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Pitch for county power agency enters crucial stretch

By BRETT WILKISON
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

With four cities down and four to go, Sonoma County officials this week enter the second half of their roadshow to convince cities to take part in the county’s planned public power agency.

The presentations are intended to tout benefits and answer questions about the effort to displace Pacific Gas and Electric Co. with an alternative that offers a higher share of energy from renewable sources.

Sonoma County supervisors have voted to launch the agency on Jan. 1 encompassing — at a minimum — the unincorporated areas of the county.

power linesSo far, they’ve successfully enlisted one city — Windsor — while two others, Rohnert Park and Sebastopol, could decide to join next month. The Cloverdale City Council has decided the city will sit on the sidelines for now.

Next up are the two largest cities, Santa Rosa and Petaluma, which together account for nearly 48 percent of the electricity use in the county. Alone, Santa Rosa’s share is nearly 35 percent.

The public presentation before the Petaluma City Council is Monday evening and Santa Rosa council members are to hear the issue Tuesday afternoon.

Participation by the cities — and power bills from their residents and businesses — are a key if not critical part of the county’s plan, which aims to serve 80 percent of PG&E’s local customers. The higher the participation — customers would be allowed to opt out and stick with PG&E — the sooner the program will have a positive cash flow and be able to plow money back into rate stabilization, energy efficiency programs and local generation projects.

“You work with the revenues you generate,” said Cordel Stillman, deputy chief engineer for the county Water Agency and the lead staff member on the proposal. Without Santa Rosa and Petaluma, he said, “we may not be able to do things we would have been able to do with all of the cities’ participation.”

Santa Rosa and Petaluma also would add political momentum to the program, which is set to begin serving homes and businesses Jan. 1. County officials and supporters insist it would be viable without urban customers, but they want all cities, and especially the biggest ones, onboard.

“We can have this going without any of the cities, but that’s not what we want,” said Ann Hancock, executive director of the Climate Protection Campaign, the main advocacy group behind the power proposal. “We’re looking for a nod from all of them, and we’re putting a lot of work into Santa Rosa.”

Supporters, including environmental and business leaders, have been lobbying council members heavily in recent weeks, honing a message that focuses on consumer choice, shrinking the county’s carbon footprint and the promise of economic development through construction of local energy projects.

They’ve sent out notices that signal they intend to pack council chambers this week.

Opponents, including fiscal watchdogs and critics of government, argue that many of the touted benefits could be illusory. In emails and newspaper opinion pieces, they have been getting their points across, too.

The tug-of-war means the proposal could face a stiff challenge in the remaining cities. After the presentations in Petaluma and Santa Rosa, the roadshow rolls on to Cotati on Wednesday and Sonoma on June 3.

Some city officials have been vocal about their desire to see final numbers on customer rates and greenhouse gas emissions before they sign on.

Those answers are not expected prior to a county-imposed decision deadline of June 30, leaving some officials saying the process is being rushed.

“I think it’s going too fast,” said Santa Rosa Councilman Jake Ours, who has served on a public-private steering committee providing input on the plan. “We’re not going to have time to make a decent decision.”

County officials have begun negotiations with a final group of four companies competing for the initial energy supply contract. They’ve also begun a search for an interim chief executive to lead the power program and started work on a branding and public relations campaign.

In the meantime, they have reiterated initial figures they say would make the program competitive if not cheaper than PG&E and immediately greener, drawing 33 percent of power from renewable sources such as solar and wind versus the 20 percent portfolio projected for PG&E next year.

Program skeptics have questioned those numbers, disputing especially the emissions comparison because about half the public power would initially come from renewable energy credits packaged with conventional power sources, a tool they deride as “greenwashing.”

But city officials have focused most on the rate implications, both for their residents and businesses and for City Hall.

In Santa Rosa, the county’s largest city with almost 170,000 residents and 97,360 electrical meters, city government is the biggest power user, with more than 700 PG&E accounts.

Some of those accounts, such as the city’s wastewater treatment plant on Llano Road, pay wholesale power rates that are “dirt cheap,” Ours said, while others pay far higher rates.

That’s why the initial rate range provided by the county is insufficient to help the city understand implications for its bottom line, Ours said.

“I think everyone in the city wants it to work, but we don’t know how it’s going to work,” he said. “The devil is in the details.”

Supporters cheered Windsor’s decision last week to formally join the county power agency. The move gives them a seat on its governing authority, alongside county representatives. The entity is designed to have nine voting members — one from each of the eight participating cities, plus the county.

Healdsburg is not a candidate for the system because it already has a municipal power agency.

County officials have touted that seat at the table in their pitch to cities.

But the bigger cities, especially, have lingering questions about governance, including how much sway they would have on the authority board.

