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PD Editorial: More input on 'clean power' plan is warranted

  • Scott Schweikl, from PG&E, works to restore power in Bennett Valley on Monday, December 3, 2012. (Jeff Kan Lee/ The Press Democrat)

We couldn't agree with Hizzoner more. In this case, the good mayor is referring to the decision to hire a consultant to help Santa Rosa decide whether to join the Sonoma Clean Power Authority.

Having another set of eyes is wise, particularly given that Sonoma County<NO1><NO><NO1><NO> hasn't fully answered all the questions that City Council members and others have posed in recent weeks. The facts remain fuzzy in a number of key areas including the authority's governing structure, how local renewable energy projects will be funded, where they will be located, how feed-in tariffs will be handled and what percentage of the new agency's power will come from renewable sources and not from renewable energy credits.

More questions, as well as accolades, are likely to be aired tonight as the Santa Rosa City Council has set aside its regular meeting to hear from the public. The meeting, in the City Council chambers at 100 Santa Rosa Ave., begins at 5 p.m.

Making time for such a hearing is commendable. But it's also something of a risk given that the county is giving cities until June 30 to join the authority or miss out on making key oversight decisions. Hiring a consultant is also risky given that it's unlikely the right individual will be found and will be able to report back in time <NO1><NO>to meet the county's deadline. But these are risks worth taking.

Bartley says Santa Rosa may be ready to join by July. County staff is essentially saying that's too late. "I think in fairness to the participating cities, we're not able to push out the timeline," noted Geof Syphers, one of the county's consultants on the power program.

Given the commitment level by cities so far, the county may want to rethink its deadline, particularly given that Santa Rosa accounts for more than one-third of the PG&amp;E power used in Sonoma County. Other municipal officials also have said they wished they had more time to look at this proposal<NO1> and/or to have their staff or consultant offer an analysis<NO>. Rohnert Park is scheduled to discuss exactly that tonight.

So far, only Windsor has agreed to join the authority, although at least three cities — Sonoma, Cotati and Sebastopol — are expected to vote in the next two weeks. Windsor will have its final vote on June 19.

Contrary to what advocates say, this is more than just giving consumers a choice. This is about switching all businesses and residents in a given city over to a new, untested power company. No matter how many assurances and opt-out opportunities are offered, this is not a decision that should be made quickly or taken lightly. Cities should be given the time they need to do their own analysis. This should include looking at the bids that have been received from those seeking to supply power. Consultants should have access to the raw numbers to evaluate for themselves, and advise their city leaders accordingly, whether this process is headed in the right direction.

Cities are right to be cautious and to want more time to look for land mines.


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