By DEREK MOORE
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Sonoma appears to be the latest city on track to reject joining the Sonoma County Clean Power Authority after a divided City Council on Monday all but turned out the lights on the idea.
Sonoma still could become the second city, along with Windsor, to support the county’s vision of supplanting PG&E as the county’s chief supplier of electricity and provide a greener energy portfolio.
But that would require Sonoma Mayor Ken Brown to have a change of heart and fall in with Councilman Steve Barbose and Tom Rouse, who Monday supported the city joining the power authority.
“I’m ready to vote no,” Brown said.
County officials on Monday again lobbied the city to join the power plan, touting it as a greener option than what PG&E currently offers and another energy choice for residents.
So far only the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors, representing the unincorporated areas, and the Windsor Town Council have voted to join the launch of the agency. Together, they account for about 40 percent of the power sold by PG&E in Sonoma County.
Deputy County Counsel Steve Shupe, speaking to the Sonoma council Monday, attributed the lukewarm reception to a variety of factors, including that people are making “it more complicated than it really is” and “ongoing hostility and tension between the cities and the county.”
Rouse said Sonoma could “be skeptical and play the safe route” or do as he advocated and join the power authority.
Councilman David Cook, however, expressed concerns about the county’s opt-out plan for customers who don’t like the program and government getting into private enterprise. He voted against the resolution to join the power authority. Councilwoman Laurie Gallian recused herself because her husband works for PG&E.
Under the county’s energy plan, new customers will be able to opt out of the program without a fee two months before their accounts are switched and two months after. If they choose to go back to PG&E after two months, there will be a $5 fee for residential customers, $25 for commercial accounts.
Under both plans PG&E would continue to handle transmission, billing, metering, customer service and grid repair.
Brown, who touted his environmental record, told county officials Monday they had not done enough outreach on the power program. He said he wanted to wait and see what Santa Rosa does before he finalized his decision and also hear from Sonoma County Conservation Action.
“I would like to have a vote of confidence from conservation action,” the mayor said.
The council on Monday initially failed to muster the three votes necessary to take action on the resolution to join the power authority after Brown abstained on the measure.
On a revote at Barbose’s request, the mayor joined clean power supporters on the council to introduce the ordinance, which theoretically keeps the city on track to meet the county’s deadline for initially joining the power authority.
Brown demurred after Monday’s meeting when he was asked if his comments were to be construed that he will not support the power resolution when presumably it comes up for a final vote at the council’s July 1 meeting.
He said only that people “are going to try to convince” him to change his mind.
Sonoma’s consideration came three days after county and Santa Rosa city officials struck a deal to allow Santa Rosa to make its decision on July 9. City leaders had asked for more time to independently study the proposal.
That extension, in turn, has led to a change of plans by at least one other city. Sebastopol city administrators Tuesday are set to propose delaying their city council’s decision, initially set for June 25.
Santa Rosa’s revised timeline and ongoing revisions to the power agency’s joint-powers agreement were the chief reasons for the recommended postponement, said Larry McGlaughlin, Sebastopol’s city manager and attorney. “It’s hard to say we don’t have enough information on something and then vote on it,” McGlaughlin said. A new date is likely to be set for early July, McLaughlin said.
Geof Syphers, a county consultant for the power plan, said county officials discussed the reshuffling of decision dates Monday and decided that all other cities would have the same leeway as Santa Rosa, making July 9 “the real deadline.”
The date is tied to a July 15 delivery of power supply data to contractors for their final bids.
“All the cities certainly have access to that extension that Santa Rosa was granted,” Syphers said. “But it was also decided that no further extensions make sense.”
Windsor is the only other city to have joined the county power agency. It was formed for customers in the unincorporated area by the Board of Supervisors in April.
Of the remaining cities, besides Santa Rosa, only Cotati is yet to make its decision. Cloverdale and Rohnert Park voted to hold off on joining in the first year while Petaluma has postponed any vote until at least September to allow city staff to study the proposal.
Cotati city leaders said Monday they intend to stick to their plans for a June 26 vote. Cotati Mayor Mark Landman, however, suggested support could rest on a key change that smaller cities have requested on a voting issue related to governance of the power authority’s board.
The change smaller cities have sought would prevent the county and Santa Rosa — representing the largest areas of power use and more than two-thirds of the potential weighted voting shares — from changing the agency’s joint powers agreement without also having the support of a simple majority of cities.
“We were very clear that was a big concern to us,” said Landman.
Syphers, the county consultant, said the requested change has been put on the power authority’s agenda for its first general meeting, next Tuesday, at the Board of Supervisors chambers.
Staff Writer Brett Wilkison contributed to this story.