Sonoma County's new public power provider is renewing its effort to woo three holdout cities into the electricity venture with an eye on spreading fixed costs over a greater number of customers and further reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
Officials in Petaluma, Rohnert Park and Cloverdale, the cities that chose to sit out the launch of Sonoma Clean Power, say they still have some questions about the agency's business plan.
About 24,000 power customers, including commercial accounts and 6,000 randomly selected residential accounts in Santa Rosa, Cotati, Sonoma, Sebastopol, Windsor and the unincorporated parts of Sonoma County, are eligible to receive electricity from Sonoma Clean Power on May 1.
On Thursday, the agency's board voted to give the three holdout cities more time to decide on their participation in the agency. The deadline to avoid a fee of up to $85,000 was initially proposed for Aug. 31. It will now be the end of January. The fee is meant to cover administrative costs and other agency expenses in taking on the new cities.
Customers in any newly participating cities could be eligible for electricity service next year or in 2016.
Geof Syphers, CEO of Sonoma Clean Power, said adding customers in the three cities sooner rather than later would help the agency recover its costs within a shorter time period and make its rollout more efficient.
With the three cities onboard, the agency's overall power delivery would rise by 27 percent, Syphers said.
He said the agency's action Thursday — the wider decision window for cities — provided another opportunity to answer those cities' questions.
The January deadline came about after Petaluma, the largest of the trio, requested more time.
Petaluma Mayor David Glass said he remains unconvinced about the venture.
"The little startup time is not enough for me to get comfortable," he said. "There's no urgency on the part of Petaluma to jump in. A couple of months is kind of irrelevant in determining whether this is fatally flawed. I think we're very well served to sit back and let this thing play out."
By 2016, Sonoma Clean Power aims to serve about 220,000 accounts, or 80 percent of PG&E's electricity customers in the county.
As it stands now, the agency is set to roll out service to half of the remaining customers in early 2015 and the rest in early 2016. Customers can chose to opt out of the program and remain with PG&E.
Healdsburg is not in the mix because it has its own municipal utility.
Syphers outlined a plan Thursday that would allow all customers currently in the power authority's coverage area to come online in 2015, with the new cities phased in sometime in early 2016. The board took no action on that plan.
New board member Gary Wysocky said the timeline for the new cities to join is more than fair.
"I think you have to tell them at some point it's time to fish or cut bait," he said.
Cloverdale Mayor Carol Russell said she is interested in hearing from colleagues in other cities that are part of the program. She said Cloverdale will begin reconsidering its decision within the next few weeks.
"I'm looking for (Sonoma Clean Power) to convince all of us that this is the best of two possibilities," Russell said. "It's essentially a business decision."