County power agency to weigh Santa Rosa's requests Thursday

The long, tense standoff over Santa Rosa's role in Sonoma County's startup public power agency could officially end Thursday.

Governance changes sought by the city as part of its tentative agreement to join the venture appear headed toward approval Thursday in the third meeting of Sonoma Clean Power, the fledgling public agency.

Supervisor David Rabbitt, the chairman of the county Board of Supervisors, and the power agency, has been a leading critic of its quick launch this year. However, he suggested he would not stand in the way of Santa Rosa's requested revisions, though he wasn't entirely happy with the way they were negotiated — in a last ditch meeting two weeks ago between Santa Rosa's mayor and power agency staff.

"I'm a little uncomfortable about the way it went down," Rabbitt said, about a path forward that evolved outside of board direction. "I don't have as much heartburn about what's there."

The most significant changes will give Santa Rosa an extra board seat — equal to the county's two seats going forward in the first year — add other protections for ratepayers and establish a clearer path for cities to avoid financial penalties if they choose to withdraw from the agency.

Geof Syphers, the power agency's interim chief executive, whose July 7 meeting with Santa Rosa Mayor Scott Bartley paved the way for the apparent settlement, is set to support the revisions before his new bosses. He indicated he had not heard strong opposition in conversations with individual board members.

"They don't present any business concerns to me," Syphers said of the proposed changes. "It's a different question as to whether or not they'll satisfy the board."

Other agency business Thursday includes a snapshot of the first-year budget, a closed-door hearing on Syphers' compensation package, and a vote to bring on three other cities that have joined in the past month — Cotati, Sebastopol and Sonoma. Windsor, which already has a seat on the agency board, was the first to join in May. Cloverdale, Rohnert Park and Petaluma have elected not to participate for the first year.

Approval of the revised joint-powers agreement would clear the way for Santa Rosa to formally join the venture with a vote of the city council Tuesday.

Santa Rosa, the largest municipal power market accounting for nearly 35 percent of the electricity sold by PG&E in Sonoma County, has been courted heavily by the county and power agency supporters for participation in the first-year rollout.

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