GUEST OPINION: Power plan not so clean — on governance

  • PC: Petaluma councilman David Keller


    8/30/00: Keller


    5/15/2003: B1: David Keller

The Sonoma Clean Power Authority promises us renewable, carbon-free electricity at competitive prices, with a choice of providers, local control, local generation and reduced greenhouse gases. The prospect of clean energy in Sonoma County is exciting, but first we must take the steps necessary to ensure a successful public utility is formed.

Will the new government agency protect the ratepayers and our environment from harm and waste? Is your money used wisely? Will we get what's promised?

Sonoma County Conservation Action strongly believes that green power plus clean government equals success.

The Sonoma Clean Power Authority is a new multi-billion-dollar agency, formed solely with your money. It will be larger and wealthier than Sonoma County Water Agency. But concerns abound. The legal contracts to join the joint powers authority should not yet be signed by cities without full disclosure, due diligence and open negotiations among all parties. Would any city ever approve a 30-acre shopping center without first examining and negotiating risks, benefits and responsibilities in public, very, very carefully? No way.

Yet a hard political campaign has targeted council members to hurry up, sign on to the binding joint powers agreement now and only seek improvements later. This isn't the time for used car salesmen's techniques. This is the time for thoughtful discussions and clear answers and negotiated changes to ensure that Sonoma Clean Power will protect all ratepayers from abuse, waste and insider dealing, so we get the reduced greenhouse gases promised with transparent government.

The Sonoma Clean Power Authority's governance and capabilities need these fixes:

; The power to use eminent domain to take private property should be eliminated from the joint powers authority.

; The public's right to attend all directors' and committee meetings must be explicitly guaranteed under Brown Act open meeting laws (as as is the case with Marin County's joint powers authority).

; Ratepayers deserve strong protection. The joint powers authority has a ratepayer advisory committee, but its members can be dismissed at will by the board of directors, and its budget for auditing or oversight is very small.

Instead, we need a robust ratepayer advocates committee with adequate funds, expertise, independence and stability. This ensures they won't be fired or defunded when they challenge the directors' or executive officers' decisions on spending your money.

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