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Santa Rosa to hire consultant to help make decision on clean power agency

Santa Rosa is hiring a consultant to help it decide whether to join the launch of the Sonoma Clean Power Authority, virtually assuring a down-to-the-wire decision on the controversial issue.

Mayor Scott Bartley said an outside opinion will enable the City Council to better understand the implications of joining the public power agency, which has a start date of Jan. 1.

"An extra set of eyes is not a bad thing on something this critical," Bartley said. "We need someone that can help us see any potential land mines that we can't see."

As the county's largest city, and its biggest electricity market, Santa Rosa's participation is seen as an important part of the county's plan, which aims eventually to serve 80percent of PG&E's local customers.

Sonoma Clean Power officials stressed that the June 30 deadline set for cities to join the program for the start is a firm one, and expressed hope the additional review wouldn't delay Santa Rosa's decision-making process.

"The risk to waiting past that deadline is considerable," said Geof Syphers, one of the consultants working to help the Sonoma County Water Agency roll out the power program. "I think in fairness to the participating cities, we're not able to push out the timeline."

The authority wants to know who is on board by June 30 to give it enough time to negotiate contracts with power suppliers, get those contracts approved by the state, and begin delivering power by Jan. 1, Syphers said.

The effort is meant to displace Pacific Gas & Electric Co. as the county's chief source of electricity and offer a greener energy portfolio from solar, wind, geothermal and small hydroelectric projects.

Delaying negotiations much past that deadline likely would result in higher initial power rates, because wholesale power costs and interest rates are on the rise, Syphers said.

But Bartley said the city has a time crunch of its own with the annual budget process taking up staff and council time in June.

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