WatchSonoma Watch

Santa Rosa strikes deal on Sonoma Clean Power


A last-ditch effort to assuage Santa Rosa’s concerns about the structure of the Sonoma Clean Power Authority succeeded Tuesday, convincing the city to join the launch of the fledgling public power agency.

The tentative, unanimous vote ends the long and at times tense political stand-off over whether the city would allow its residents and businesses to sign up for the program that aims to supplant PG&E as the county’s dominant energy supplier.

powerplantAdvocates of the program hailed the vote as a milestone and predicted it will give the program the heft it needs to negotiate lower rates and fund local power projects.

“This is a tremendous development,” said Ann Hancock, executive director of the Climate Protection Campaign. “By adding Santa Rosa to the mix, Sonoma Clean Power will be able to build local renewable energy faster.”

Third District Supervisor Shirlee Zane, who just last week expressed frustration with the long list of conditions the city set for its participation in the program, said she was “thrilled” to get the largest city in the county on track to join.

“To get Santa Rosa on board, that’s huge,” Zane said.

The breakthrough came after agency officials agreed to recommend several — but not all — of the changes sought by city council members, including extra board seats for the city, additional ratepayer protections and a way to avoid financial penalties for withdrawal.

“Sonoma Clean Power is in a better place for the work that we’ve done here,” said Councilwoman Robin Swinth, who served on the three-member subcommittee that examined the issue in great detail.

The deal was made possible by the county backing off its position that it would not accept Santa Rosa into the program in the first year if its vote Tuesday contained any conditions. The city would have to join first and lobby for those changes later, county and agency officials insisted.

But the City Council last week sent a clear message that it could only support joining the program if its ordinance contained several changes to the joint powers authority and its implementation plan.

Mayor Scott Bartley said he left that meeting very discouraged by the apparent impasse despite all the work they put in to studying and improving the proposal.

“I left last week thinking we may just have to let this opportunity pass us by and wait for the next opportunity,” Bartley said.

He said he was proud of the unity shown by the council last week, and said he felt it played an important role in agency officials’ changing their tune.

Bartley’s council colleagues praised him for the hard work and leadership he showed in helping broker the weekend deal.

“The business case for including Sonoma Clean Power is strong,” Geof Syphers, interim CEO of Sonoma Clean Power, said in explaining his change of heart after meeting with Bartley. Syphers said his working relationship with the city had been “truly exceptional” in recent days.

The deal isn’t yet sealed. The ordinance will have to be brought back for a formal adoption on July 16.

That will delay until July 17 the transmittal of the information potential power suppliers need to put together their bids.

Then on July 25, the board of directors of Sonoma Clean Power will have to agree to the changes negotiated by Syphers, which he said he will “heartily support” but which he could not guarantee will pass.

Syphers had previously said that he didn’t think the board would ever accept Santa Rosa having the same number of seats on the board as the county, as has now been proposed. But by July 25, only one of the three other cities that have voted to join, Windsor, will have been seated. The two others, Cotati and Sebastopol, will not.

Syphers said he has spoken to representatives of those cities, and while they are “not happy” about the change, they have not “thrown up any red flags” that would indicate they have a huge problem with it.

Some of the changes approved by Santa Rosa on Tuesday and endorsed by Syphers include:

*Ensuring that Santa Rosa has an equal number of seats on the board as Sonoma County regardless of how many cities participate.

*Requiring that the board receive a 75 percent supermajority to exercise certain powers of eminent domain.

*Requiring that the board receive a 75 percent supermajority and get approval from the governing boards of the cities and county whenever those entities are required to pledge their assets to support the program.

*Requiring that the board, its committees or governing body of subsidiary companies established by the agency comply with the state’s open meeting act, the Ralph M. Brown Act.

*Strengthening ratepayer protections by making it harder to remove appointees to the ratepayer advisory committee, requiring a two-thirds majority of the board of directors.

