Sebastopol council hears pitch for county power agency
Published: Tuesday, September 4, 2012 at 3:00 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, September 5, 2012 at 8:36 a.m.
A plan to form a public agency to provide electric power in Sonoma County, which is touted as a boon for renewable energy and the environment, was pitched Tuesday night to the Sebastopol City Council.
The process, called Community Choice Aggregation, would create a power agency consisting of Sonoma County government, the county water agency and the nine cities. It is allowed under a 2002 state law that lets local governments buy energy on the wholesale market.
"We would no longer be dependent on PG&E, which is a monopoly," said Cordel Stillman, deputy chief engineer for the water agency, which is developing the program.
The Sonoma County Board of Supervisors endorsed the program April 10 and it is being presented now to city councils to gauge their interest.
The next step is a series of workshops for the cities later this year and negotiations to form a joint powers agreement, at which time cities can decide whether to join. The final steps would be a request for supply proposals from energy companies and service that could begin as early as next summer.
Under the program, the local agency would purchase power, but the utility company, in this case PG&E, would retain billing, metering and transmission operations.
Supporters contend the goal of 50 percent renewable energy sources would provide a boost for the environment and cut greenhouse gases, as well as create local jobs.
"We are talking about jobs that will come from the solar contractors and the contractors who will be doing retrofits to homes," said Jeff Mathias of Solar Synergy, a Sebastopol solar company.
Backers also contend that PG&E collects $160 million to $200 million a year from local ratepayers, which is money that could go back into the local economy.
However, the move could prove costly to ratepayers, Stillman said. A study last year predicted that over the first 20 years, a typical customer's monthly bill would be $4 to $10 more than what PG&E charges. After that, rates are expected to be lower than what PG&E charges.
The program also could cost $3 million to $8 million to start and would need oversight boards to run it.
"Is there going to be a place for people to hold the organization accountable?" asked Bryan Cooper of Sebastopol, who was one of a few people who warned about jumping on the bandwagon too soon.
The Sebastopol council didn't take a position, but a few members said they wanted it to proceed.
"It is an incredible project, it will create jobs and it will decrease greenhouse gases," Councilwoman Kathleen Shaffer said.
(You can reach Staff Writer Bob Norberg at 521-5206 or email@example.com.)
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