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Sonoma Clean Power board maps out agency's future

With five newly seated city representatives, an expanded board of directors for Sonoma County's startup public power agency got to work Thursday, reviewing a preliminary first-year budget and a timeline geared toward a power purchase deal, plus various staffing and financial decisions looming over the next four months.

The now eight-person Sonoma Clean Power board began the day with a roll call featuring new faces, including Cotati Mayor Mark Landman, Sebastopol Mayor Michael Kyes, Sonoma Councilman Steve Barbose, and two representatives from Santa Rosa — Councilman Jake Ours and Councilwoman Robin Swinth.

They joined the county's two ongoing representatives, Supervisors Shirlee Zane and Susan Gorin, and Windsor Councilman Bruce Okrepkie, who was seated in June.

The board's first order of business was to pick a chairperson. After Zane's quick nomination of Landman — a gesture, she said, to the cities — which deadlocked on a 4-4 vote, Barbose nominated Gorin, whose district takes in the city of Sonoma. She was elected unanimously. Landman then was elected vice chairman.

"This is not just a chair effort," Gorin said. "It's a team effort. It's all eight of us just moving this grand adventure forward."

Geof Syphers, the agency's interim chief executive, spent much of the two-hour meeting giving an update on the next four months of operations, including work to negotiate a power supply contract with four final bidders.

The core terms of that agreement, spelling out nearly everything but final price, could be released to the public in September, Syphers said. A deal could be executed after that, possibly in October, depending on the turnaround time for state utilities regulators in approving the agency's implementation plan.

The venture, billed as a greener, competitively priced alternative to PG&E, aims to begin supplying electricity to at least 10,000 customers, and possibly up to 20,000, by the start of next year. The rollout will be aimed mostly at commercial customers, Syphers said.

But an ongoing clash between its main ideals — to shrink the county's carbon footprint through greater reliance on locally generated, renewable power — and calls for lowering customer rates could complicate its rollout.

The conflict, evident throughout the initiative's public development this year, surfaced again Thursday. Sonoma Clean Power advocates urged the board to stick to program goals, calling for at least 33 percent of power from renewable sources, with profit going to build local generation projects.

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