Officials shed more light on new power agency

Posted on July 31, 2013 by Sonoma Valley Sun

Sonoma residents skeptical of the new Sonoma Clean Power Authority, the public agency set to replace PG&E as the Valley’s default energy provider, were assured Monday that they will always have the ability to change vendors.

The Sonoma City Council voted last month to join the county-owned power agency, which promises a cleaner energy mix than PG&E. Officials hosting an informational meeting at the Sonoma Veterans Building were quickly confronted on the opt-out issue.

Starting in 2014, county residents and business owners will receive letters advising them of the impending changeover to the SCPA. Recipients will have several months to switch back to PG&E, which can be done through return mail or by phone.

Many at the meeting resented the responsibility. “I don’t feel I’ve been given the right to choose,” said one woman. “It’s not me responsibility to change unless I want to,” a man said.

Geof Syphers, the newly named SCPA director, said the opt-out provision is mandated by state law. “It’s the only way to give a real challenge to a monopoly.”

The SCPA will ramp up over a three-year period. Only about 10 percent of its customers will be online by the end of 2014. By the end of 2016, with about 75 percent coverage of the county, Smith said revenue should be $180 million, with a profit of $10-12 million.

Unlike PG&E, which would pay that profit to shareholders, the SCPA will invest it in efficiency programs and additional clean energy, sourced from solar, wind, geothermal and small hydroelectric projects.

“It’s a fundamental question of how we generate power and how we will spend the money,” Syphers said. “This creates environmental justice in the power market.”

Rates will be about the same as PG&E, which will continue to handle transmission, metering, customer service, billing and repairs. Syphers said he was confident PG&E, would continue to deliver excellent public service even in its role as wholesaler.

“PG&E will make just as much money and profit off maintaining the grid,” said Syphers.

Clean energy will comprise about one-third of the initial SCPA mix. That figure will increase, he said, as SCPA revenues grow and its negotiating position improves.

Syphers stressed that as public agency, consumers will have a role in directing the SCPA’s future. “Local is at the heart of this,” he said. Sonoma has one seat on the agency’s board of directors, now held by Councilmember Steve Barbose,

Supervisor Susan Gorin said the agency will eventually invest in and build renewable energy products. “Have the faith, stay with us,” she told the crowd. “We can do this.”