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Sonoma Clean Power makes deal with Geysers operator

Sonoma County's startup public power agency is poised to enter into a secondary energy supply contract with the company that operates The Geysers geothermal field on the Sonoma-Lake county border.

Sonoma Clean Power officials say the proposed 10-year deal with a subsidiary of Calpine Corp. fulfills their promise to spur local green energy generation and support local jobs. The power venture's political standing, if not its business future, depends on staying true to that mission, they have said.

"This is a really good start. I think it gives us credibility," said Sebastopol Mayor Michael Kyes, an agency board member who has pushed for pursuit of local power.

The deal will account for 15 percent of the agency's overall supply as it begins rolling out to customers next year. It will make up for a little under half of the agency's initial renewable energy portfolio.

The value of the contract was not immediately available because it is still under negotiation. It is set to be voted on Thursday by the Sonoma Clean Power board.

The deal with Houston-based Calpine represents a significant pivot for the power agency back to The Geysers, the world's largest geothermal energy field, tapped 53 years ago by PG&E for electricity generation.

Calpine, now the field's principal operator, was one of the initial bidders for Sonoma Clean Power's primary energy supply contract, but is not among three companies competing for the main deal.

Officials said they were glad it will be part of the initial power mix after all.

"A lot of people were saying to me when we were launching, &‘Why aren't you going with Calpine?'" said Sonoma County Supervisor Shirlee Zane, an agency board member.

She voiced hope that the deal would be a foothold toward expansion of local geothermal resources. The Geysers supplies about a quarter of California's renewable energy, but less than 1 percent of that power is purchased by utilities for Sonoma County customers, including those served by PG&E, the region's dominant electricity provider.

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