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Sonoma Clean Power names CEO

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.

Geof Syphers.

Geof Syphers.

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 brett.wilkison@pressdemocrat.com.





12 Responses to “Sonoma Clean Power names CEO”

  1. Beef King says:

    Neither Geoff Syphers nor the Board of Supervisors is qualified in any way to suggest there is a chance this will be successful and a benefit to taxpayers.

    This train needs to be stopped in its tracks.

  2. illegal is Legal says:

    I would really like to know why SCP (county of Sonoma) feels they have the right to take us away from our current power provider? To automatically transfer PG&E’s customer base without consent from them (PG&E) or it’s customers seems rather odd. Then give us the option to opted out after the fact?

    What do you PG&E and customers think about this?

  3. Robert says:

    I don’t have ANY confidence in the 5 temporaries. Their latest round of contracts that took away the 20 year requirements for retirement medical showed serious self serving. But to classify every large company that does business with the county as an “insider”? That there is a set percentage in the tens of millions that just gets carried out the door? Maybe if someone invests millions in heavy equipment and insurance then they too can bid on these huge projects. You don’t hand out a 10 mile road project to “2 guys with a truck”. Then again, maybe you would.
    I don’t equate stupidity to corruption. They are naïve, ignorant and self serving. With all the politicians around the country going to prison for actual corruption, I can’t believe the conspiracy theories. These politicians just aren’t that smart.
    The people of this county deserve to have their taxes raised, their roads got to crap and their money mishandled. They are proud of their progressive stranglehold on the county politics. That’s what you get. Just keep voting them back into office.

  4. GAJ says:

    @Robert, head in the sand much?

    Please provide us with examples of outstanding stewardship in the last 10 years by our esteemed Board of Supervisors which would lead to confidence in their decision making?

  5. James Bennett says:

    The ‘wizards’ behind the curtain are the United Nation globalists.

    The all of moves that defy our logic and assumption of good will, all the fiscal crashing that seems so obvious to us, is connected.

    With our ICLEI Charter membership, are public officials carry out their directive.

    THAT’S what’s really goin’ on.

    Until we stand together and demand that we purge this societal cancer from our community, the life will we chocked ou of this highly desireable place we call home.

  6. Robert says:

    Wow, The Reynolds Wrap brigade has it all figured out. It’s a wonder no one else thought of that.

  7. andrew simpson says:

    I made a mistake in my prior estimate of “skim” to be paid by the Water Agency to County insiders after Sonoma Clean Power is up and running. I said $12 million. Should have said $22 million. This change in the numbers has no effect on the analysis.

  8. andrew simpson says:

    Sonoma County is close to perfect as a human habitat. Including the humane and talented people who live here; including the terrific 4000 or so people who operate our County’s government services, day to day.

    But we’re afflicted with corrupt, small time governance by the handful of leaders who direct County policy at the behest of their off-camera puppeteers, the campaign contributors and election-influencers.

    Our County puppett show includes the Board of Supervisors, the senior folks in the Water Agency, County Counsel, Auditor Controller and certain other County units.

    But so what?

    How much harm can they do?

    On the heels of a billion misallocated to pensions still escalating in cost—and not allocated to roads—the harm levels are starting to hit the red line.

    Placing Sonoma Clean Power’s $180 million in revenues and a billion dollar capital budget in these folks’ hands will put us over the red line.

    The argument that the cities won’t get stuck holding the bag– when the County does their usual recycling of cash to insiders—may be superficially accurate.

    For now.

