stated, these folks have worked for 7 years on this, and are determined to take over the local power and energy use supply. Unregulated as far as I can determine.

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  4. andrew simpson says:

    The Climate Protection Campaign, led by Ann Hancock, laid the groundwork for Sonoma Clean Power with years of high quality analysis and determined advocacy. This initiative holds the promise of a kind of re-set for the County; an energy and economic renaissance, even.

    But clean power needs clean governance in its sponsor entities, the County of Board of Supervisors and the Water Agency.

    Ms. Hancock speaks of the Water Agency as an exemplar. They are indeed an exemplar, of sorts; as I will detail. Kindly watch this space.

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  5. Ann Hancock says:

    We agree with Mr. Simpson about Sonoma Clean Power:
    • It represents a huge opportunity for Sonoma County.
    • It will create competition and offer consumers a choice.
    • It needs to be done right. The Climate Protection Campaign has invested seven years to ensure that Sonoma Clean Power is done right.

    We disagree with Mr. Simpson’s condemnation of the Sonoma County Water Agency. The Agency exhibits exemplary vision and leadership. It’s hard to imagine how Sonoma Clean Power would happen if the Agency didn’t step up.

    Regarding lower greenhouse gas emissions, our analysis shows that Sonoma Clean Power is the top measure under local control for cost-effectively reducing emissions.

    Regarding increasing jobs: Done right, Sonoma Clean Power will unleash business that will in turn generate hundreds of local jobs.

    For more information:

    Ann Hancock, Climate Protection Campaign

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  6. brown act jack says:

    Ah, the beauty of progressive thinking that we can run a business better than PG&E can!
    Why, of course we can! We have a bunch of politicians that can run cities and not go broke, don’t we?
    We have a bunch of unions that lower the cost of everything, don’t we?
    We have a way to get free energy from the sun,moon, and stars, don’t we?

    Ah, yes, we can stop paying 15cents a kw to PG&E and start paying 30cent a KW to a local producer that will create a bunch of jobs and do everything at a lower price, Can’t we?

    Are you nuts?

    Stop and think why PG&E exists!

    Because volume production and delivery lowers cost to the consumer!

    And some people want to return to local production and just use PG&E as a back-up source.

    Do they ever tell you that because of that little fact that they have to pay PG&E a lost income charge that will have to be included into the local financing of the local system.

    So, PG&E makes the same money, and you pay it all,.


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  7. andrew simpson says:

    Sonoma Clean Power is pivotal for Sonoma County. A pivot towards the future: energy independence, more jobs, lower pollution; or a continuation of the incumbent misgoverning, self-serving leadership that creates more risk for our citizens, with little to show except mounting debts and failing roads.

    Sonoma Clean Power isn’t a technology question. It’s a people question: should we trust our county leaders to add a billion in new debt for Clean Power–on top of the billion dollar pension burden and on top, yet again, of the billion price tag, still unfunded, for fixing our roads?

    On what basis should we answer this question?

    The simplest basis is to consider Clean Power’s goals; and then look at the County’s recent track record in addressing those goals.

    The $2 billion overhang on pensions and roads already tells us that the Supervisors may not be the ideal stewards for a new billion dollar energy project. But what about the operational benefits of Clean Power? Say we could afford the billion dollars: might not the benefits justify the risk?

    What are the key benefits? Based on the Press Democrat article it appears that the County’s argument includes at least three benefits:
    1) we replace the PG&E monopoly
    2) we lower greenhouse gas emissions
    3) we increase jobs


    The hallmark of PG&E’s corporate culture under its prior CEO, Peter Darbee, was its arrogance, insularity and unethical conduct. PG&E’s new CEO states that he will change this culture. The “new” PG&E may or not behave like the “Octopus”–the oppressive corporate leviathan chronicled in Frank Norris’ novel, and mirrored in the movie “Chinatown” with its devastating portrayal of the LA Department of Water and Power.

    But one thing is certain. The Sonoma County Water Agency, sponsor of Sonoma Clean Power, has already outdone Peter Darbee in creating a culture of monopoly, non-accountability and improper use of public funds. The Water Agency is reflexively deceptive and unethical in its conduct. The Water Agency paid a Santa Rosa Planning Commissioner for political favors; has similarly made inappropriate use of public funds under the guise of nominally documented payments. These aren’t anecdotes. They’re patterned conduct. In the matter, specifically, of Sonoma Clean Power the Water Agency’s actions speak louder than words: their refusal to publish advance notice of Sonoma Clean Power advisory committee meetings; their refusal to permit public access to those meetings; their refusal to release financial analysis of Sonoma Clean Power which by contract with its provider is in the public domain. Adding injury to its continuing insult to the idea of democracy, the Water Agency, as it turns out, is incompetent in new energy project management. That takes us to the next point for evaluating the Water Agency’s fitness to run Sonoma Clean Power, using the Water Agency’s own criteria: the ability of Sonoma Clean Power, under the Water Agency, to lower greenhouse gas emissions.


    The County and its sister cities set as their common goal the reduction of annual countywide CO2 emissions from 4.3 million metric tons a year to 2.8 million metric tons: an annual redution of 1.5 million metric tons.

    It turns out that the Water Agency sponsored a Sonoma Clean Power test run called Sonoma County Energy Independence (“SCEIP”). SCEIP, in essence, funds solar and related installations in houses and businesses in the County. The County spent $60 million on SCEIP over the last two years. How did we perform on CO2 reduction? SCEIP lowered CO2 emissions by about 6,000 metric tons a year compared to the goal of 1.5 million tons reduction a year, or 6000/1,500,000= .004, or less than one half of one percent. We spent $60 million on SCEIP over two years in order to make virtually zero impact on air pollution, at a cost of about $30 million a year for reduction of 6,000 tons a year CO2 emission: that’s about $5000 a ton.

    Can we translate that $5000 a ton back to the billion dollars the Water Agency wants to borrow to fund Sonoma Clean Power? If the Water Agency has shown us they can reduce CO2 emissions at a cost of $5000 a ton, how many tons can they reduce if they spend a billion? It looks like $1,000,000,000/$5000=200,000 tons CO2 reduction. That 200,000 tons represents about 200,000/1,500,000 or 13% of the County wide goal of 1.5 million tons a year CO2 reduction.

    What if we had we asked the voters this question: would you have agreed that we should spend $60 million of your money on a clean air program that will have no effect on clean air?

    What if we asked the voters this question: would you agree to let the Water Agency now run up a billion dollar charge for which you are legally responsible, in order to achieve 13% of the County-wide clean air goal?

    But that’s not quite the whole story. There’s also the jobs element, next.


    SCEIP created about 70 full time jobs. Assuming a work force of 220,000 in Sonoma County, that’s a net addition of 70/220,000= a .0003 increase in jobs. Another way to look at this is cost per job added. It cost $60 million over two years, or about $30 million a year. That’s $30 million divided by 70 jobs= $429,000 per job.
    Would the voters have endorsed a jobs program costing $400,000 or more per job, funded with their money?


    1) Sonoma Clean Power is a great idea if placed in the hands of good leaders
    2) Sonoma Clean Power in the hands of the incumbent Supervisors and Water Agency.
    3) Sonoma Clean Power will transition control from a PG&E monopoly to a local monopoly whose ethical conduct is at an even lower standard than PG&E’s
    4) The Water Agency’s “test run” on Sonoma Clean Power–SCEIP–has cost $60 billion so far, was designed to lower CO2 emissions and increase jobs and has had no statistically measureable impact on either goal.

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