Sonoma Clean Power moving ahead on contract

Officials with Sonoma County's startup public power agency are taking final steps geared toward entering into a primary power supply contract.

The move, which could come as soon as next week and would make for Sonoma Clean Power's biggest business decision yet, was authorized Thursday by the agency's board of directors.

The board gave its staff and Chairwoman Susan Gorin the go-ahead to execute a deal if any of the final bids meet an approved price target and fulfill other terms.

Several directors called the step a "milestone" in the agency's 32-month development and its planned rollout to customers in May.

Gorin, a Sonoma County supervisor, said a signed deal "is going to be a significant reason to have a big hoot and holler."

If none of the final bids equal or come under the agency's price target, the board would meet again to discuss a different approach, including possibly a higher price cap that could push customer rates above those proposed by PG&E for 2014.

Supervisor Shirlee Zane, the other county representative on the power board, stressed that beating the utility giant was crucial to the venture's launch.

"To be at or lower than (the rates for) PG&E is, I believe, the real incentive for the public initially to make sure that they don't opt out," Zane said. "I do want the greener energy, absolutely. But we've got to build our business and we've got to convince people that this is a better deal than PG&E."

The public power program is designed to offer a higher share of energy from renewable sources than PG&E, both to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and as a way to spur demand for local clean energy projects.

So far, only one other effort like it exists, in Marin County, where about 80 percent of customers once served by PG&E now get their electricity from a public agency. A similar venture in San Francisco has become bogged down in controversy.

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