11 bidders compete to provide power to Sonoma County

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&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.

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