Ten companies and one nonprofit agency are competing for an initial contract to provide electricity to Sonoma County homes and businesses through the county's proposed public power agency.
The bids are for a contract of at least three years with an estimated worth of about $340 million, according to county officials. The program seeks to displace PG&amp;E as the area's dominant electricity supplier, a move that supporters say would boost support for renewable energy and spur investment in local power projects.
The responses, received Friday, came mostly from large national and multi-national energy suppliers, including the operator of The Geysers geothermal field along the Sonoma-Lake county border.
A bid by Shell Energy North America could draw scrutiny from activists who have opposed its contract with Marin County's power agency and its proposed deal with San Francisco.
County officials were not prepared Monday to discuss the power rates they got back in the responses. That cost is seen as the key element determining whether county supervisors launch the program later this year, and whether it will generate support from customers.
Cordel Stillman, the county Water Agency official spearheading the proposal, said he was "thrilled" with the level and quality of responses. He described the list of bidders as "highly competitive."
"These are real players in the industry," he said.
The county plans to evaluate the bids over the next week. A report to the Board of Supervisors tentatively scheduled for April 23 could provide the first public look at the range of rates, electricity sources and other terms included in the proposals.
However, a more detailed public look at the actual bids from power suppliers, may never come, at least not at this stage.
The county is withholding release of the documents, citing a 2006 California Supreme Court ruling that shields proprietary information from public disclosure until completion of contract negotiations, often just days before formal approval.
The Press Democrat late Monday submitted a public records request to the county seeking access to the proposals but did not hear back before deadline.
Among the companies that submitted bids was Calpine Corp., the Houston-based operator of The Geysers, already the source of about a quarter of California's renewable energy. The company is launched on a $700 million, 100-megawatt expansion.
Last year, Calpine officials said the first of two new plants could start production in 2014 if they could land contracts for the energy.
The county is seeking up to 355 megawatts, enough for about 220,000 metered residential and commercial customers, or about 80 percent of those served by PG&amp;E in Sonoma County.
The utility's power generation costs account for about $180 million a year in residential and commercial billings. : The county program would rollout over three years, with an aim to capture $50 million in 2014, $120 million in 2015, and $170 million in 2016.
It would start with a basic renewable portfolio -- including geothermal, wind, solar, small hydroelectric and biomass -- of 33 percent. A separate, voluntary portfolio could offer customers a choice of 100 percent renewable power.
Supporters have pushed for an aggressive rollout of local renewable projects to generate energy for the program. On those grounds and others, they've opposed a partnership with the Shell Energy North America, a subsidiary of the Dutch fossil fuel giant.
Read all of the PD's fire coverage here