WatchSonoma Watch

11 bidders compete to provide county power



Ten companies and one nonprofit agency are competing for an initial contract to provide electricity to Sonoma County homes and businesses through the county’s proposed public power agency.

The bids are for a contract of at least three years with an estimated worth of about $340 million, according to county officials. The program seeks to displace PG&E as the powerplantarea’s dominant electricity supplier, a move that supporters say would boost support for renewable energy and spur investment in local power projects.

The responses, received Friday, came mostly from large national and multi-national energy suppliers, including the operator of The Geysers geothermal field along the Sonoma-Lake county border.

A bid by Shell Energy North America could draw scrutiny from activists who have opposed its contract with Marin County’s power agency and its proposed deal with San Francisco.

County officials were not prepared Monday to discuss the power rates they got back in the responses. That cost is seen as the key element determining whether county supervisors launch the program later this year, and whether it will generate support from customers.

Cordel Stillman, the county Water Agency official spearheading the proposal, said he was “thrilled” with the level and quality of responses. He described the list of bidders as “highly competitive.”

“These are real players in the industry,” he said.

The county plans to evaluate the bids over the next week. A report to the Board of Supervisors tentatively scheduled for April 23 could provide the first public look at the range of rates, electricity sources and other terms included in the proposals.

However, a more detailed public look at the actual bids from power suppliers, may never come, at least not at this stage.

The county is withholding release of the documents, citing a 2006 California Supreme Court ruling that shields proprietary information from public disclosure until completion of contract negotiations, often just days before formal approval.

The Press Democrat late Monday submitted a public records request to the county seeking access to the proposals but did not hear back before deadline.

Among the companies that submitted bids was Calpine Corp., the Houston-based operator of The Geysers, already the source of about a quarter of California’s renewable energy. The company is launched on a $700 million, 100-megawatt expansion.

Last year, Calpine officials said the first of two new plants could start production in 2014 if they could land contracts for the energy.

The county is seeking up to 355 megawatts, enough for about 220,000 metered residential and commercial customers, or about 80 percent of those served by PG&E in Sonoma County.

The utility’s power generation costs account for about $180 million a year in residential and commercial billings. : The county program would rollout over three years, with an aim to capture $50 million in 2014, $120 million in 2015, and $170 million in 2016.

It would start with a basic renewable portfolio — including geothermal, wind, solar, small hydroelectric and biomass — of 33 percent. A separate, voluntary portfolio could offer customers a choice of 100 percent renewable power.

Supporters have pushed for an aggressive rollout of local renewable projects to generate energy for the program. On those grounds and others, they’ve opposed a partnership with the Shell Energy North America, a subsidiary of the Dutch fossil fuel giant.

The outlier in the field of bidders was Plumas Rural Services, a nonprofit organization in northeastern California that is looking to sell power from a local wood biomass plant it is buying. The 20-megawatt plant in Loyalton — currently owned by Sierra Pacific Industries — has been idle since 2010 and would support about 14 jobs, said Michele Piller, executive director of the group.

The other energy supply responses came from:

Iberdrola, a multi-national electric utility company based in Spain, with operations throughout New England and New York State.

Noble Americas Energy Solutions, a large U.S. energy retailer based in San Diego.

NRG Energy, based in Houston and Princeton, New Jersey, one of the country’s largest power producers and retailers.

Greensparc Energy Advisors, a San Ramon- and Sacramento-based power development and management firm.

Direct Energy, an energy retailer based in Canada and the U.S., a subsidiary of the British multinational Centrica.

Promet Energy Partners, a natural gas and electricity supplier, based in the Midwest.

ConEdison Solutions, based in Valhalla, New York, a subsidiary of Consolidated Edison.

Constellation, a power and natural gas supplier and subsidiary of Exelon, the Chicago energy producer, trader and distributor.

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 of the county power agency.

The Board of Supervisors, which now has sole control of the public power agency, the Sonoma Clean Power Authority, is likely to push ahead with the program in two weeks and direct staff to narrow the field of contenders. The same day, it is set to authorize a $250,000 contract with the Berkeley-based consulting firm MIG for marketing and media services.

Cities have yet to commit to the effort and their consent is seen as crucial. Healdsburg is not in the mix because it has its own municipal utility.

To date, the county Water Agency has spent or authorized roughly $700,000 in staff time, studies and consultants on the power proposal.

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

9 Responses to “11 bidders compete to provide county power”

  1. andrew simpson says:

    Sonoma Clean Power is the next in a series of frauds—pensions, road neglect, SMART train, Sonoma County Energy Independence, Sonoma Clean Power –inspired by the folks who run the County.

