Plans to develop a "community choice aggregation" power agency in Sonoma County have advanced over the past few months, with outreach to the region's residents and municipal governments laying the groundwork for a joint powers authority to govern the so-called "Sonoma Clean Power."

Tasked by its board of directors to develop the proposal, the Sonoma County Water Agency began work in 2011 to hone the finer details of a renewable energy-focused power agency in the county. Cordel Stillman, deputy chief engineer at the Sonoma County Water Agency, heads the effort.

Q: Firstly, please describe the current status of the Sonoma County Water Agency’s efforts concerning Sonoma Clean Power.

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A: The feasibility study was completed in October of last year.  Surveys of both residential and commercial users have been conducted.  Focus groups of both those populations were also completed. These documents can be found on our website at www.scwa.ca.gov/cca.  Our latest Board direction has been to complete a draft Implementation Plan and to pursue the creation of a Joint Powers Agreement with other interested municipalities.  A draft Implementation Plan is due at the end of September and a draft Joint Powers Agreement has been circulated to all the cities in Sonoma County.

Q: While Sonoma Clean Power will aggregate its desired proportion of renewable energy by purchasing it from available sources, the proposed agency also plans to encourage development of renewable power within Sonoma County. What opportunities exist in that respect, and why is that effort important?

A: SCP could support the development of local renewable power projects that would provide clean energy and local jobs.  SCP will also make it possible for participants to sell excess renewable power they generate back to SCP.  SCP may also be able to provide more attractive net-metering programs than are currently offered by PG&E.

Q: As the water agency continues in its outreach and gathers comment beyond its initial market research, what are you finding to be the primary concerns of potential residential and business customers?

A: There are several areas where we have heard concerns voiced. The most obvious is that SCP may cost more initially though it will provide a greener product and other local benefits. There are also concerns about the opt-out nature of the program. Finally, some people express a low level of confidence in the ability of local governments to administer a program such as this. We have seen a very successful model though in the Marin Clean Energy program and the City of Healdsburg.

Q: How is the customer experience expected to be different for those who enroll in Sonoma Clean Power, versus their current provider? Also, how will the agency differ from Marin Clean Energy, California’s first community choice aggregation power agency based in Marin County?

A: The transition should be seamless. The only change will be that there will be a line item on their PG&E bill for Sonoma Clean Power. That line item will replace the generation line item that is already there. Many of the service related questions will still be PG&E’s responsibility (power outages, service connections, meter reading). SCP will maintain a call center to answer customer questions related to power generation and any other programs that we initiate (energy efficiency programs, net metering, feed in tariffs, etc.)

How we may be different from MEA is still being determined. There are several possibilities that will be decided on by the JPA Board when it is formed. These include how the program will be administrated and what types of programs we will be able to offer to consumers.