The Sonoma County Board of Supervisors Tuesday voted to implement a public power program for all homes and businesses outside city limits with plans to expand countywide.
The effort seeks to eventually displace Pacific Gas and Electric Co. in the electricity supply business for 220,000 homes and businesses. About 100,000 of those metered customers are in the county's unincorporated area.
The 4-1 vote sets in motion a series of decisions geared to roll out the power plan in January.
Unless customers formally opt out, they would receive power from the public agency. PG&E would continue to handle transmission, billing, metering, customer service and grid repair.
Supervisor Efren Carrillo, who pushed for the launch, called it "the county's moment."
"We have done our due diligence," he said. "I believe we have to send a message about this: We are ready to play."
Supervisor David Rabbitt cast the lone no vote on implementation — a formal step he said he did not oppose but was not ready to approve.
He said the vote was premature, coming just a week after potential rates were unveiled and with several crucial decisions still to be made.
"There's a lot of angst in the community about selling this project," he said.
The go-ahead comes months before the agency has a power supply contract or final electricity rates for customers. The county is set to narrow a field of 11 power-supply bidders — said to include a core group of five or six energy companies — and begin final contract talks this summer.
Cities also have yet to say whether they'll sign up and allow their residents to be served. Their deadline to do so for next year is June 30.
A final sign-off by the state Public Utilities Commission and the agency's administrative entity, the Sonoma Clean Power Authority — for now governed only by the Board of Supervisors — also is needed before roll out.
Supervisor Mike McGuire said Tuesday's vote set up "the bones of an initiative."
"Until we have a final rate that we're ready to hit the street with, we don't have a viable program," McGuire said.
Supporters, including environmental and business interests who packed the board room Tuesday, touted benefits they said would bolster the local economy and reduce the county's carbon footprint. The proposal has been under consideration since an initial county study in March 2011.
The program proposes to immediately offer a higher share of renewable power — 33 percent, versus the roughly 19 percent now provided by PG&E. Renewable sources include wind, geothermal, solar, biomass and small hydroelectric projects.
Business leaders said it would encourage them to invest in renewable energy projects with greater opportunities to sell their excess power back to the grid.
"It's inviting you to do something that's potentially profitable for your business," said Christopher Silva, president of St. Francis Winery and Vineyards.
Others from the local wine and building industry, retail and food manufacturing businesses also spoke in support. They included representatives of Amy's Kitchen, the natural frozen foods maker, Oliver's Market grocery chain and BoDean Company, the Santa Rosa asphalt producer. The hearing took place over four hours, with about 20 speakers and a lengthy period of board questions and deliberation.
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