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Sonoma Clean Power debate: Can electricity be both green and cheap?


Electricity from Sonoma County’s fledgling public power agency can be cheap or green, and there may be conflict over the choice, Sebastopol Mayor Michael Kyes said.

“Green costs more,” said Kyes, who will be seated later this month on the governing board of Sonoma Clean Power, the local agency that aims to displace PG&E as the area’s leading energy provider.

powerplantSebastopol, which voted this week to join the new power agency, has one goal: reducing greenhouse gas emissions to “save a melting planet,” Kyes said.

The emphasis should be on reducing power’s carbon footprint, not cutting its cost, Kyes said, asserting that the objectives are not necessarily compatible.

But Geof Syphers, interim CEO of Sonoma Clean Power, said the agency aims to deliver power that is both cleaner and cheaper than PG&E.

“It absolutely can be,” he said.

Still, there might be some tug of war over which concept prevails.

Ann Hancock, executive director of the Climate Protection Campaign, a key power agency supporter, said there is “some inherent conflict” between price and eco-friendliness.

Fossil fuels such as coal and natural gas produce cheaper power than renewables because the “true costs” — including the release of gases that contribute to global warming — go unpaid, she said.

The power agency, which intends to begin supplying electricity in January, has said first-year bills will range from $1.73 less to $1.02 more per month for a 2,000-square-foot single family home, based on preliminary projections.

Some officials have pressed the new agency to focus strongly on affordable rates.

“It’s rates, rates, rates,” county Board of Supervisors Chairman David Rabbitt said in April.

Santa Rosa City Councilman Gary Wysocky has said there aren’t enough ratepayer protections in the power plan, and that rate reduction should be a stated goal, not just cleaner energy.

The power agency has set a Tuesday deadline for cities to join, and only Sebastopol, Cotati and Windsor have done so, along with the unincorporated area governed by the Board of Supervisors.

Those jurisdictions account for almost 41 percent of the county’s power load, according to PG&E data. Santa Rosa, with another 34.6 percent of the load is set to decide on power agency membership on Tuesday.

Although they agreed to join the new agency, Sebastopol council members expressed some skepticism about the green power claims of Sonoma Clean Power.

Regardless of cost, Kyes said, the local agency’s startup power supply will not be as clean as PG&E’s “no matter what(agency officials) say.”

Sonoma Clean Power says it will draw 33 percent of its power from renewable sources, including wind, solar, geothermal, biomass and small hydroelectric projects.

About half of the county’s renewable supply would come from energy credits, which are purchased from energy producers that have unsold green power. The actual energy comes off the grid from standard sources, including fossil fuel-based suppliers.

PG&E says its gets 19 percent from renewables, with an additional 22 percent from nuclear power and 18 percent from large hydropower facilities, which do not meet California’s definition of renewable.

Kyes, who will join the local power agency board at a public meeting set for July 30, maintains that nuclear and hydropower plants, large and small, are carbon free, giving PG&E a large green power portfolio.

He also dismissed defining energy credits as renewable, calling them an exercise in “shifting the paperwork.”

Hancock disputed the idea that nuclear power is clean, citing the unsolved problem of disposing of nuclear waste and the risk of a meltdown similar to the Fukushima, Japan disaster.

Syphers said the county agency intends to beat PG&E on renewables, as well as carbon-clean power, without using any nuclear power.

Renewable power is currently “a little bit more expensive” than power from combustion of fossil fuels such as natural gas, he said. But over time, he said, renewables will get cheaper while “general market energy” grows pricier.

In addition, he said the power agency, unlike an investor-owned utility such as PG&E, will not have to pay dividends to stockholders.

The power agency initially considered a portfolio of 50 percent renewable power, but found it would come at a price premium of about 8 percent, which would be “too high for some customers,” Syphers said.

The startup level was dropped to 33 percent renewables, with an option for customers to elect 100 percent renewables, he said. The price for that option hasn’t been determined, but might be about $8 more per month for the average residential customer.

(You can reach Staff Writer Guy Kovner at 521-5457 or guy.kovner@pressdemocrat.com.)

17 Responses to “Sonoma Clean Power debate: Can electricity be both green and cheap?”

  1. Follower says:

    You forgot the last part…

    “Because if you don’t, we’re going to lobby for new laws to FORCE YOU to go solar.”

    Oh, that’s right… you’re already doing that!


