Supervisors create Sonoma power authority

SANTA ROSA -- The Sonoma County Board of Supervisors today voted unanimously to create an initial governing authority for a proposed countywide renewable energy-focused power agency known as Sonoma Clean Power, a step needed before determining rates to charge potential customers when service is targeted to begin in early 2014.

The board voted 5-0 to approve a joint powers agreement and create the authority, also appointing its first board of directors and allocating an additional $150,000 to consultants working on the effort.

Planners call the vote a significant benchmark in a nearly two-year process to determine the feasibility of a community-choice aggregation power agency in Sonoma County ( Including the new funding -- $50,000 through 2014 to work with Marin Clean Energy and $100,000 through mid-2014 to Sonoma Clean Power consultant Geof Syphers -- more than $685,000 has been allocated to the effort to date, supporting studies that first began under the Sonoma County Water Agency in March 2011.

The forthcoming power agency, like Marin Clean Energy in Marin County (, would purchase power from wholesalers and deliver it to customers over the grid largely maintained by Pacific Gas & Electric Co. Eight Sonoma County cities have expressed interest in participating, but asked planners to seek greater detail of how rates would compare with PG&E.

The joint powers agreement between the county of Sonoma and the Sonoma County Water Agency creates the Sonoma Clean Power Authority, a legal entity governing the proposed agency with the authority to solicit rate proposals from power wholesalers. The initial authority will be chaired by the five-member board of supervisors, which also serves as the directors of the water agency.

Planners said that the formation of the authority is primarily an effort to obtain more information for interested municipalities, though the supervisors also voted to authorize the potential rollout of the program to customers in unincorporated Sonoma County. [See "New proposal seeks specific rates for Sonoma Clean Power," Nov. 19.] Rate information will be presented to the authority and potential participants before a vote on whether to finalize the power agreements and the implementation plan that will create Sonoma Clean Power, and customers will be given multiple opportunities to opt out of the service if it is enacted.

An initial feasibility study estimated rates would be between 1 percent to 4 percent more expensive than with PG&E in the first 20 years, becoming cheaper over time, according to materials presented to the board of supervisors. Local control would allow the agency to establish favorable payment for customers that generate excess renewable power through solar photovoltaic arrays or other sources, and proponents say that structure will help incentivize small- and large-scale renewable-energy projects and new construction in Sonoma County.

The agency would offer a one-third mix of renewable energy to its customers at launch, growing to a minimum 50 percent mix in the following years. Nearly 16 percent of energy offered by PG&E comes from renewable sources like wind and solar, though the provider notes a number of other greenhouse gas emission--free sources like nuclear power.

Groups representing business, construction and environmental interests in Sonoma County submitted letters to the board, pledging to work with the authority and asking that the proposed agency is structured as a competitive commercial venture.

"We would not support an agency that is controlled and operated exclusively by elected officials and public employees,” wrote Brian Ling, chief executive officer of business-advocacy group Sonoma County Alliance, in a combined letter by Sonoma County's Climate Protection Campaign.

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