SONOMA COUNTY -- Offering the clearest picture yet of expected pricing from a renewable energy--focused power agency under development in Sonoma County, a new report shows that a typical business customer in the launch phase of Sonoma Clean Power could expect to pay between 3.1 percent less per month and a half-percent more than conventional utility rates.
[caption id="attachment_72100" align="alignleft" width="220"] Commercial rate comparison (source: Sonoma County Water Agency; click to enlarge)[/caption]
For a business consuming 15,000 kilowatt-hours of electricity per month, that range would be equivalent to between $80 in savings off anticipated Pacific Gas & Electric Co. rates in 2014 and a $13 increase, according to data planned to be presented to the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday.
[caption id="attachment_72101" align="alignright" width="220"] Residential rate comparison (source: Sonoma County Water Agency; click to enlarge)[/caption]
Residential customers likely would pay between 1.8 percent less and 1.1 percent more than PG&E rates, equivalent to a range from $1.73 in savings to a $1.02 increase.
The report follows the analysis of 11 bids by companies seeking provide electricity to Sonoma Clean Power. It is a significant benchmark for a process that began with a feasibility study in March 2011, only possible after the board voted in February to become the necessary legal entity to solicit specific pricing from wholesale power providers.
It is also a question that Sonoma County municipalities have said is central to their decision to allow the agency to serve their residents and businesses. With the exception of Healdsburg, which operates its own utility under the Northern California Power Agency, all Sonoma County municipalities and unincorporated areas have expressed tentative interest in allowing residents and businesses to take part in Sonoma Clean Power.
"We've been able to synthesize these bids into rate projections," said Cordel Stillman, the water agency's deputy chief engineer. "We've had some very good responses."
Even if adopted throughout the county, residents and businesses will still have the option to continue their current service with PG&E. In either case, the utility will continue its role in providing billing, maintenance and other services outside of power procurement, a key characteristic of the so-called community choice aggregation model that is gathering interest throughout California. PG&E said it supports the idea of choice, but wants to make certain people understand they have other options as well.
"We support local governments in their choice to offer community choice aggregation," said Brittany McKannay, PG&E's North Bay spokeswoman. "At the same time, we want to make sure our customers know what all of their power options are."
Planners for Sonoma Clean Power were able to determine a likely range for pricing to assist in the decision-making process, and noted specific rates will be decided as part of final contract negotiations that are expected to be completed in August, he said. Municipalities have until June 30 to join. A first round of customers could receive notice as soon as November and transition to Sonoma Clean Power as early as January 2014, according to Mr. Stillman.
Those municipalities would also join the power agency's joint powers authority but would not absorb its liabilities, according to the water agency.'Big players' interested
Planners had estimated in an early feasibility study that rates would likely be between 4 percent and 10 percent more for a typical customer, reaching levels below that of PG&E after 20 years. Yet responses from electricity providers have been highly aggressive, attributed to a strong desire by providers throughout the United States to increase their foothold in a market largely dominated by PG&E, according to Mr. Stillman.
Bids include providers that have yet to conduct any business in California and others that maintain a small customer base made possible through direct-access agreements allowed on a limited basis. Hoping to capture more of that business, some bids have included offers to help support the water agency's $2.5 million in estimated startup costs and $7.5 million in bridge financing before the rampup of revenue from customers, according to Mr. Stillman.
"We've told them, 'We're offering you a ready-made market,'" he said. "'What can you do for us?'"
Responders include New York-based Consolidated Edison, Houston-based Direct Energy, San Deigo-based Noble Americas Energy Solutions and multinational Shell North America.