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  2. Patrock E. Leiva says:

    Folks, save the knee jerk reactions because they call it “Green”. When, when has a government agency done a better job at something than a publicly controlled, heavily regulated, private utility with a decades long record of good service? Somebody’s palms are being crossed and it won’t be pretty down the road. Take a hard look at what is happening in Marin. If its such a great thing then why the bum’s rush for us to decide on something so important. Caution, and prudence should rule the day. Feels like Elmer getting foisted by Bugs to me!

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  3. RICHARD says:

    FYI only, not a recommendation, solar is not always a good deal.

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    When you go solar, Sungevity will send $750 back to your local Sierra Club chapter.
    On top of all that, you get $750 for going solar.

    Join hundreds of other Sierra Club supporters and go solar today with the Sierra Club and Sungevity.”

    Thumb up 0 Thumb down 11

  4. Steveguy says:

    Am I a Utopian ? I wish for a local Power Agency that has the citizen’s
    and business consumer’s interests in mind. For both rates and cleanness. We already use 100% green power from the Geysers Complex, the largest in the world and we even contribute our urine to that effort.

    In my dream world, we buy an existing Geysers plant or two and retro-fit and expand the use of them. Our rates can go down 20% and more when we sell the excess and sell those phony credits to other duped municipalities.

    Imagine 25-30% cheaper rates as that is what is possible. Employers would love that. Businesses would love that. I would too ! Free energy for the streetlights !

    Instead, FIRST on the list of Sonoma Clean Power is a $100 Million solar plant by the airport. Yes $100 Million. If that $100 Million went to combine with Calpine or others we could be a 100% green provider at more than 20% less cost. Solar is 3-4 times the cost- ouch.

    I dream a dream, they are presenting a nightmare. A shiny box with darkness inside. Wake up.

    Steve Mosher

    Thumb up 36 Thumb down 2

  5. Al Scot says:

    Here are the numbers http://marininfo.org/Energy/MCE_portfolio.htm
    2012 Electric Power Generation Mix*

    Percent of Total Retail Sales (kWh)
    PURCHASES PG&E MCE Light Green MCE Deep Green
    Renewable 19% 53% 100%
    • Biomass & Biowaste 4% 12% 0%
    • Geothermal 5% 0% 0%
    • Eligible hydroelectric 4% 2% 0%
    • Solar electric 0% 1% 0%
    • Wind 6% 38% 100%
    Coal 0% 0% 0%
    Large hydroelectric 18% 7% 0%
    Natural gas 25% 0% 0%
    Nuclear 22% 0% 0%
    Other 1% 0% 0%
    Unspecified Power 15% 40% 0%
    TOTAL 100% 100% 100%

    40% “Unspecified Power” ? (What the heck is “Other” then?)

    And the 12% on Biomass/waste burning is not included in the Green House Gas emission calculation!

    I suggest Sonoma waits till Oct 1st for the Independent Audit ( which had better explain how “Other” and “Unspecified” co-exist).

    Thumb up 28 Thumb down 1

  6. inside9 says:

    Michael Kyes – Why did you vote to go along with a group that you know is either purposefully misrepresenting the truth about energy costs or is truly ignorant of those truths?

    Either way it reflects badly on Sebastopol leadership!

    Thumb up 33 Thumb down 2

  7. Al Scot says:

    Marin County has just issued a document
    “2012 Electric Power Generation Mix” (which you won’t find on the MCE website)

    • Biomass & Biowaste
    • Geothermal
    • Eligible hydroelectric
    • Solar electric
    • Wind
    Large hydroelectric
    Natural gas

    The doc goes on to declare 40% “Unspecified Power” ? (What the heck is “Other” then?)

    And the 12% on Biomass/waste burning is not included in the Green House Gas emission caculation!

    I suggest Sonoma waits till Oct 1st for the Independent Audit ( which had beter explain how “Other” and “Unspecified” co-exist).
    http://pge.com/includes/docs/pdfs/myhome/customerservice/energychoice/communitychoiceaggregation/gen portfolio.pdf

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  8. Steveguy says:

    Not using any nuke power ? That is a crazy statement, as anyone that knows the grid understands that we get ZERO electrons from nuke power. None, zero, notta.

    For the person in charge to say this is very disturbing and shows either a lack of understanding or a deliberate quote that is just plain misinformation.

    Oh my, this is the way we start ?

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  9. han sutro says:

    Something smells fishy with this plan….Follow the money and you will see, first the bank making millions on interest payment float, then local bloating employee jobs promised,
    I don’t think they want anyone to look at this very closely otherwise the speed at the passing and approval would be lengthened with voting on this issue….

