Sonoma Clean Power clears way for Santa Rosa

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.

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