SANTA ROSA – The Sonoma County Water Agency Board of Directors voted today to approve funding for the development of a comprehensive business plan for a proposed renewable energy-focused power agency in Sonoma County known as “Sonoma Clean Power.”

With the vote, which allocated $65,000 to the effort, Water Agency staff will begin work that includes developing the structure of a joint-powers authority and other particulars for the proposed agency, which will follow the “community choice aggregation” model currently in place in the Marin Energy Authority.

The money, including approximately $10,000 left from a previous contract, will also fund expanded polling of the business community in Sonoma County, a group that initial surveying found to have greater concerns than residents over the possibility of increased rates.

Part of that process will involve extensive outreach to residents, businesses and government bodies throughout the county to explain the nature of the aggregation model, which involves supplying customers with power through the existing grid largely maintained by Pacific Gas & Electric Co. in Sonoma County.

“Today’s action is an important step, but it is in no way final,” said Mike McGuire, Fourth District supervisor and member of the Water Agency Board. “We want your input and feedback.”

Current estimates place the cost of launching the agency at $2-6 million, money for both administration and power purchasing and representing a financial foundation required by the California Public Utilities Commission. The agency could be in place in as early as 18 months,

Proponents of the model say that benefits include rate stability, local control and the ability to create greater incentives for those who generate electricity through photovoltaic or other systems.

Specific goals for the agency include providing customers with electricity from at least 50 percent renewable sources at the onset, 120 megawatts of local power generation by 2030 and the development of local energy efficiency programs.

While specific rates will not be known until after the formation of the joint powers authority, polling has found that the county’s business community—its largest power users--is highly concerned over the possibility of increased rates.

The community choice aggregation model was made possible by California’s 2002 legislation, Assembly Bill 117.

Current estimates expect the implementation plan to take four months to develop. Six months of workshops are expected, and the proposed joint powers authority could be in place in nine months.

In its initial survey, conducted by Windsor-based Data Instincts and Petaluma-based Creative Research Systems, the water agency found that 65 percent of businesses surveyed were at least “moderately supportive” of a community choice aggregation arrangement that included renewable sources. 74 percent of residents supported the creation of a locally-owned electricity program that used renewable sources.

That survey also found that responders were concerned about rates: 32 percent of businesses said they would not pay more for “green” energy, and 60 percent of residents said they would not pay much more, if any more at all, for the service.

In a followup focus group of residents, Data Instincts found that 53 percent of participants would be willing to pay up to $15 more for electricity from the proposed agency, 73 percent would pay up to $10 more, and all 15 participants would pay an additional $5 a month.