Board members overseeing Sonoma County's startup public power agency unanimously approved a revised governing agreement Thursday, satisfying Santa Rosa's core concerns and paving the way for the county's largest city to officially join the venture Tuesday.
The move settles what had been a two-month standoff over Santa Rosa's role in the launch of Sonoma Clean Power and finalizes the list of five cities participating in the first-year rollout, set to start in January.
Government officials and power agency supporters in the audience applauded the 5-0 vote adopting a revised joint-powers agreement, the most significant business in the new entity's third public meeting.
"It's really terrific to now have a real start to this agency," Geof Syphers, interim CEO of Sonoma Clean Power, said in an interview. "We know who is participating and we're moving forward with all the planning and negotiations."
The decision came after power agency staff for the first time voiced optimism that Santa Rosa's participation may very well result in lower customer rates. They have previously downplayed the potential impact of any discount based on a larger overall customer base.
But Syphers said a new calculation this month by John Dalessi, the agency's chief negotiator and a consultant for Marin's public power program, showed that under the current makeup Santa Rosa would immediately boost Sonoma Clean Power's potential electricity load by 75 percent, expanding the scale of the venture and "dramatically" increasing interest from power suppliers.
"That ultimately does convert into some lower rate," Syphers said. "When I asked what kind of lower rate, he (Dalessi) said it's impossible to know."
Several county supervisors said the point clarified something that had seemed evident to them all along, bolstering their push to incorporate Santa Rosa for its 97,000 metered customers and political sway.
"In terms of our launch and getting the best rates for our constituents, it was very, very critical that Santa Rosa came on board," said Supervisor Shirlee Zane, whose district includes most of central Santa Rosa.
The public program — intended as an alternative to PG&E — is designed to boost use of renewable power sources, including local projects, and shrink the county's carbon footprint.
Supporters voiced relief that the standoff over Santa Rosa's participation appeared to be over.
"It's almost anticlimactic after the drama of July," said Ann Hancock, executive director of the Climate Protection Campaign, a Santa Rosa-based group that has helped develop the initiative. "But all is well that ends well."
Notably absent from the meeting was Supervisor Efren Carrillo, a force in pushing the power program to fruition over the past three years. The 32-year-old supervisor has dropped out of public business after his July 13 arrest on suspicion of burglary and prowling. His attorney and friends say he is in treatment for what they've described as a drinking problem.
Carrillo was one of several county supervisors angling to fill one of two county seats on the power board starting next week. That selection is now unlikely, a fact hammered home by one of Carrillo's vocal critics Thursday.
During the public comment period, Sebastopol resident Colleen Fernald called Carrillo's alleged conduct "beyond unbecoming" and argued that his selection would be "too much of a risk for the important work that this board needs to do."
Board members were silent on the issue, though Chairman David Rabbitt acknowledged Supervisor Susan Gorin's presence at the meeting as an alternate in Carrillo's absence. Rabbitt has said he may make a statement about arrest at Tuesday's Board of Supervisors meeting.