Some customers opting out of Sonoma Clean Power

About 5 percent of eligible business and residential customers so far have opted out of Sonoma County's start-up public power agency, some over concerns the service won't be as reliable as PG&E.

Sonoma Clean Power projects about 20 percent of eligible customers ultimately will opt out of the service, which launches May 1. About 24,000 potential customers — most of them businesses — are part of the first wave of service.

Geof Syphers, CEO of the power startup, said a "handful" of potential customers who received letters detailing the program cited reliability concerns as their reason for declining the service.

Under Sonoma Clean Power, PG&E would continue to provide services such as billing, metering and grid maintenance. Syphers said the "reality" is that "all aspects of reliability will be handled by PG&E in exactly the same way they are handling them now."

He characterized that message as a marketing challenge for the agency, saying "it would be terrific for us to get the word out that reliability cannot change under this program."

Those opting out of Sonoma Clean Power so far include one of its largest eligible customers. Syphers declined to identify the customer, citing the agency's customer confidentiality policy.

The agency has identified about 100large commercial customers across the county that it wants to serve, a list that presumably includes manufacturers, grocery stores, hotels and other heavy power users. The group collectively represents about 20 percent of the agency's projected overall load.

Commercial users made up 80 percent of the accounts declining the service so far. The other 20 percent were residential accounts. Together, the opt-outs translate into 3.6 percent of the agency's first-phase power load.

A spokeswoman for Agilent Technologies in Santa Rosa said the company is still evaluating whether to go with Sonoma Clean Power or stay with PG&E.

Other businesses said they'd yet to hear from the public agency.

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