A last-ditch effort to assuage Santa Rosa's concerns about the structure of the Sonoma Clean Power Authority succeeded Tuesday, convincing the city to join the launch of the fledgling public power agency.
The tentative, unanimous vote ends the long and at times tense political stand-off over whether the city would allow its residents and businesses to sign up for the program that aims to supplant PG&E as the county's dominant energy supplier.
Advocates of the program hailed the vote as a milestone and predicted it will give the program the heft it needs to negotiate lower rates and fund local power projects.
"This is a tremendous development," said Ann Hancock, executive director of the Climate Protection Campaign. "By adding Santa Rosa to the mix, Sonoma Clean Power will be able to build local renewable energy faster."
Third District Supervisor Shirlee Zane, who just last week expressed frustration with the long list of conditions the city set for its participation in the program, said she was "thrilled" to get the largest city in the county on track to join.
"To get Santa Rosa on board, that's huge," Zane said.
The breakthrough came after agency officials agreed to recommend several — but not all — of the changes sought by city council members, including extra board seats for the city, additional ratepayer protections and a way to avoid financial penalties for withdrawal.
"Sonoma Clean Power is in a better place for the work that we've done here," said Councilwoman Robin Swinth, who served on the three-member subcommittee that examined the issue in great detail.
The deal was made possible by the county backing off its position that it would not accept Santa Rosa into the program in the first year if its vote Tuesday contained any conditions. The city would have to join first and lobby for those changes later, county and agency officials insisted.
But the City Council last week sent a clear message that it could only support joining the program if its ordinance contained several changes to the joint powers authority and its implementation plan.
Mayor Scott Bartley said he left that meeting very discouraged by the apparent impasse despite all the work they put in to studying and improving the proposal.
"I left last week thinking we may just have to let this opportunity pass us by and wait for the next opportunity," Bartley said.
He said he was proud of the unity shown by the council last week, and said he felt it played an important role in agency officials' changing their tune.
Bartley's council colleagues praised him for the hard work and leadership he showed in helping broker the weekend deal.
"The business case for including Sonoma Clean Power is strong," Geof Syphers, interim CEO of Sonoma Clean Power, said in explaining his change of heart after meeting with Bartley. Syphers said his working relationship with the city had been "truly exceptional" in recent days.
The deal isn't yet sealed. The ordinance will have to be brought back for a formal adoption on July 16.
That will delay until July 17 the transmittal of the information potential power suppliers need to put together their bids.
Then on July 25, the board of directors of Sonoma Clean Power will have to agree to the changes negotiated by Syphers, which he said he will "heartily support" but which he could not guarantee will pass.
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