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Sonoma Clean Power launch approaching soon


Officials overseeing Sonoma County’s startup public power agency on Thursday discussed the agency’s rapidly approaching launch, including a series of steps geared toward securing an initial power supply and the simpler task of setting up office space.

After more than two years of planning and preliminary development, Sonoma Clean Power is entering its busiest phase yet.

power lines“It really is crunch time at the end of October, November and December,” said Sonoma County Supervisor Susan Gorin, the power agency chairwoman.

Next month, the public will get its first look at the retail rates staff will use to guide power supply negotiations.

At the same time, the agency plans to unveil draft terms and conditions, including the general power supply mix and greenhouse gas emission targets, that four competing energy companies will use to bid for the initial contract.

With the county and five cities currently participating, and assuming a 20 percent opt-out rate by customers who prefer to stay with PG&E, the proposed three-year deal could be worth $130 million in annual revenue by 2017.

If final prices are favorable, the lowest-cost bidder could be selected by staff in late October or November, setting in motion at least two months of work to establish residential and commercial rates and notify future customers.

Sonoma Clean Power officials said Thursday that the schedule of upcoming decisions was “aggressive.”

The venture, billed as a greener, competitively priced alternative to PG&E, expects to begin supplying electricity to its first wave of mostly commercial customers next May.

By early next month, the agency plans to seat two appointed advisory committees to guide the rate-setting process and business operations. Applications for the two bodies have been out for more than a month and a total of 29 candidates have applied.

Some board members said they were heartened by the response, but others said the agency needed to cast a wider net.

“I don’t see a lot of diversity. I have a problem with that,” said Supervisor Shirlee Zane. She cited the lack of women applicants for the five-member business operations committee and a shortage of Latino names putting in for service on the seven-member ratepayer committee.

“My concern is that we’re not publicizing this in a much broader way,” said Zane.

Santa Rosa City Councilman Gary Wysocky, sitting in as an alternate, said he saw some “sharp people” on the public list of those who have applied so far.

“I appreciate diversity, but I would hope that diversity doesn’t trump competence,” Wysocky said. “If it hasn’t been publicized, that’s one issue … There are competent, diverse individuals out there. But they have to step forward.”

The board extended the deadline a week, to Sept. 27. Details on the two committees and the application process can be found on the agency’s website, sonomacleanpower.org.

The board also gave feedback on work to establish employee retirement and medical benefit packages.

The agency is proposing to offer a combined defined contribution 401(a)/457 retirement plan with a four percent employer match. Such plans are generally less costly for employers than traditional defined benefit pensions.

The agency anticipates paying 75 percent of the cost of employee-only medical coverage, or up to $1,720 per employee per month. Board members also directed staff to explore options for partial family coverage. Dental and vision plans would be entirely employer-paid.

The agency currently hiring for two positions, a public affairs and marketing manager and an executive assistant. Interim CEO Geof Syphers, now the sole employee, described the benefits package as “lean,” in the lower range of total compensation for similar posts at other local public agencies, according to a Sonoma Clean Power comparison.

Syphers, who has voiced his preference for experienced employees, said the lower-cost benefits approach was best for the startup.

“If somebody wants to get a position where they are coasting, we don’t really want them on our team,” he said. “So I’m willing to start at the low end here and see if we can attract the right people.”

Syphers informed the board that he had signed a lease for office space at 50 Old Courthouse Square in downtown Santa Rosa.

The 40-month deal with the Airport Business Center, the landlord, has a total cost of $170,456, or an average rate of $1.84 per square foot for the 2,300-square-foot space.

Temporary quarters in the office will be occupied within the next four weeks, with full occupancy by January, when improvements are scheduled to be complete.

“It’s going to look pretty rough for a few months,” Syphers said. “I’m not inviting the public to come meet us up there yet.”

(You can reach Staff Writer Brett Wilkison at 521-5295 or brett.wilkison@pressdemocrat.com.)

7 Responses to “Sonoma Clean Power launch approaching soon”

  1. Dan Drummond Sr says:

    The combined defined contribution 401(a)/457 retirement plan is a step in the right direction for government employee retirement plans. But they should limit these employees to 29 hrs/week and refrain from medical benefits. These employees can buy healthcare insurance from Covered California.

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  2. observer says:

    There’s some simple reference points for “how’s it going with Sonoma Clean Power?”

    1. Specific goals for CO2 reduction IN SONOMA COUNTY
    2. Specific goals for job creation IN SONOMA COUNTY
    3. Specific goals for rates IN SONOMA COUNTY
    4. Specific standards of transparency: including balance sheet,
    income statement and cash flow forecasts for Sonoma Clean
    5. Specific standards for PEOPLE: including a statement regarding
    6. Specific standards of ethical conduct for Sonoma Clean Power,
    Its staff, its contracting procedures, conflicts of interest, and its
    audit procedures and the fiduciary responsibility of its Board of

    If you’re in the Water Agency, the Board of Supervisors, the Clean Power Staff, County Counsel, Auditor Controller or Clean Power Board of Directors, these seven points are obviously the last thing in heaven or on earth you want for Sonoma Clean Power.

    Here’s why.

    You know—and we know—that Sonoma Clean Power was envisioned by Randy Poole and the Climate Protection Campaign as something great: something that would drive CO2 to 25% below 1990 levels; that would unleash Sonoma County as a world leading science experiment in clean living; that would attract billions in no-risk-to-taxpayer sponsor capital from Fortune Global 1000 companies eager to participate in a community scale experiment in clean living ; that would drive thousands of new jobs; that would unleash Sonoma State and Santa Rosa JC as centers of applied environmental science and engineering; that would unleash STEM (science technology math engineering) training in our grammar schools, middle schools and high schools; that would make Sonoma County a new kind of technology mecca—Green Valley vs. Silicon Valley.