    Thumb up 30 Thumb down 0

  10. Beef King says:

    …”Syphers said the county agency intends to beat PG&E on renewables, as well as carbon-clean power, without using any nuclear power.”

    What the *#@& has Geoff Syphers actually accomplished that he could expect us to believe that he knows what he is doing?

    How are the County Supervisors qualified to determine who should run their little power trip?

    Either Sonoma Taxpayers are incredibly out-of touch with what their elected officials are doing, or they don’t care as long as its not a Republican doing the damage.
    Maybe both.
    Either way this is new Power scheme will be trouble.
    Look what they’ve done to our region real estate valuations through SCEIP.
    When will taxpayers say no more?

    Thumb up 41 Thumb down 2

  11. Beef King says:

    I’m going to vote for any candidate that tells the truth.
    The truth is the County cannot afford this experiment, and the only beneficiaries will be those new employees who will get to suck taxpayers dry at the pension pond.

    Goodbye Efren, you had promise but couldn’t deliver on the truth.

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  12. Fed Up Taxpayer says:

    My neighborhood had a private group going around a couple of years ago trying to get us to sign up for buying our natural gas from them instead of PG&E and they gave us lower prices with them making a profit also all with PG&E still giving us gas and billing us. The only difference in the county plan is that we get NO real savings and create a money eating bureaucrat system with no real goal of being any greener that PG&E except on paper and giving us the same energy we get now.

    Thumb up 36 Thumb down 1

  13. Thanks says:

    Let’s give David Rabbitt kudos for saying NO!

    Thumb up 29 Thumb down 2

  14. The Hammer says:

    The systems isn’t in place yet they are already telling us our rates will be higher. This isn’t for me.

    If they really want to make a difference then they need to convince China to go green.

    Thumb up 29 Thumb down 0

  15. James Bennett says:

    Good post Steveguy.

    This little piece ‘o propaganda is called; setting the hook.

    Can energy be “green AND cheap”?

    Playin’ the serfs like a plastic piano.

    Thumb up 34 Thumb down 3

  16. Steveguy says:

    REALLY ! How can ‘select’ 100% renewable when you already have it ? How ?

    “The startup level was dropped to 33 percent renewables, with an option for customers to elect 100 percent renewables, he said. The price for that option hasn’t been determined, but might be about $8 more per month for the average residential customer. ”

    Excuse me folks, but you are being lied to. 100% of your power comes from the Geysers, period.

    Thumb up 32 Thumb down 2

  17. Steveguy says:

    Green and cheap ? YES !! There are facts and there are plain lies and manipulations of numbers that need looked at. Really

    Facts are that PG&E or even SGP (Sonoma Greed Power) will get every electron from the Geysers Complex. Maybe Petaluma and Sonoma get a small percentage from nat gas ( Pittsburg) or large hydro (Shasta Dam ?). Local excess solar has a small percentage and is gobbled up by the neighbors.

    If you live near a nuke plant 100% of yours is nuke, same with nat gas, small or large hydro, coal, geysers, etc. There are long distance lines from high producers ( nuke, large hydro like Shasta, Hetch Hetchy, or to power the main grid lines.)

    To say that PG&E or SGP have rates of 19%, 22%, 33%, 50% green whatever percent is ludicrous when compared to our small area.

    The plain fact is that 100% of our power comes from the Geysers that is 100% clean and green except for that hundreds of millions we spent on a big urine pipe and the pumping costs. Power is a trading game, just trading paper and ‘credits’ generally run by the likes of Goldman Sachs. Yes, that Goldman Sachs.

    The odd thing is that SGP has a ‘greener option’ at 8% more cost for 50% green. Meanwhile we are green whether we like it or not as we are 100% green for the actual power that we use. Hmmm

    I wish for a local power agency can get us CHEAPER of what we already have. Lower rates means more businesses that use larger amounts, like high-tech. We could actually be a shining star, but this scheme reeks. They have a shiny box with secrets inside. Real governance would have due diligence for the people and the planet. If the plan was to get with Calpine and make more electrons to sell to others I would be all for it and the rates could be crazy cheap. You know, the common sense approach, the logical one.

    The Board’s plan seems to try to play with the big boys. If you think PG&E is a shark, they are angels compared to some of the Board’s final choices.

    Why is this ignored ?

    Steve Mosher

    Thumb up 42 Thumb down 2

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