By BRETT WILKISON
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
A key consultant on Sonoma County’s bid to launch a public power agency is now set to lead the venture as its chief executive officer.
Geof Syphers, an adviser under contract with the county Water Agency from the earliest formal stages of the power plan, was selected Tuesday as the CEO on a 5-0 vote of the Sonoma Clean Power board.
“I’m honored to be given the opportunity to deliver this program,” Syphers, 42, said in an interview after his appointment.
He assumes a central role as the agency’s administrator, lead spokesman and chief negotiator in crucial power supply contracts. That new stage for the startup is set to begin later this month with an aim to begin supplying electricity to homes and businesses Jan. 1.
In the next week, the demands of the new job may be more political. The county is entering a critical period courting its largest potential partner, Santa Rosa, whose participation is seen as key to the political standing if not the business success of the effort.
On Tuesday, the city’s path to join appeared to grow more complicated, putting Santa Rosa and county officials back in a standoff before the city’s July 9 vote. Syphers and other county officials acknowledged that some last-minute negotiations were ahead.
“We’ll do what we can to bring Santa Rosa in,” Syphers said. “If the city wants to wait because they still have unanswered questions, then we’ll do our best to answer them. If they remain undecided, they can choose to wait.”
Syphers was selected over two other final candidates. All three were interviewed for a second time by the power agency board Tuesday afternoon. The screening followed interviews with the mayors of four cities — Santa Rosa, Sebastopol, Sonoma and Cotati — all of which were still weighing their decision last month.
Syphers’ appointment is on an interim basis, a move that allows a larger board including other cities the chance to revisit the selection. Cotati joined the power agency last week while Sebastopol debated its participation late into Tuesday night.
Supervisor David Rabbitt, the board chairman for Sonoma Clean Power, welcomed Syphers as a chief executive familiar with the program who could “hit the ground running.”
“He is running already. I think that really does play an important factor,” Rabbitt said. He praised the other two candidates, whose names county officials withheld citing the confidentiality of the recruitment and hiring process.
“I think Geof just offers us more checks on the list to make sure we’re successful,” Rabbitt said.
Since mid-2012, Syphers has worked under a $124,000 consulting contract with the county Water Agency, the department spearheading the power proposal.
After he expressed his interest in the CEO post, around February, he was kept out of any discussions about the position, said Deputy County Counsel Steve Shupe, who has overseen legal issues for the startup agency.
From 2006 to 2012 Syphers was a sustainability expert for Codding Enterprises, the Rohnert Park developer. He managed energy and planning elements in the company’s Sonoma Mountain Village mixed-use development, including the installation of two megawatts of solar power and the retrofit of 400,000 square feet of commercial space.
He established his own consulting firm in 2010.
Previously he worked in the Bay Area for DNV-KEMA, an international firm specializing in energy and sustainability. He has a bachelor’s degree in applied physics from Sonoma State University and a master’s degree in energy engineering from the University of Massachusetts.
Syphers’ new duties will include hiring four to six staff members for the agency who will provide legal, communications, administrative and operational work. Eventually, the agency will probably top out at 12 to 15 employees, he said.
“It’s a fairly small organization,” he said.
Syphers’ salary has not been determined. It could be part of a contract brought forward at the agency’s next public meeting, tentatively scheduled for July 25.
Syphers’ consulting contract was set to end with his appointment, a county Water Agency official said.
You can reach Staff Writer Brett Wilkison at 521-5295 or firstname.lastname@example.org.