Petaluma joins Sonoma Clean Power

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The Petaluma City Council on Monday voted unanimously to join Sonoma Clean Power, becoming the last Sonoma County city to take part in the startup public electricity agency.

The 33,400 Petaluma electric customers will be enrolled in the program next summer, at the same time as Rohnert Park and Cloverdale. The three cities sat out the initial launch of Sonoma Clean Power, which began serving customers in May.

Sonoma Clean Power officials attending the meeting said it was important to earn Petaluma’s membership.

“We’ve been working towards this day for the past two years,” said Supervisor Susan Gorin, chairwoman of the Sonoma Clean Power board. “We saw it as a goal to ensure that all residents of Sonoma County could be served by Sonoma Clean Power.”

The agency began serving 170,000 customers in the county this month. Healdsburg has its own municipal electric utility and is not eligible.

As part of the 2002 legislation that created power agencies like Sonoma Clean Power, all customers in the service area are automatically enrolled in the program. Customers can opt out and remain with PG&E, which will still deliver the power, maintain the electric grid and handle billing.

After hearing a Sonoma Clean Power presentation last year, the Petaluma council chose to postpone joining until after the rollout, with some council members saying they had concerns that needed to be addressed. Some were worried about Sonoma Clean Power’s ability to keep rates below those of PG&E. Others took issue with the way the agency enrolls customers and with its use of renewable energy credits to offset its greenhouse gas emissions.

Before Monday’s 6-0 vote, with Mayor David Glass absent, council members said their initial questions had been answered.

“We had a lot of unanswered questions,” said Councilman Gabe Kearney. “It is ethically and morally the right thing to do for the community as we look to the future.”

Sonoma Clean Power offers electricity that is 33 percent renewable, mostly from geothermal and solar plants, compared with PG&E’s 22 percent. Customers are saving 4 to 5 percent on electric bills with Sonoma Clean Power, and a PG&E rate increase next year will make Sonoma Clean Power’s rates more favorable.

Geof Syphers, Sonoma Clean Power CEO, told the council that the agency has since backed off using the controversial renewable energy credits. Three percent of its energy mix is in credits, but the agency does not use them to count its greenhouse gas savings.

“We’ve decided to not use that product for the purpose of reducing greenhouse gases at all,” he said. “Our use of RECs is extremely minimal.”

Council members voiced concerns they have heard from residents of other cities already in the program, who said the enrollment process has been opaque. Residents received enrollment notices that many discarded as junk mail.

Syphers said that the next wave of Sonoma Clean Power customers, including residents of Petaluma, would receive two notices that look more like a traditional letter. Council members said that would help with transparency.

“I’m glad to hear that you are aware of that and are doing something about it,” said Councilwoman Kathy Miller.

Petaluma stands to save $160,000 on its municipal electric accounts with Sonoma Clean Power, according to a staff report. The City Council at its next meeting in January will appoint an official to serve on the Sonoma Clean Power board. Councilman Kearney expressed interest in the post.

Before the vote, a dozen residents addressed the council in favor of joining Sonoma Clean Power, many saying that the program could have an impact in curbing the effects of climate change. Councilwoman Teresa Barrett echoed those sentiments.

“Greenhouse gases are rising in our area,” she said. “It’s important to take as many steps as we can to counter that.”

You can reach staff writer Matt Brown at matt.brown@pressdemocrat.com or 521-5206. On Twitter @MattBrownPD.

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