Sonoma Clean Power CEO gets a charge out of changing consumer energy habits
Geof Syphers is highly charged when he talks clean energy.
As CEO of Santa Rosa-based Sonoma Clean Power, Syphers has a personal and professional mission to get more people to use renewable energy, while being as carbon-free as possible.
Sonoma Clean Power provides residential and commercial service to Sonoma and Mendocino counties.
As a community choice aggregator, SCP is regulated by the California Public Utilities Commission. The other aggregator in the region is Marin Clean Energy, which serves Marin, Napa, Solano and Contra Costa counties.
Qualifying entities within the service area of investor-owned utilities like Pacific Gas & Electric Co. can form an aggregator, which are permitted to buy and generate electricity.
Sonoma Clean Power’s default electricity service is 49% renewable and 93% carbon-free. Energy comes from such renewable resources as geothermal, wind, and solar. Hydropower is part of SCP’s portfolio, but in California it is not considered a renewable resource.
To increase those numbers, Syphers said more people will need to drive electric vehicles, and remove fossil fuels from their homes and offices. And that is exactly what SCP is trying to get people to do.
“We are aiming to get rid of all fossil energy for everything we use in our life,” the 51-year-old Syphers said.
The utility company is practicing what it preaches at its new headquarters, which it moved into in 2021.
“For this project we chose to renovate a 1979 structure, and the transformation has resulted in the building being the first in the world to actively decarbonize the grid every hour of the year,” Syphers explained.
“It’s all automatic, but we keep playing with it because we are learning. We are learning how to have a negative carbon impact on the grid. This is way beyond net zero. We want to supply others with clean power when they would have been pulling power off the grid.”
Syphers recently sat down with the North Bay Business Journal and fielded a few questions. The following has been edited for clarity and length.
What industry trends keep you up at night?
Syphers: The difficulty in building great renewable projects in California is profoundly frustrating. It is quite common to see projects around the state fail because of a single person threatening to sue. That sole factor is a genuine risk to keeping the lights on over the coming five years because we need to build 10,000 megawatts of renewable power very quickly to keep up with demand.
We have a very good set of regulations that protect our environment and our cities from impacts and things like power plants. What is frustrating is the same rules that are enormously beneficial to California get used just to slow down excellent projects.
California is facing a huge amount of air pollution and emissions from running new diesel generators and keeping old gas-fired power plants running just to keep the lights on. We really need a much bigger push for the state to get new renewable power online.
If you could change one government regulation, what would it be and why?
The California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) should be applied vigorously to fossil fuel and land-intensive projects, but it is also too easily used to block wind, solar, and geothermal projects that California is in very serious need of.
Without enough new clean power, we risk entering the next decade with all of our fossil fuel power plants still running. CEQA doesn’t need to be altered much, but it should have a higher bar for litigation and shouldn’t allow a person to profit from suing clean power projects.
Where will your business and industry be in the next five years?
We’ll be building a lot more geothermal power and offshore wind. We’ll also have a lot more Advanced Energy Centers around California, like the one we have locally in downtown Santa Rosa to help people and businesses make the switch to an all-electric lifestyle.
We’re also going to see way more people interested in 24/7 renewable power, like with SCP’s EverGreen option, so we can finally shut down all the dirty fossil methane gas — aka natural gas — power plants.
The Advanced Energy Center is an online and physical resource center where anyone can come to learn how to retrofit a house, learn how to buy an electric car, get a contractor, learn how to cook on induction ranges, and really experience the equipment. We talk about what makes sense for their lifestyle. In August we added helping people get rid of noisy gas powered leaf blowers and lawn mowers.