SANTA ROSA -- After months of debate concerning Santa Rosa's say in the governance of a renewable energy-focused public power agency under development in Sonoma County, representatives of the county's largest city voted Tuesday to become the latest municipality to allow the agency to serve its residents and businesses.
Representing nearly 34 percent of power customers countywide, the Santa Rosa decision marks what many consider to be a significant advancement of Sonoma Clean Power's goal to ultimately displace Pacific Gas & Electric Co. as the predominant supplier of electricity to Sonoma County.
Leaders in developing the agency expressed willingness to consider a number of conditions that Santa Rosa had demanded before joining the agency's joint powers authority, signaling an intention to adopt those provisions during the next scheduled meeting of its joint powers authority on July 25.
The council spent several hours discussing those provisions, ultimately directing city staff to return with a resolution that describes those precise conditions for a consent vote during its next meeting.
In joining Cotati, Sebastopol, Windsor and the combined unincorporated areas, the Santa Rosa vote means more than 75 percent of the more than 200,000 ratepayers in the county will be eligible to receive service from Sonoma Clean Power as it plans to begin serving a limited customer base on January 1.
Leaders in developing the proposal have said that the agency's survival was not contingent on Santa Rosa's membership, with existing members representing 44 percent of ratepayers and already rivaling the current customer load of California's first community choice aggregation power agency, Marin County's Marin Clean Energy.
Yet Santa Rosa represents a significant potential pool for customers, nearly equal to the combined unincorporated areas and cities and a significant portion of the $172 million in estimated revenue if all potential cities were to participate.
The majority of that revenue would be allocated to power purchasing and rate control, but adding Santa Rosa gives the agency additional clout with wholesalers while increasing the potential funding pool for programs to spur renewable energy development.
"The business case for including Santa Rosa in Sonoma Clean Power is strong," said Geof Syphers, interim chief executive officer for the agency.A list of conditions
While city staff recommended that the council allow Sonoma Clean Power to serve customers in Santa Rosa, Tuesday's resolution included a number of recommended conditions for its participation.
Those requests included:Equal representation for Santa Rosa as the unincorporated areas on the agency's board of directorsA unanimous approval requirement for future changes to the governing structureSpecific provisions for public access to all related meetings for the agencyMandated participation by a ratepayer advisory committee for any rate-related changesA strategic plan for power generation projects in Sonoma CountyClarification of any liabilities for municipalities that later chose to leave the authorityElimination of a charge for individuals who return to Pacific Gas & Electric Co. after a mandated opt-out period
The council had developed those requests after an extensive internal review of the Sonoma Clean Power proposal, hiring an outside consultant to assist a process capped by a July 2 study session and the associated 140-page document.
The document, which includes reports and correspondence between an ad-hoc committee and leaders in developing the agency, includes dozens of questions from Sonoma County's most populous city. High among them is any potential liability for participating municipalities, along with the nature of renewable energy sources in Sonoma Clean Power's portfolio and plans for future programs that would incentivize renewable energy development.