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.
The board's first review of proposed rates covered three initial power supply plans and programs for customers.
The main package, dubbed "CleanStart" and projected to offer the 5 percent savings on power generation for initial customers, would be made up of sources that are 70 percent carbon-free, with a 33 percent mix coming from sources that qualify as renewable in California.
By comparison, PG&E's carbon-free power amounts to 51 percent of its supply; about 19 percent of the utility's current supply comes from state-qualifying renewable sources, including solar, wind, geothermal, biomass and small hydroelectric projects.
Officials said they hoped to extend the rate savings under the "CleanStart" program to customers that would join in 2015 and 2016. The venture aims to serve about 220,000 accounts, or about 80 percent of PG&E's electricity customers in the county.
The other power plan introduced Thursday would allow customers to choose a more costly 100 percent renewable mix drawn from the secondary contract with CalPine Corp., the operator of the The Geysers geothermal field on the Sonoma—Lake county border.
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