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Sonoma Clean Power projects rates that beat PG&E's

Customers enrolled next year with Sonoma County's startup public power agency could see some savings on their electricity compared to rates proposed by PG&E for 2014.

The lower cost for customers would amount to a 5 percent reduction on rates for power generation, resulting in a projected 2 to 3 percent savings on the overall electrical bill for businesses and homes, officials with Sonoma Clean Power said this week. The smaller total savings reflects delivery charges that would still be controlled by PG&E.

For an average residential customer during a summer month the net monthly savings would come to $2.38, reducing their bill to $105.32, including surcharges PG&E is allowed to impose on former customers.

The proposed retail rates were unveiled Thursday in a meeting of Sonoma Clean Power's board of directors, where officials gave their preliminary support, voicing confidence the new venture will be competitive with PG&E.

They hedged, however, in declaring any clear retail advantage. PG&E will not have its final rates approved until late this month and Sonoma Clean Power isn't set to approve its customer rates until early January.

"We're going to have to be very careful in what we're saying to the public and what our rates actually are compared to PG&E," said county Supervisor Susan Gorin, chairwoman of Sonoma Clean Power.

The agency is scheduled to begin service in May to its first wave of 20,000 customers, including mostly commercial accounts. Most residential customers would be enrolled in 2015 and 2016. Those wishing to remain with PG&E can opt out.

The public venture is seeking to displace Pacific Gas and Electric Co. as the county's main power provider by offering what supporters tout as a greener energy supply at a comparable price.

Two wholesale energy contracts reached last month should allow the agency to meet those goals, officials said Thursday. They also credited quick decisions by city officials earlier this year to join the effort, a fast-paced formation they said allowed the agency to take advantage of cheap energy prices. Fiscal watchdogs and others had criticized the city decisions as unnecessarily rushed.

"We wouldn't be in this position if the cities had waited a long time because the wholesale market is at its low," said Geof Syphers, interim CEO of Sonoma Clean Power.

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