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PD Editorial: Power of one: ‘Clean Power' needs cities

  • (TOM MEYER / meyertoons.com)

Sonoma County supervisors are expected to make a landmark decision today, creating a joint powers authority for the purposes of putting Sonoma County in the power business.

If all goes according to plan, the Sonoma Clean Power Authority will allow the county to buy and sell electricity, seek competitive rates and ensure the county’s power comes from clean, renewable sources, significantly reducing local greenhouse gas emissions.

The problem is there will be no joining of powers in the creation of this JPA. This will be an authority of one — Sonoma County. In fact, it will primarily involve just the Sonoma County Water Agency, the department directed to oversee this ambitious plan.

Since the county approved a feasibility study in April, Water Agency staff have been visiting the eight targeted cities in the county selling the idea. (Healdsburg is not included because it already operates its own power utility.)

But the county has yet to get any city to commit to joining. The county is proposing to get the ball rolling by creating a JPA in hopes that cities will get on board later. Water Agency staff say the cities don’t want to commit until they get estimates on what kind of rates residents and businesses will be charged. But the county contends it can’t get those estimates until the JPA is created.

The Catch-22 is problematic. But proceeding with a JPA of one is concerning on a couple of levels. For one, it ensures the county will be left holding the bag if this process unravels. Moreover, it raises questions about whether cities are even supportive of this idea in principle.

To date, the county has spent $520,000 on studies, staff time and consulting contracts. Today, the board is expected to approve a pair of consulting contracts valued at $150,000. Water Agency officials insist that the joint powers authority will shield county and city general funds from any debt obligations should the program shut down. But if that is the case, what’s preventing cities from joining the JPA now?

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