    And if we are to achieve this community-scale vision, we need to set goals. For example.

    At the instigation of the Climate Protection Campaign, the County and the cities all agreed to drive down CO2 to 25% below 1990 levels. It’s 4.1 million tons today. The goal is 2.7 million tons a year, or 25% below 1990’s level of 3.6 million metric tons.

    The County and the cities all agreed to this. Would you like to know who said, in writing, that they NEVER agreed to this, and refuses to be held accountable to this standard—and why this standard will NEVER appear in any Sonoma Clean Power plan? The Water Agency said, in writing, that they never agreed to this standard. Bear in mind the Water Agency is governed by the Board of Supervisors.
    Here’s why the Water Agency—which controls every penny and every decision in Sonoma Clean Power—will never agree to affirm in writing the County and cities CO2 reduction goal.

    Because the Water Agency has two purposes.

    The first, very ably executed by 95% of its dedicated, highly professional employees, is to deliver good water and sewage services.

    Which they do. The people who actually do the real operational work at the Water Agency are really good at it.

    However. The Water Agency has a second purpose.

    And that is the systematic diversion of funds to the County insiders fund and influence campaigns. Which is why, if you simply read the local newspapers, you may note an occasional gaffe or glaring inconsistency in the public pronouncements by the senior leadership.

    These folks are nominally qualified in engineering (I STUDIED ENGINEERING FOR FOUR YEARS AND NOW I ARE ONE) and public policy but all they’ve been doing for the last several years is get ready for the County of Sonoma version of Grand Theft Auto.

    They recycle funds to friends of the Supervisors as a kind of vocation, even a calling; then hire public relations folks to plant stories in the PD to create the impression that the Water Agency is a diligent provider of public service.

    If you’re one of the 195 good guys and women at the Water Agency who actually work with dedication and creativity to do just that, thank you; if you’re one of the handful of moguls at the Water Agency who lie and steal as a daily reflex, well, consider this.

    Actions speak louder than words.

    Sonoma County Energy Independence (“SCEIP”)—a Water Agency fiasco—is a good preview of why specific goals, transparency, and accountability would be useful innovations at a new entity, Sonoma Clean Power, that from its nascence has been designed as a felony.

    You made have heard this before so I’ll make it brief. Instead of pumping $60 million into roads, the Water Agency, with the complicity of the Board of Supervisors, swiped $60 million of tax payer and rate payer money to create a pilot for Sonoma Clean Power, designed to demonstrate the Water Agency’s ability to run a clean energy initiative.

    The idea was, borrow $60 million in a short term loan from the County, package up a bunch of solar energy loans to homes and businesses, then resell them in the mortgage markets.


    First, the Federal Housing Finance Authority blacklisted those loans. So now the County is stuck with them.

    Second, these loans and associated projects didn’t have any impact on CO2 reduction (6000 tons reduced vs. the County’s own goal of 1.4 million tons a year reduced). Third they didn’t have any impact on jobs. Well, that’s not quite correct. By the Auditor Controller’s testimony to the US Senate, SCEIP created 145,000 man hours of work in Sonoma County. What the Auditor Controller (reading from a script provided by the Water Agency) failed to mention was that those 145,000 man hours were over four years. That’s 36,000 hours a year. Divided by the average man year of work of 2,000 hours, that’s 18 jobs. Two shifts at In-and-Out-Burger. Or, $3 million dollars a job. Thank you, Sonoma County Water Agency.

    SCEIP—or more appropriately, SCALP, as in scalp the taxpayers—is a preview of Sonoma Clean Power: huge amounts of money spent with no benefit on local jobs or CO2 reduction. And lots of siphon-holes to recycle money to local friends of the Supes.

    As we watch Sonoma Clean Power unfold, ask yourself why there is plan, no goals, no accountability, no local CO2 reduction, no jobs, hugely escalating wads of money going into Friends-of-Supervisors projects; ask yourself why Sonoma Clean Power finally ends up hiring as permanent CEO someone with zero credentials as a power company operator; why Sonoma Clean Power never EVER attracts anyone of professional standing in academia, climate protection, finance or public policy: it’s because no one of standing would associate themselves with a transparent Ponzi scheme sponsored by one of the most corrupt county governments in California.

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  3. “Officials overseeing Sonoma County’s startup public power agency discussed the agency’s rapidly approaching launch, including a series of steps geared toward securing an initial power supply.”

    Substitute just a few words and see what a total farce Sonoma Ponzi Power is:

    Officials overseeing Apple’s startup computer company discussed the company’s rapidly approaching launch, including a series of steps geared designing their first product.”

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  4. Steveguy says:

    Up to $1,720 a month for health insurance ? With free vision and dental ?

    How special.

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  5. daryl says:

    1.84 a sq ft is about twice the going rate for office space. perhaps it’s “green” office space!

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  6. Ken Worburton says:

    Anyone tracking the money flow? Marin Energy is paying its consultant Dalessi over $300,000 per year. SCP just approved a contract that guy for another $253,000. Dalessi lives in El Dorado Hills (Sacramento). I know several local power experts who could do that job for less. So much for using local, “lean” expertise.

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  7. Emerson Burkett says:

    Hmmm, still waiting to get my “Opt Out” letter, cannot wait to mail it back in. Sonoma Greed Power does seem to succinctly sum up this boondoggle. Syphers describes the benefit Package as “lean”. “Lean” by whose standards? The Bloated Standards of Sonoma County Government? What do you want to bet the “New Hires” are “Friends of People in High Places”?

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