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Sonoma County board votes to create power agency


The Sonoma County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday approved a major piece of its plan to become a power supplier to homes and businesses, creating an administrative agency to oversee its proposed program.

The unanimous decision does not launch the public power venture, which would compete with PG&E. That final step could come next year, pending the return of favorable rates from power suppliers.

But the board’s action, which came before a packed, largely supportive audience, is the most significant step forward for the effort after 20 months of studies, surveys and public meetings.

Supporters, including environmental groups, union officials and some business groups, see the effort as a key way to boost investment in renewable power, create jobs through the construction of local energy projects and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

“This will be a tremendous stimulus to our local businesses and our local economy,” said Dick Dowd, a Santa Rosa developer who serves on the board of the Climate Protection Campaign, an advocacy group pushing for the public power program.

Supervisor Mike McGuire called Tuesday’s action “a very important milestone.” But he also quickly acknowledged the “elephant in the room” continues to be what the program would charge customers for power.

Those potential rates could be known as soon as next month, after the county solicits bids from power suppliers. A county study last year showed the average customer’s rates might be $4 to $10 higher initially per month than those charged by PG&E but could level out and become cheaper over a 20-year period.

Competitive rates will be crucial to the program’s success, supervisors said.

“We need to be able to sell it, like any business,” said Supervisor David Rabbitt.

Customers would have the ability to opt out of the county-run program, which aims to serve about 80 percent of ratepayers countywide, or about 250,000 metered customers. PG&E would retain responsibility over transmission and billing.

The county’s move is authorized under a 2002 state law that lets local governments buy energy on the wholesale market and sell it to residents and businesses. Marin County has the only active program. San Francisco’s has been launched but is not yet active.

As the board’s self-described “skeptic” on the proposal, Rabbitt ran through a list of questions about the risks the county might assume in taking on the new venture.

What’s to prevent PG&E, which currently gets about 19­percent of its power from renewable sources, from undercutting the county program by offering a similar renewable portfolio, Rabbitt asked. The county would start with a renewable portfolio of 33 percent.

That possibility cannot be ruled out, said Grant Davis, general manager of the Sonoma County Water Agency, which has overseen the proposal.

“This is a huge commitment, a generational commitment, and we need to make sure we take that into consideration,” Rabbitt said.

Business representatives have been cautious in backing the proposal, but several came forward Tuesday to say they supported the board action and were looking forward to additional financial details in the months to come. City representatives, anxious about any liabilities they might shoulder in the arrangement, have taken much the same stance.

“You have a cautionary flag that goes up, especially when it’s a matter that’s this big,” said Keith Woods, chief executive officer of the North Coast Builders Exchange.

The independent entity created by the Board of Supervisors, dubbed the Sonoma Clean Power Authority, is a joint powers agency designed to shield the county and any participating cities from liabilities to their general funds, Water Agency staff said.

It will be overseen initially by just the Board of Supervisors and will continue to be staffed and supported by the Water Agency until a final decision is made whether to proceed. City representatives would join as directors if and when their city councils consent to have customers in their jurisdiction served by the public power venture.

The board also authorized creation of two appointed committees, composed of ratepayers and business representatives, to guide the new agency.

As a final business item, the board authorized two new consulting contracts related to the program for a total of $150,000. Marin Energy Authority, that county’s public power venture, will be paid $50,000 to help review Sonoma County’s request for power rates and analyze returned bids, along with other services.

The board also authorized the Water Agency to extend its contract with consultant Geof Syphers for an additional $100,000. Syphers is assisting the search for start-up funding for the new agency.

Up to $9 million is needed to cover the next eight months, including $2 million for the next six months of outreach and review of power rates and $7 million to cover the first two months of operation and power purchases.

To date, the Water Agency has spent about $520,000 on staff time, studies and consultants.

You can reach Staff Writer Brett Wilkison at 521-5295 or brett.wilkison@pressdemocrat.com.


7 Responses to “Sonoma County board votes to create power agency”

  1. Snarky says:

    Hey Grapevines,

    Did you see yesterday’s news at the LA Times online?

    Yeah… ANOTHER two cops convicted in criminal court. Yep.

    They exchanged the dismissal of a traffic citation for the promise of a bribe by the female motorist.

    Google it.

    And then come back here and read how the ignorant SRJC Police Chief boasted that he “took action immediately” on the theft of public funds by one of his cops.
    Nice work. He acted ONLY after his boy was caught. What a “manager” !!!

    “SRJC Police Chief Matt McCaffrey said he changed the collection procedures used by officers “literally the morning Jeff was arrested” Nov. 28 on suspicion of grand theft and embezzlement.”

  2. Sue St. Claire says:

    The Board of Stupidvisors have done such a wonderful job of managing the county, why not give them the power to regulate, supply and management our electricity, not.

    This just sounds like another socialist dream come true. If you like your lights and heat turned off and rationed all in the interest of the environment, you will love public owned power in this county.

    PG&E is no prize, but it is the devil we know. Government always costs more and always, always screws it up.

  3. Hoctuey says:

    The business of Sonoma County is government, the problem is they do not seem to be very good at it. I have found in my life that I am happiest when working toward a goal. Any man can make a difference in this world. Everyman should try.
    Do we really need to build a power plant here in Sonoma County such as a trash to energy plant? Pittsburg is still pretty close and has the infrastructure in place to generate power when the wind is not blowing. Solar is best left as a private affair, as well as co-generation.

    I hope they really consider all the economic costs this will bring to the taxpayer.

  4. James Bennett says:

    Why would “cash strapped” local governments want to monopolize, create “Public-Private Partnerships” with our energy, water and open space?

    Natural gas is cheap and plentiful.


    I smell sumpim’ and it ‘aint apple pie.

  5. Manuel DELGADO says:

    Hey Grapevine contact me at jeannie5060@yahoo.com. I have good news for you. Manuel

  6. GAJ says:

    When you can’t handle current obligations the obvious solution is to take on more.


  7. Grapevines says:

    Oh goodie! Another inept, unfunded pensions agency created withing the already inept, unfunded pensions agency which is Sonoma County.

    Well if we can count on them to maintain the infrastructure for power as well as they do the roads, we better all take out insurance to cover the poles and lines which will be falling down all around us.

    Lets see, the first thing they will now do is hire someone at a highly bloated salary to administrate it (see SMART Train). Next will be to promise that they will hire “local” labor to staff it (while they give the majority of the jobs to their dysfunctional relatives) And lastly will be to raise the rates on a consistent basis while pretending to be “Competitive”

    Anyone got Shirlee Zane’s phone number? I’ll get to call her to come out and fix things next time a tree takes out the power lines.