*Setting that committee’s budget for at least $50,000 and changing language to say it “shall” make recommendations to the board instead of “may.”

*Clarifying that the city would be given time to withdraw from the program without penalty, and detailing the process for doing so if it does not want to wait.

*Giving the city more time to decide whether it wants to switch its accounts over to the program.

Several businesses reached out to the council to express their support for the program, including Oliver’s Market and Community Market. Codding Enterprises, owner of Coddingtown Mall, also wrote a letter to the council predicting that joining Sonoma Clean Power could save it $34,000 a year.

Ernesto Olivares said his vote “probably will be one of the most important decisions I will make as a council member.” But he added that just as the council has worked hard to bring itself up to speed on the issues of renewable power, residents now have to do the same as they decide whether to participate in the program.

Councilwoman Julie Combs proposed adding language to the joint powers agreement, essentially the agency’s constitution, that it consider limiting its use of nuclear power. She argued that the promise of not using nuclear power has been “part of the sales package” for Sonoma Clean Power, and only wanted to see it in writing.

But Syphers said there are pros and cons to many different energy sources, and such a policy should be set only after other factors, such as the impact on ratepayers, are considered. The motion failed on a 4-3 vote.

Councilman Gary Wysocky also proposed adding language setting a goal of the agency to pay prevailing wages and enter into project labor agreements. That vote similarly failed on a 4-3 vote.

David Keller, chairman of Sonoma County Conservation Action, praised the council for doing a thorough analysis.

“Certainly in the political setting this has been set up in, stopping to take the time to vet the project, to vet the details has sometimes not been particularly appreciated,” Keller said. “We do appreciate it.”

Plenty of difficult decisions lie ahead for the program, but Keller said Santa Rosa showed how those decisions should be made deliberatively and transparently.

You can reach Staff Writer Kevin McCallum at 521-5207 or kevin.mccallum @pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @citybeater.

16 Responses to “Santa Rosa strikes deal on Sonoma Clean Power”

  1. Tutha Poynt says:

    You can’t have any clean in Sonoma Clean Power with a dirty Sonoma County Supervisor holding a seat on the board! Politics as usual…

  2. James Bennett says:

    Yelling, with hands cupped around my mouth…

    Using common sense will give you a head ache.

  3. observer says:

    What if Sonoma County weren’t run for County insiders? What if Sonoma County weren’t one of the most corrupt counties in the state?

    What if the hundreds of millions in General Fund resources, 4000 talented staff, $180 million in Sonoma Clean Power revenues, $200 million a year in Clean Power contracts and capital spending WERE NOT being systematically milked for the benefit of a handful of insiders?

    Do you think we would be a billion behind on pensions?

    Do you think we would be a billion behind on roads?

    Do you think we would have set up a local power agency that will be 10% to 20% more expensive to rate payers than the best local alternative—Healdsburg/NCPA?

    Do you think we would have wasted $60 million of public money on an energy project—Sonoma County Energy Independence (“SCEIP”)—that produced 20 jobs annually, reduced CO2 by one half of one percent of the County’s goal; that was blacklisted for capital markets financing by the federal housing authorities; that loses $3 million a year; that will continue to lose $3 million a year for the next 20 years; and that the Water Agency intends to bury in the Sonoma Clean Power financials?

    Do you think we would have failed to hold the Water Agency accountable for its $95,000 bribe to a Santa Rosa Planning Commissioner in 2010?

    For its $115,000 no-bid/no work contract to a local political operative in 2011-2012 disguised as a Sonoma Clean Power consulting project?

    What is Sonoma County were run for its citizens, taxpayers and rate payers?
    What if the County of Sonoma were actually government of the people, by the people, for the people?

    What if we had a sustainable County budget?

    What if we started, right now, fixing our roads on a broad scale?

    What if we started with Sonoma Clean Governance; then asked, what if Sonoma Clean Power—instead of being a massive graft and payoffs vehicle for County insiders—were an instrument of revitalization for Sonoma County?

