Sonoma Clean Power poised to take big steps

Sonoma County's startup public power agency is set to make some of its biggest business moves yet Thursday.

They include decisions to authorize a $7.5 million line of credit to assist with power purchases and approval of a $9.7 million contract for data management and call center operations.

Sonoma Clean Power's board of directors is also set to give staff a go-ahead to enter into a power supply contract, a step that could come as soon as next week if any of the competing bids meet the agency's price target and other terms.

Combined, the business moves represent a significant shift as the agency gears up to begin serving its first customers by May.

"It's a big deal," said Geof Syphers, interim CEO of Sonoma Clean Power, though he added that other future steps, including setting of customer rates, could draw more public attention.

"There's a lot of interest in what comes next," he said.

Still, after more than two years of planning and preliminary development, the power venture has arrived at decisions that will account for most of its ongoing costs and weigh the heaviest in determining customer rates.

The effort has been touted by supporters as a greener alternative to Pacific Gas and Electric Co., offering a higher share of energy from renewable sources and intended to spur demand for local clean energy projects.

Customer rates, however, have long been seen as the key factor affecting the venture's longterm viability.

Now comes the critical period where Sonoma Clean Power officials will begin to wrestle with how to balance those two objectives — greener power and customer costs.

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