Cloverdale says no, for now, to county power agency
Published: Wednesday, May 8, 2013 at 3:00 a.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, May 9, 2013 at 1:42 p.m.
The Cloverdale City Council has said it’s premature to join a public power agency intended to supplant PG&E as the city’s primary source of electricity.
Citing the need for more information, Council members Wednesday night declined to commit to the proposed Sonoma Clean Power Authority, but left the door open to doing so in the future.
“There doesn’t seem to be any penalty to waiting to see what happens. I don’t think we should be in any rush,” said Councilwoman Mary Ann Brigham. “It’s like buying a pig in a poke. I like the concept, but I think it’s premature.”
Only Mayor Joe Palla was in favor of proceeding immediately with plans to join Sonoma Clean Power, which supporters tout as a greener alternative to PG&E, with a higher share of electricity from renewable sources.
“I’m a firm believer in competition,” Palla said, adding that it will give Cloverdale residents a choice.
“The program’s here. Cloverdale won’t stop it, nor will other cities,” he said, adding that if Cloverdale did choose to join its residents and businesses could still opt out and stay with PG&E.
County officials are appealing to cities other than Healdsburg — which has its own utility — to join the program by June 30.
Cloverdale is the first city to provide an answer, in essence choosing to sit on the sidelines for now.
But Cloverdale represents only a small share — 1.7 percent — of power customers in Sonoma County.
County officials maintain there will be no financial liability for cities if the power agency fails.
The county has narrowed the list of potential power suppliers to four companies. The agency intends to start with power that is 33 percent from renewable sources, a greater proportion than PG&E’s 20 percent.
But Cloverdale council members had questions about the rates, even though county officials say initial bids show electricity could be competitive if not cheaper than PG&E.
“My concern from day one has always been the rates,” Councilwoman Carol Russell said.
She also had concerns that if Cloverdale were to join Clean Power, residents automatically would be enrolled and need to opt out if they wanted to continue with PG&E.
“I want to opt out now,” Fred Kramer, a retired PG&E employee told the council. He said he would lose the discount he gets now on his bill as a former employee, and rates with Clean Power could increase.
“I think this is the biggest fiasco. I think Cloverdale should stay out of it,” he said.
County officials estimate that in 2014, Sonoma Clean Power rates for residential customers would be 1.8 percent lower to 1
Woody Hastings, a member of the Santa Rosa-based Climate Protection Campaign said the county power agency is game changing and innovative, will create more economic growth and help meet greenhouse gas reduction goals that all cities in the county adopted.
But others questioned if the power agency will simply create another layer of bureaucracy.
“I can’t see a government running a power company. Government never does anything well and cheap,” Councilman Mike Maacks said.
Cordel Stillman, a civil engineer with the county Water Agency who is presenting the plan to cities, countered that Healdsburg runs its own municipal utility and has rates that are 15 to 20 percent lower than PG&E’s.
Under state law, PG&E would still be required to handle transmission, billing, metering, customer service and grid repair for Sonoma Clean Power.
But there were plenty of skeptics as to whether the county power agency will work as proposed.
Cloverdale resident Steve Nurse said alternative forms of energy like solar and wind are all subsidized by the government and when those subsidies dry up they will become more expensive. “In the long run the end user will pay more,” he said.
Interim City Manager Paul Cayler expressed concerns the city’s own power bill could go up if it enrolls in the county program.
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