    But just for the sake of argument, can you envision a scenario where the County anoints and wheels out a brand new Sonoma Clean Power CEO:
    • With no experience as a CEO
    • No experience in running a startup
    • No experience in running a power company
    • No training in capital raising

    And then instructs this CEO to:

    • Take control of $180 million in revenues
    • Negotiate a billion dollars in contracts and financings

    And the County makes this instruction subject to customary Water Agency guidance on Sonoma Clean Power:

    • Deny public access to key meetings
    • Create detailed financial forecasts then withhold them from public scrutiny
    • Make illegal payoffs to County insiders
    • Lie about such payoffs
    • Conceal failed investments such the $60 million fiasco of Sonoma County Energy Independence
    • Negotiate huge contracts with insiders, behind closed doors, where the contract counterparties commensurately agree (not in writing) to make specified campaign contributions and other benefits to County leaders

    This scenario suggests that the purpose of Sonoma Clean Power is to steal from the taxpayers and ratepayers; and that the CEO’s job is to put a happy face on these goings-on.

    Here’s the problem. If it were just a systematic 5% leakage of cash to insiders that would be one thing. For example, the Water Agency has revenues of $50 million and an annual capital spending budget of about $10 million. Appy the 5% leakage factor to that $60 million, and about $3 million ends up in the hands of County friends, who in turn recycle a percentage to Supervisors’ campaigns who in turn give raises and (obviously non-merit based) promotions to their apparatchiks in the Water Agency, County Counsel, etc.

    Now increase the Water Agency’s revenues by $180 million from Sonoma Clean Power and its capital budget to $200 million a year for Sonoma Clean Power. That’s a base of $60 million to which we add $180 million plus $200 million, equaling $240 million.

    Now apply the 5% grease factor to that $240 million. That’s $12 million.

    OK, but so what?

    It’s disconcerting that there would be that much systemic theft.

    That $12 million is a rounding error in the County’s cash flow. (And that’s just from the Water Agency).

    But the theft isn’t the issue. It’s the risk of running up a billion in debt in the hands of folks whose mission has nothing to do with driving down electricity rates, driving down CO2 emissions or boosting the economy.

    These folks don’t know how to run an energy business. They’re not trained for it. When you compound their lack of skill with the fact that their strings are being pulled by folks whose only goal is taking unearned cash out of the system, the resultant decision making will be dysfunctional.

    (As has been the case with County fiscal management for years.)

    They will make serious operational mistakes. They will have to run up rates. They will lose rate payers. Their cash flows will drop below levels required to honor their debts. They will default. Clean Power will fail.

    And the rating agencies and public market capital providers will take one look at the serial catastrophes of underfunded pensions, failing roads and a grossly mismanaged Sonoma Clean Power and say: no more credit for ANYBODY in Sonoma County. That includes you, Santa Rosa.

    If this reads like doomsday thinking, ask yourself:
    • Why do we have among the worst pension burdens in the state?
    • Why do we have among the worst roads in the state?
    • Why is it that the Water Agency and the County spent $60 million on a pilot program for Sonoma Clean Power (called Sonoma County Energy Independence (“SCEIP”) that produced only 20 jobs a year, reduced CO2 emissions by only one half of one percent of the County goal, runs at a current loss rate of $3 million a year, was blacklisted from federal financing gurantees, and for which the Water Agency PUBLICLY DENIES any responsibility; and which $3 million annual losses the Water Agency intends, covertly, to slip into the Clean Power financials?

  9. Elephant says:

    Can anybody say “conflict of interest”?

  10. Grapevines says:

    The only thing green about this ponzi scheme is the money that is being wasted on it. Right now has been created another overpaid county manager position that will never be eliminated, no matter how corrupt it becomes. Next will be to hire all the dysfunctional relatives of the water agency and BOS to become sub managers. And then hire sub/sub managers to do the actual work.

    Don’t forget to get in the purchase order for iPads and company cars for everyone. The emblem for this joke will be a power pole with a large screw going through it. In green.

  11. James Bennett says:

    Wait ’till you hear the salary.

    Over paying the adherent serves two purposes. Helps ensure loyalty (golden hand cuffs) and crashes coffers.

  12. GAJ says:

    Dear lord, 12 to 15 employees??

    Median Sonoma County employee pay is about $60,000 so you can expect annual employee costs, including benefits, to be well over $1million to manage this boondoggle.

    That’s about 20% of the standard road maintenance budget.