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.
The city's customers would allow the agency to spread its fixed costs over a larger rate base, attain positive cash flow more quickly and capture a larger pool of the energy efficiency and retrofit dollars currently collected in the area by PG&E, Syphers said.
With Santa Rosa, the agency would have access to serve about 78 percent of the approximately 280,000 metered PG&E customers in the county.
Syphers said he has conveyed basic information about that customer base to the four energy suppliers competing for the initial power contract. The deal, which could be finalized in early September, is intended to cover the first three years of electricity needs, with an estimated value of about $340 million.
The public program — similar to one active in Marin County and intended as an alternative to PG&E — is designed to boost reliance on renewable power sources, including local projects, and shrink the county's carbon footprint. Customers will have the chance to opt out and remain with PG&E as a power supplier. The utility will continue to handle billing, metering and transmission.
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