    What if we said Sonoma Clean Power is a community-wide experiment, enabled with smart phones and tablets, where everyone who tracked and drove down their energy consumption by 15% with easy-to-use solutions, got to trade in their gas guzzlers for a $200/month hybrid car lease?

    Do you know that if we got just 7500 people a year over five years to sign up for these green car leases that we could generate 150,000 tons CO2 reduction–at no cost to the County or cities–a CO2 reduction vastly greater than that promised by Sonoma Clean Power which will create a billion or more in risk to us?

    What if Santa Rosa JC and Sonoma State became world leaders in clean energy applications research and development, funded by world class companies seeking to partner in a community scale clean living experiment in a beautiful California wine country county.

    Our County is run by moral and mental runts. It’s not just that they’re looting the County treasury and driving us towards insolvency. It’s the lost opportunity. This County could be great.
    Andrew Simpson

  4. Phil Maher says:

    …and I want to add: relying on the ignorance and apathy of ratepayers that aren’t tuned in to this issue for one’s success is despicable. That might be the way our local government wants it, and is accustomed to operating, but such deception and misinformation is generally considered criminal in the real world of the private sector, where consumer protection is sacred and still protected.

  5. Larry Watkins says:

    As the little girl says in the ad, “we want more, we want more.” The truth is we in this country demand more energy, not less.

    Wind, solar and biofuels are a magic formula and like all magic, an illusion. The only real power comes from oil, coal and nuclear.

    This little county power project is a feel good costly endeavor designed to spend lots of taxpayer dollars on a total boondoggle.

  6. Phil Maher says:

    Why no opt-out form in my hands already? I want it, now! I want to wash my hands of this failure in the making and be done with even thinking about it.

    Someone seems to be forgetting that, unlike government, private industry doesn’t base their decisions on wishful thinking and speculation. And just like PG&E, the four prospective providers all have a fiduciary duty to their shareholders’ interests, first and foremost. Cities signing on is one thing, but until the numbers of actual ratepayers that wish to opt-out is quantified, there is no way that any of these companies can or will offer the best and lowest price possible. It just doesn’t work that way…period!

  7. observer says:

    My name is Andrew Simpson. I went to a gathering in a Santa Rosa restaurant this evening for folks interested in fixing what ails Sonoma County governance. One attendee chided me for my repeated criticism of the Water Agency in connection with Sonoma Clean Power.

    I pointed out to him that I never, ever named names; which he dismissed as irrelevant. His point—paraphrasing– was, “you keep calling these guys morons”.

    Fair point.

    They’re not morons. They’re well-spoken well- educated guys engaged in moronic behavior.

    I think they’re guys who were put in pivotal jobs to enable cronyism; to enable no-bid contracts; to enable no-work contracts (that is, contracts which pay and which do not in practice require work in return); to enable skim to big campaign contributors.

    I don’t think they’re getting money in brown bags. I don’t think they’re getting preferential mortgages or free vacations to exotic places. I don’t think they’re getting rich from any illicit activity.

    I think they’re securing big jobs with high pay and good benefits with expanding authority. I think that if the selection criteria for the jobs they hold were rigorously meritocratic, they might not be top contenders on the basis of engineering or public administration skills.

    I think they’re regular guys who got along in the County governance system by going along.

    By going along with what? A governance culture that runs on this idea: we work for the people who get us elected: the big campaign contributors and influencers.

    I think the Supervisors, County Counsel, Auditor Controller, the Water Agency and certain other units operate by consensus within this governance culture.

    The Press Democrat knowingly abets this governance culture; as do the Grand Jury and the DA: how else to explain the lack of public accountability for a billion underwater on pensions; a billion behind on roads; a Water Agency that bribes a Santa Rosa Planning Commissioner without any reaction from the Supervisors, the Auditor Controller, the DA or the Grand Jury? How else to explain a billion dollar blank check conveyed to the Water Agency for Sonoma Clean Power, on the heels of a feasibility study that didn’t even both to mention that County rate payers have another alternative to PG&E: Healdsburg/NCPA, which is 10% cheaper—at least—than either PG&E or Sonoma Clean Power.

