Cotati likely to join county power agency
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By Dave Williams  May 24, 2013 03:25 pm

If the Cotati City Council meeting on Wednesday night is any indication, the city is likely to become part of Sonoma County's clean power agency.

Although no vote was taken at the meeting following a presentation from Sonoma County officials that lasted more than 2½ hours, the council seemed poised to approve joining the agency when it comes up for vote in the next month or so.

Sonoma Clean Power (SCP) aims to end PG&E's monopoly and provide local competition and a choice for consumers throughout the county. It also plans to offer an array of green energy sources, including solar, wind, geothermal and small hydroelectric projects.

SCP is a program designed to provide electric power to the residents, businesses and institutions in participating jurisdictions throughout Sonoma County. SCP will be operated by a joint powers authority formed by the County of Sonoma and the Sonoma County Water Agency and will include the cities of Sonoma County which decide to join. SCP is expected to start providing service to a small portion of customers at the beginning of 2014, pending a final vote to proceed by its Board of Directors. 

"The thing I like about the concept is giving the people of Cotati the option to choose," Councilman John Dell'Osso said. "If you don't like this, you don't have to do it, and there's no cost to you. Conceptually, this is a great project, but I have concerns."

Dell'Osso and other council members expressed those concerns with a slew of questions, including the use of net income and how it will be divided among all the cities that have signed a joint powers agreement. Other questions that arose were about consumers' ability to opt out of SCP if they are dissatisfied with the service, financial liability and voting procedures on the proposed agency's board of supervisors.

David Rabbitt, the county's Second District Supervisor, voiced his concerns about how rapidly the project has progressed and if it truly is ready for launch.

Greg Karraker, a longtime city government watchdog, echoed Rabbitt's sentiments and said he hoped the city would take a long, hard look at this proposal before making any type of decision. He's leery of the development of another government agency. Karraker was one of many to voice an opinion on this project. The majority of those who spoke were in favor of it.

The use of net income, according to an SCP representative, will be determined in the second phase of the project. The SCP rep said the board of directors would vote to determine how the net income is divided.

As for the consumers' ability to opt out of the project, SCP says those who wish to leave the program can do so at any time without penalty. He also pointed to the policy of PG&E that says anyone who opted out of the SCP program and rejoins with PG&E must commit to 12 months with PG&E.

Language in the joint powers agreement concerning the board's voting procedures gave the council the most concern. It allows the agreement to be amended by a two-thirds majority vote, which could possibly be determined based on member agencies' electrical use. 

Cotati Mayor Mark Landman was most concerned that such a rule could allow Santa Rosa, the county's largest city, and the county could make decisions affecting smaller cities almost with impunity. Every city will have representation on the board. Cotati's usage of PG&E energy is 1.3 percent. Only Healdsburg has a lower percentage of usage in the county. SCP officials said if a city does not sign on with the joint powers agreement, it still would not lose voting strength.

First Community Bank is financing this project and has put forth $10 million. The bank and county are the two entities carrying the financial liability for this project. Of that $10 million, the first 25 percent carries a county guarantee. If everything fails, Sonoma County, not any of the cities, would be on the hook for $2.5 million.

The range of estimated SCP rates for 2014 are from 1.8 percent below PG&E's rate to 1.1 percent above for residencies, and 3.1 percent below PG&E to .5 percent above for commercial and industrial consumers.



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