    The folks who run the County—the County’s effective owners– aren’t elected officials or County employees. They’re the folks who write the campaign checks and provide other favors to our elected and appointed officials.

    Big public boondoggles (e.g., pensions, Sonoma Clean Power) benefit the County’s real owners because they entail massive of amounts of money—sometimes billions at a clip– recycled for purposes not in the public interest and skimmed, or diverted altogether—to County insiders.

    Which is why we’re almost broke; and about to get brok-er.

    Here’s a useful distinction: the phrase “frauds inspired by”. This means illegal acts executed by persons down the food chain on behalf of folks at the top of the food chain; the latter, of course, may inspire bribery, graft and fraud, without directly, visibly, committing such acts.

    The Supervisors are the customary intermediaries for such inspiration; and may themselves enjoy a bit of insulation.

    Here’s how.

    The Supervisors convey their wishes to their down-the-food-chain appointees and unit heads such as County Counsel, the Auditor Controller , the senior managers of the Water Agency, and certain other unit heads.

    These administrative and legal folks are the ones carrying the figurative bag (as in bagmen) and are also the ones who get stuck holding the bag once the fur starts to fly.

    This collection of down-the-food-chain County officials are in a tough spot. They have the most direct legal exposure but the least to gain. They’re not taking bribes themselves. What they’re doing is helping the top-of-the-food-chain folks (the County’s owners) and the owners’ hired help—the Supervisors—skim and divert public funds. These down-the-food chain County administrators are just following orders; because to do otherwise—to challenge long-established Sonoma County governance custom– means losing their place in line; maybe losing their jobs, to more willing souls.

    This is County governance culture. Not conspiracy. Think of Mexico. Think of Nigeria; or just think of Rod Blagojevich’s Illinois statehouse. The idea that government is run for the people who pay taxes, in any of those instances, is not in the cards. The County of Sonoma’s operations are funded by half a million citizens, taxpayers and ratepayers. But Sonoma County is run for the benefit of a few score organizations and non-public individuals; and a dozen or so County elected and appointed officials.

    Sonoma Clean Power is just the most recent example. It doesn’t lower local CO2 emissions. It doesn’t create jobs. It creates a billion dollar or more in default risk borne by the electricity rate payers; it raises rates relative to PG&E. Sonoma Clean Power has no legitimate reason for existence; especially in a County fiscal environment where every nickel is needed to fund roads and pensions.

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  2. James Bennett says:

    Reminder: we have a glut of natural gas (and oil), but monopolizing, engineering shortage, lack and scarcity is part of the ICLEI (globalist) model of oppression.

    Water and energy control is a big part of The Plan.

    As globalist Henry Kissinger said:
    “Giving the people cheap energy, is like giving a machine gun to a child”.

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  3. Reality Check says:

    PG&E’s electric power mix for 2011 was:

    Nuclear – 22 percent
    Natural gas – 25
    Large hydro – 19
    Renewable – 18

    Geothermal was 30 percent of renewables, or about 6 percent of the total.

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  4. Kathy Robler says:

    In the end, this is another power grab by the government. It will take years to unravel this whole mess when the common sense people take over again.

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  5. Well Informed says:

    This is a farce and will do nothing to help solve any problem.

    The Water agency wants to monopolize the power market as they have the water and sewer market. They are an unregulated entity who sets their own prices. Nice Gig if you can get it.

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  6. Steveguy says:

    I thought that this would have to go to a vote. If not it should.

    I read where the Water Agency and County plan to spend $100 Million on a solar project near the airport. That sounds like expensive power.

    Do we really want the Board of Stupes in charge of our power ? really ?

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  7. Grapevines says:

    By the time this disaster in the making has played itself out here’s what’s going to be happening.

    1) In order to satisfy the “Bicycle Vote”, Zaney Shirley will have us all on bicycle generators pumping away to recharge the batteries we use to light our homes.

    2) The county will only be able to furnish power to the BOS chambers because the rest of the infrastructure will have gone the way of the county roads and not be working.

    3) The “Spare the Power” tin-foil hat crowd out of Sebastopol will have the rest of us getting power on odd numbered days only.

    Disaster in the making, watch and see.

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  8. bear says:

    I don’t like the sound of this.

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  9. GAJ says:

    Correct me if I’m wrong but don’t we already get all of our power from The Geysers???

    From Wiki:

    “Power from The Geysers provides electricity to Sonoma, Lake, Mendocino, Marin, and Napa counties. It is estimated that the development meets 60% of the power demand for the coastal region between the Golden Gate Bridge and the Oregon state line.”

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