    This is the opposite of conspiracy.

    This is values and beliefs translated into culture translated into behavior.

    The County of Sonoma may be the most corrupt county in the state. To pin that corruption on a few guys in the Water Agency makes no sense. But to hold up the Water Agency senior executives as an example of the way things work, across County government, is fair.

    When the dust settles, these guys work for us. Even if they and their colleagues on the BOS and in the other agencies forgot that fact.

  8. Paul says:

    I am concerned already, as the use “supplant” has been used, making it sound like our option to opt out may be fading fast. Feels like a dictatorship to me.
    On another subject, may I suggest all of you put http://www.ghostery.com software in your computer. It’s free. It will block the thirty to sixty plus trackers on most pages of this rag. Doubt me? Load it in, then turn it off and look at that huge long black list on the right side of your screen, all your vitals being sucked out for their later use.
    OPT OUT NOW!!!

  9. GAJ says:

    So they don’t even wait for the consultants’ reports?

  10. observer says:

    Mark Felt, late of Santa Rosa, was Woodward’s Deep Throat. He had two epic quotes: 1) follow the money; and 2) these guys aren’t too smart.

    #1 translates to this question: since SCP offers no rate improvement, no local reduction in CO2 and no impact on jobs, why did the City Council sign on? We know the Supervisors get greased on a regular basis by campaign contributors in exchange for recyling “skim” on key contracts. We know the Water Agency’s modus operandi is to buy people, including the 2010 purchase for $95,000 of a Santa Rosa Planning Commissioner. So the question here isn’t, was somebody bought? The question here is, what was the price?

    2)these guys aren’t too smart.

    Look at our pensions and roads. Now look at handing a billion dollar blank check to the people who got us into fiscal peril.

    You can fill in the blanks.

    Andrew Simpson

  11. HenryBernard says:

    “Then on July 25, the board of directors of Sonoma Clean Power will have to agree to the changes negotiated by Syphers, which he said he will “heartily support” but which he could not guarantee will pass.”

    The more things change, the more they stay the same. Trust the word of an SCWA mouthpiece? I’d more willingly invite Efren Carrillo to secure my organic farm against an encircling vineyard operated by Paul Hobbs.

  12. Reality Check says:

    Why I am not surprised. I guess this was about making sure the city of Santa Rosa had clout on the governing board, not whether it’s a good idea.

    So now Santa Rosa is a full partner with the county. It’s still being rushed, and rushed by local governments that can’t financially handle the core government services they’re already committed to provide.

    It’s had not to think this is a modern version of Beard and Circuses for the masses.

  13. Follower says:

    “Advocates of the program” are either morons or thieves.

  14. James Bennett says:

    I must be psychic.

  15. Elephant says:

    Hmmmmph. Just when I thought that the Santa Rosa City council actually cared about the real needs of the people, they follow the political status quo in lockstep that has gotten this county mired in debt and potholes. There is still no word from PG&E on this situation. There are still no details on the $10 million in start-up loans.

    The second paragraph in this article states: “The tentative, unanimous vote ends the long and at times tense political stand-off over whether the city would allow its residents and businesses to sign up for the program that aims to supplant PG&E as the county’s dominant energy supplier.”

    Since SCP is set up as opt out and not opt in (aka sign-up), the last half of that statement is somewhere between misdirection and a blatant lie. Take your pick. SCP in their twisted minds sees themselves as a replacement for PG&E, not something to supplant it. If it was a real alternative, it would be opt in. And it isn’t. This exploitation of the general public’s lack of knowledge of is appalling. it is clear to me that SCP is doomed to a very very expensive failure.

  16. Grapevines says:

    Where do I obtain an “OPT OUT” form??

    I encourage everyone to join me and remember who voted this ponzi scheme in when elections come around.