Sonoma County kickstarts a public power agency

  • Operator Tech Mike Taylor is responsible for the operations of the Socrates geothermal plant at the Calpine geothermal facility in the Geysers.

    (John Burgess/The Press Democrat)

The Sonoma County Board of Supervisors Tuesday voted to implement a public power program for all homes and businesses outside city limits with plans to expand countywide.

The effort seeks to eventually displace Pacific Gas and Electric Co. in the electricity supply business for 220,000 homes and businesses. About 100,000 of those metered customers are in the county's unincorporated area.

The 4-1 vote sets in motion a series of decisions geared to roll out the power plan in January.

Unless customers formally opt out, they would receive power from the public agency. PG&E would continue to handle transmission, billing, metering, customer service and grid repair.

Supervisor Efren Carrillo, who pushed for the launch, called it "the county's moment."

"We have done our due diligence," he said. "I believe we have to send a message about this: We are ready to play."

Supervisor David Rabbitt cast the lone no vote on implementation — a formal step he said he did not oppose but was not ready to approve.

He said the vote was premature, coming just a week after potential rates were unveiled and with several crucial decisions still to be made.

"There's a lot of angst in the community about selling this project," he said.

The go-ahead comes months before the agency has a power supply contract or final electricity rates for customers. The county is set to narrow a field of 11 power-supply bidders — said to include a core group of five or six energy companies — and begin final contract talks this summer.

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