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Sonoma Clean Power turns focus to local energy creation


Officials guiding the rollout of Sonoma County’s public power agency on Tuesday kicked off an extended discussion about how the agency adds local power sources and folds in other programs and projects central to its mission of being a greener, competitively priced alternative to PG&E.

The step comes after Sonoma Clean Power cleared most of its major development hurdles, securing a power supply late last year and setting customer rates earlier this month. It is set to begin service in May to its first wave of 20,000 customers, most of which will be commercial accounts.

power linesBusiness interests pushed for the planning talks last year, seeing potentially lucrative opportunities in an expanded market for locally produced electricity, especially from solar panels.

Climate activists have been equally vocal, touting the potential to quickly and significantly reduce local greenhouse gas emissions by tapping a variety of renewable energy sources in the county.

“From our perspective, this is where the treasure is,” said Ann Hancock, executive director of the Santa Rosa-based Climate Protection Campaign. “We have put a lot of time into thinking how this can happen at an aggressive pace.”

On the other side are many of those representing Sonoma Clean Power, staff, the board of directors or its two advisory committees. They have urged a more conservative approach that could hold down ratepayer costs in the short term.

Those costs are seen as the biggest factor affecting how many customers choose to stick with the public venture or opt out and remain with PG&E. One agency adviser called that opt-out rate an “absolutely critical key measurement.”

“If we don’t retain customers, the game is lost,” said Harry Davitian, a Sebastopol energy developer and consultant who serves on the agency’s business operations committee.

The comments came at a much-anticipated meeting of the five-member business committee, which provides input on decisions ranging from power contracts and energy conservation programs to administration and finance.

The three-hour session Tuesday launched public talks aimed at developing by July a plan that will outline how the agency incorporates supply from a wider network of local electricity producers.

Proponents tout the economic and environmental benefits of power from solar panels on local homes and businesses, plus larger commercial systems on some open land. Such projects wouldn’t necessarily have to be publicly financed or owned, supporters said.

“Sonoma Clean Power, in our view, does not need to be the one doing the heavy lifting,” said Woody Hastings of the Climate Protection Campaign. “There’s a lot of space in the private sector to do that.”

But electricity from such sources tends to be more expensive than wholesale power purchased from industrial-scale suppliers.

Agency advisers said the public venture needed to keep that in mind as it plans on branching out from its initial pair of power contracts, one with a subsidiary of the Chicago energy giant Exelon Corp. and the secondary deal with the operator of The Geysers geothermal field on the Sonoma-Lake county border.

“The bottom line is Sonoma Clean Power has to move forward on a sound financial basis,” said Paul Brophy, a member of the business operations committee and founder and president of a Santa Rosa-based geothermal energy company. “Everything we do in the next five years is going to be a balancing act. That’s the way I think it has to be.”

The proposed plan would also spell out programs to encourage energy efficiency and conservation.

Anything that reduces overall electricity demand in the county would be welcomed as a major split from the sales-driven business model at PG&E and other private utilities, one speaker said.

“This is the time for Sonoma Clean Power to make the break from that investor-owned-utility model,” said John Rosenblum, a Sebastopol engineer who specializes in energy efficiency.

Sonoma Clean Power officials said the ongoing debate would help chart the venture’s next steps.

“This is a conversation about what do we do with this agency and how do we get value out of it for our community, the climate, for our economy,” said Geof Syphers, CEO of Sonoma Clean Power.

Three workshops are planned to take public input. The current schedule calls for two 7 p.m. meetings, one at the Sonoma Veterans Memorial Building on Feb. 13 and the other at the Finley Center in Santa Rosa on Feb. 20.

The third meeting is tentatively set for 10 a.m. March 1 at the Sebastopol Community Cultural Center’s youth annex building.

The agency’s next board meeting is Feb. 6.

