Santa Rosa strikes deal on Sonoma Clean Power

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.

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