Pitch for county power agency enters crucial stretch

With four cities down and four to go, Sonoma County officials this week enter the second half of their roadshow to convince cities to take part in the county's planned public power agency.

The presentations are intended to tout benefits and answer questions about the effort to displace Pacific Gas and Electric Co. with an alternative that offers a higher share of energy from renewable sources.

Sonoma County supervisors have voted to launch the agency on Jan. 1 encompassing — at a minimum — the unincorporated areas of the county.

So far, they've successfully enlisted one city — Windsor — while two others, Rohnert Park and Sebastopol, could decide to join next month. The Cloverdale City Council has decided the city will sit on the sidelines for now.

Next up are the two largest cities, Santa Rosa and Petaluma, which together account for nearly 48 percent of the electricity use in the county. Alone, Santa Rosa's share is nearly 35 percent.

The public presentation before the Petaluma City Council is Monday evening and Santa Rosa council members are to hear the issue Tuesday afternoon.

Participation by the cities — and power bills from their residents and businesses — are a key if not critical part of the county's plan, which aims to serve 80 percent of PG&E's local customers. The higher the participation — customers would be allowed to opt out and stick with PG&E — the sooner the program will have a positive cash flow and be able to plow money back into rate stabilization, energy efficiency programs and local generation projects.

"You work with the revenues you generate," said Cordel Stillman, deputy chief engineer for the county Water Agency and the lead staff member on the proposal. Without Santa Rosa and Petaluma, he said, "we may not be able to do things we would have been able to do with all of the cities' participation."

Santa Rosa and Petaluma also would add political momentum to the program, which is set to begin serving homes and businesses Jan. 1. County officials and supporters insist it would be viable without urban customers, but they want all cities, and especially the biggest ones, onboard.

"We can have this going without any of the cities, but that's not what we want," said Ann Hancock, executive director of the Climate Protection Campaign, the main advocacy group behind the power proposal. "We're looking for a nod from all of them, and we're putting a lot of work into Santa Rosa."

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