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

9 Responses to “Sonoma Clean Power turns focus to local energy creation”

  1. Paul says:

    Seriously, WHEN do we taxpayers get to OPT OUT of this boondoggle? It can’t happen soon enough.
    Every article I read in the PD, I see the slant/the bias. The PD makes the story about the EMPEROR WEARS NO CLOTHES worth paying attention to, kids!
    The very fact that you are forced to opt out or your automatically signed up for it tells you how WEAK this boondoggle is. IF it was such a great deal, we’d all be clamoring to sign up for it. But it’s clearly NOT what it purports to be. I personally take all the supes to task for keeping a straight face and going along with this farce.
    IF I was speaking to the supes, I’d simply point out Healdsburg and their apparent twenty percent savings in electric rates, with extremely minimal costs/bureaucracy. Why should Santa Rosans accept less than that? We have far more clout than little old Healdsburg, don’t we??? Twenty percent and up savings, I can see it. But if you’re talking single digits and low single digits at that, while you pay fat salaries to some cats connected to the water agency…FORGET ABOUT IT!!

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  2. R.B. Fish says:

    The local Dems spearheaded by Enviro Man-McGuire are following Al Gore’s pay book. They know how emotionally unstable the anti-cigarette pro-pot smoking environmentalists are. Easy pickens to get a vote. McGuire is headed to Sacramento where the big money is.

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  3. Murphy says:

    Now that the Board of Supervisors is passing the “union only” PLA on 1-28-14, all the work to build these power generators will discriminate against and exclude all the non-signatory local workers who were touted in the Supes “road show”.

    Pay your taxes, pay for your power, but you don’t get to work on the projects. Too bad-thanks for playing!

    What if everyone ticked off at the back room deal giving the union bosses all the public work decide to opt out? Hmmmm

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  4. Francis says:

    Taxpayers of the world, unite! This is another very large, very stupid boondoggle cooked up by the county socialists to take even more of our tax dollars for foolish socialist dreams.

    Thumb up 16 Thumb down 3

  5. Follower says:

    @Geoff Johnson

    You 1st post just PROVES that liberal leaders don’t “hate capitalism”. Only the useful idiots (Occupy) actually hate capitalism.

    Liberal leaders hate “Free Market” capitalism because it’s not an even playing field.

    In a free market you actually have to have vision, talent, drive, courage and intelligence to succeed and since these people have NONE OF THOSE, they must rig the system to make capitalism “fair”.

    If their little dog & pony show is the be all, end all then why not just BAN PG&E from Slownoma County altogether, FORCE us to assimilate and just take over the whole industry?

    You know… like Obamacare!

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  6. Steveguy says:

    Interesting there is no mention of the $100 MILLION solar project planned at the airport that makes zero economic sense.

    Like the Water Agency, they will spend whatever amount as it is ‘free money’ to them. The rate payers and taxpayers pay.

    When do these un-elected Agencies have to open their books ? Ever ?

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  7. Geoff Johnson says:

    SCP is a boondoggle to rival the SMART train. You can bet I’ll Opt Out.

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  8. Geoff Johnson says:

    Who are the five members of the committee?

    Do they have apparent conflicts of interest, like Harry Davitian, “a Sebastopol energy developer and consultant”,and Paul Brophy, “founder and president of a Santa Rosa-based geothermal energy company”, of the business operations committee?

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  9. Papa ESoCo says:

    Never ceases to amaze me; the PD’s straight faced support of this misguided plan. Bottom line here is SCP could have had all the “Green” power it needed, and like Healdsburg, could have charged the ratepayers far less than PG&E. You all know I am referring to “The Geysers”, don’t you? And all those “so called” Climate activists, they seem more interested in setting up solar grids and selling power to SCP(oh, and not cheap power either). When will the PD start to tell the truth, you might ask? Apparently, never, I would answer. Is it not true that Healdsburg provides it’s ratepayers with 100% green power for around 20% less than PG&E?
    “Those costs are seen as the biggest factor affecting how many customers choose to stick with the public venture or opt out and remain with PG&E. One agency adviser called that opt-out rate an “absolutely critical key measurement.” Well, here is our answer; if enough of us “opt out” this little mis-adventure may just have to fold (or suck up millions from us taxpayers). So Opt Out folks.

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