Sonoma Clean Power flips switch for first customers

[caption id="attachment_91831" align="alignnone" width="512"] Gary Wysocky, Geof Syphers, Susan Gorin and Mark Landman celebrate the beginning of service from Sonoma Clean Power on May 1. (credit: Eric Gneckow)[/caption]

SANTA ROSA -- After three years of planning, Sonoma County's new renewable energy-focused electricity provider, Sonoma Clean Power, on Thursday officially began serving its first group of more than 20,000 customers.

It marks the second launch of service in California for a community choice aggregation--type power agency, a model that purchases power on behalf of its customers and delivers it over the power grid largely maintained by Pacific Gas & Electric Co. The start of Marin Clean Energy in Marin County in May 2010 was the first.

Officials in the Sonoma County effort celebrated a higher-than-expected rate of enrollment during a regularly scheduled meeting of the governing Sonoma Clean Power Authority on May 1.

"Today's the day," said Susan Gorin, chair of the agency's board of directors and a Sonoma County supervisor. "It's going to be a day of celebration."

The agency on Thursday began service to 23,070 accounts -- 16,845 commercial and 6,225 residential -- spread evenly around participating municipalities in Sonoma County.Less-than-expected opt-out

Enrollment has so far exceeded projections. Around 7 percent of potential accounts and 5.2 percent of potential customers have opted to remain with PG&E, compared with a 22 percent to 25 percent projected rate by the end of 2014 based on data from the launch of Marin Clean Energy.

Geof Syphers, agency CEO, cautioned that the ultimate opt-out rate for customers is still anticipated to grow to around 18 percent. Yet Sonoma Clean Power has been able to launch with an attractive incentive for customers: while individual rates for homes and businesses will vary, the agency's prior negotiations with power wholesalers and a recently approved rate increase for PG&E customers will mean a comparative savings of 4 percent to 5 percent for ratepayers.

"People are generally very excited about this," Mr. Syphers said. "We have very low opt-out rates. I think that reflects the fact that we're doing two things -- we're delivering significantly cleaner power at a significant rate savings compared to PG&E."

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