“I don’t want to be taking part in something that hasn’t had all the wrinkles run out,” said Petaluma Mayor David Glass, discussing a number of questions he has about the program. “The prudent thing is to wait and see how it plays out.”

Politics could be a significant factor in the larger cities’ decisions. Support for the power venture now cuts across the county’s main camps, shaped by environmental and business interests that commonly duel over elected seats in Santa Rosa and Petaluma.

But that assessment made one politician uneasy last week.

“We need to spend less time on politics and handicapping whether a city is going to come on board or not,” said Supervisor Mike McGuire, one of the four-member majority that last month backed the program’s launch for the unincorporated area; Supervisor David Rabbitt was the lone no vote.

Politics, McGuire said, should take a back seat to the program’s business plan, which he repeatedly called “solid.”

“There’s no doubt we’d want Santa Rosa and Petaluma to join now,” he said. “But because we have this solid business plan, if they join later, we’d welcome them.”

Staff Writer Kevin McCallum contributed to this report. You can reach Staff Writer Brett Wilkison at 521-5295 or brett.wilkison@pressdemocrat.com.





18 Responses to “Pitch for county power agency enters crucial stretch”

  1. David says:

    The County may someday build some kind of power generator but they will NEVER own the power poles and the wires that deliver the electricity to your home. That is the difference between the County plan and the Healdsburg model. PG&E will still own and maintain the entire distribution system. Why is that so hard to understand?

    Thumb up 5 Thumb down 0

  2. Lets be Reasonable says:

    You guys like Healdsburg, yet you don’t want to copy what they are doing? The County plan would buy wholesale at the start, but they are planning on developing their own generation capacity in the future. You like big monopolies controlling you?

    Thumb up 2 Thumb down 7

  3. GAJ says:

    Geothermal power has a large carbon footprint?

    How do you figure that?

    Every search I do says the opposite.

    Thumb up 10 Thumb down 0

  4. R.B. Fish says:

    The Gysers produce steam that turns huge turbines that creates electricity but it has a considerable carbon foot print. Nuclear power plants create steam that turns huge turnines to create electrical power and has no carbon foot print.

    I love the phase “a solid business plan” coming from a California politican. Every town and county is in debt with politial misappropriations on evry line item. The greatest quetsion on a BP or LLC/corporation organiztion format is “What do you when your business fails?” It’s usually the last question.

    Happy Memorial Day

    Thumb up 2 Thumb down 4

  5. GAJ says:

    @David.

    Ha ha ha; that’s pretty darned funny…and oh so true.

    Both of you will be getting all your power from The Geysers of course.

    Feel good Shell Game for the oblivious.

    Thumb up 13 Thumb down 1

  6. David says:

    So I opt out and my neighbor doesn’t. How do they know which house gets the “clean” power and which gets the “dirty” power? Some people sure are gullible!

    Thumb up 15 Thumb down 3

  7. Nautso B. Fuddled says:

    One good thing for me, as I look at what the Supes are saying, I now find that those “I haz cheezburger” pictures on the Web are making sense!

    Thumb up 10 Thumb down 1

  8. Phil Maher says:

    Mike Mcguire:

    I remember you as a teenager living down the road, then serving on the school board, then city council, now as a supervisor, but could you please fill in the blanks as to when and where you received your MBA? As a matter of fact, can any of our supervisors please indicate to us what their previous business credentials are? I kind of think that’s a fair and relevant question when it comes to making assertions as to what constitutes their understanding of a “solid business plan”.

    Thumb up 17 Thumb down 3

  9. Steveguy says:

    I agree with Phil, Healdsburg Power is 100% green on the green scale, and is up to 20% cheaper.

    Let’s hire them ! They have experience !

    Thumb up 16 Thumb down 2

  10. Phil Maher says:

    If “competition” is what they’re really looking for, then I’m sure they wouldn’t mind Healdsburg entering the broader, county-wide market, too. With rates that are currently 10-20% cheaper than PG&E’s, and who knows how much cheaper and “greener” than what the county is offering, now we’re talking “COMPETITION”. Let’s see how a free-market full of better “options” works for them then.

    Thumb up 23 Thumb down 2

  11. Robert says:

    If Green Washed Power is such a great deal for the rate payers, it should be opt-in, AFTER we get all the facts & figures!

    Where’s my opt-out form???

    Thumb up 28 Thumb down 3

  12. David says:

    Unlike Healdsburg, the new County Power Agency won’t own a single thing. They will buy the power wholesale and resell it at market rates plus. PG&E will still own and maintain all of the actual plant (poles, wires, etc.) If PG&E can sell bulk wholesale power to the County, why can’t they just lower the rates across the board to their existing customers.

    I am no fan of PG&E but this grand plan will only add additional layers of County workers to the system and increase government jobs. Rates can only be going one way, UP, UP and AWAY!

    Thumb up 28 Thumb down 4

  13. Lets be Reasonable says:

    PG&E is not going away, and will remain an option. Why not add another energy supplier to give a little competition? If they cannot compete on price, then you can just continue with PG&E.

    Thumb up 7 Thumb down 21

  14. Grapevines says:

    Roadshow is a good name for this. Only what they are peddling is not clean energy, it’s snake oil.

    All anyone has to do it look at the track record amassed by the Board of Stupid-visors to see how this Ponzi scheme is going to play out.

    The roads are falling apart, county pension obligations are not being addressed, and the dump (the dump mind you) had to go to a private company to run (I bet they turn it into a profit).

    About the only thing one can say they accomplished is to give themselves pay and benefit raises. Just ask them to show off their county purchased iPads.

    Thumb up 33 Thumb down 5

  15. Steveguy says:

    I have spent decades going up to Tuolumne County. They have 100% Hetch-Hetchy style power even if they pay PG&E If Tuolumne County came up with a scheme to pay credits to some New York based energy giant for “cleaner power” they would laugh at you !!!

    My power is 100% Geysers, so is yours no matter how they try to explain away paying extra for what you/we have already. They say that PG&E is 20%, ours is 100%, get that Jake ? Note- Mr. Ours did say that PG&E had dirt cheap City wastewater rates.

    Ask them hard questions, though they will never answer those. Listen to their silence about people’s concerns dammit ! Their silence is golden for Goldman Sachs. Look who is behind the curtain of carbon credit trading, yup, Goldman Sachs and all the banksters. They prey on the ‘greenies’ now as one cash cow is as good as another. It is not local, PG&E is far more local. Their contracts are all out of state.

    I am all for public power, in cahoots with Calpine, drill a few more and pump the poop water up there. Lower prices by 20% like Healdsburg has. Not this scam.

    Can we get a list of the consultants and players behind this scheme ? Like real reporting ? I am learning up more and more, maybe the PD could do the same and do some real reporting and editorials.

    By God’s Bones I will have more ! I hope that I can speak at the City Council Meeting ( I will keep my snoring down, I promise)

    oh my

    Thumb up 30 Thumb down 4

  16. Steveguy says:

    Sonoma Greed Power is nothing but a shell game. They have a shiny wrapped box with bows and fancy wrappings. No real details, just a ” Trust us, inside this box is good” presentation. Trust them ?

    McGuire says the business plan is “solid”… If it is so “solid” why no real details ? Doesn’t he live in Healdsburg where the power rates are 20% cheaper due to public power ? In my mind “solid” would be a large reduction in rates, whereas this scheme relies on buying credits for some coal burning plant in West Virginia. Green ?

    As I have stated and cannot be dis-proven —- 100% of all my power, every electron, is provided to me and most everyone in the County from The Geysers Complex. Period. 100%. Prove me wrong. Oh, I don’t count some ‘energy exchange’ like the old Enron with Goldman Sachs in charge. They don’t count the 4000MW of power that PG&E generates from hydro-electric. That is enough for 4 MILLION homes. The numbers are rigged, ASK THEM THAT QUESTION ! If PG&E was allowed to count it they would be far ‘greener’ than Sonoma Greed Power could ever achieve !

    Is PG&E being muzzled by law ? Where is their opinion ?

    I could go on and I will. I sure wish people with sense stop this atrocity. I am all for cheaper public power that is green, they want us to pay more and more. Check your water bill, it is the same folks that want to run your power.

    oh my

    Thumb up 28 Thumb down 4

  17. Emerson Burkett says:

    The Supervisors are really pushing hard for the cities to come on board; without giving any real details about such things as: what will it cost? How much of the actual, real, electricity be from “Green” sources and not from simply shuffling paper work?
    The North Bay Bohemian gives an excellent review of the 4 Corporations that the Supervisors have chosen; well worth reading. Without going into a bunch of detail I will simply note that unless you consider Nuke plants green none of the 4 has more than 10% of their offerings from “Green Power”.
    Fix our damn Roads and stop wasting taxpayer money on “Pie-in-the-Sky”.
    The Sups are looking to hire an “interim chief Executive” and spending big dollars on “Branding” and a “Public relations campaign”. How much will all this cost?But, The Supervisors cannot and will not Fix out Roads.

    Thumb up 29 Thumb down 3

  18. Just Me says:

    I think the county should spend their money on retaining the employees they have instead of inflating the retirement issues and forcing them to retire. Wasting money on yet another venture that will result in overpaid executives who do nothing is not WISE USE OF TAXPAYERS MONEY!

    I am so sick of the BOS and County Administrator “Jumping on the Bandwagon” just because some other Government Agency has something.

    And you all wonder what they do with our money!

    Thumb up 36 Thumb down 4

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