Decision could come as early as July 2

A divided Sebastopol City Council voted on Tuesday to support Sonoma Clean Power (SCP), with Mayor Michael Kyes and Councilmember John Eder expressing their desire to wait for a report from consultants hired by the City of Santa Rosa before making a decision.

“I would prefer to see what Santa Rosa has to say,” Kyes said. “Not that it would make any difference to us.”

Eder said that it would be irresponsible to make a decision without taking advantage of Santa Rosa’s expenditure, adding that the correspondence he has received from a core “tribe” of local environmentalists has been split down the middle as to support for the project.

The remaining members of the council were emphatically in favor of joining, in order to get a chance to help shape the structure and policy of the independent utility provider.

“Sebastopol has never been a city to wait for Santa Rosa,” Vice Mayor Robert Jacob said. “Sebastopol has to have a place at the table to ask the hard questions.”

So far, only the unincorporated areas of the county and the Town of Windsor have signed on, with Cloverdale, Rohnert Park, Sonoma, Cotati and Petaluma all electing to wait before making decisions to join SCP.

The deadline to join is July 9, thanks to an extension given to the City of Santa Rosa, as the county needs to supply data to potential power contractors by July 15 for final bids. A second opportunity to opt in is not expected until 2015.

“There are several things that will happen the longer we wait,” County energy consultant Geof Syphers said. “Interest rates are rising fast. … Wholesale rates are tracking upward.”

Syphers said that because of the rising interest rates, the cost of the launch has increased by about $30,000 in the past few weeks, but that once the initial three-year contracts are signed, the County has the luxury of observing energy markets to “get the best prices” for ratepayers.

SCP is a “planned Community Choice program for providing green electricity at competitive prices to the residents and businesses of Sonoma County,” according to the Sonoma County Water Agency (SCWA) website.

Expected benefits of the SCP include consumer choice, local jobs, reduced greenhouse gasses and keeping money that would go to PG&E — an estimated $160 million annually — in the local economy.

PG&E would still provide transmission lines and maintenance, as well as metering and billing operations.

A feasibility study, available at the SCWA website at www.scwa.ca.gov, estimates that over a 20-year period, the reduction in greenhouse gasses could be as much as the equivalent of removing 74,000 cars from the roads.

The study also estimates the creation of 100 to 1,100 short-term jobs and 15 to 400 long-term jobs.

Officials expect SCP to begin with about 33 percent renewable sources of energy and to be competitive with PG&E right out of the gate.

Residential rates would fall between 1.8 percent below and 1 percent above PG&E’s rates, while commercial rates would be between 3 percent below and 0.5 percent above.

Start-up costs for SCP would be in the $3 million to $8 million range and Santa Rosa-based First Community Bank has not only agreed to finance $2.5 million for start-up costs and an additional $7.5 million to purchase energy later this year, but the bank has also sent a letter of support to the City of Santa Rosa to try to expedite that city’s decision.

Proponents of SCP point to the success of Marin Clean Energy, a Community Choice Aggregation (CCA) formed in 2010.

CCAs were authorized in 2002 with the passage of Assembly Bill 117, which allows local communities to purchase power from their own preferred sources.

“This allows you to get a hold of a mechanism to create a huge innovation platform,” Climate Protection Campaign (CPC) Executive Director Ann Hancock said in an interview last week. “Our analysis projected this, but Marin has proved it.”

Hancock said the CPC has been studying and advocating for CCA since 2004. She added that Marin went from 17 percent to 27 percent renewables “overnight.”

Power generation from local renewable sources are expected to increase even more when businesses and residents can increase solar generation in order to sell excess back into the system.

“When producing extra power, you’re getting minimal reimbursement (with PG&E),” CPC board member Richard Power said. “With SCP, there is incentive to become a net positive producer.”

Syphers echoed Power on Tuesday night, saying that SCP has the potential to “quadruple the speed” of increasing renewables.

With the vote, city staff will return to council on July 2 with a resolution to join SCP.

“I’m not sure why we haven’t voted on this already,” Councilmember Sarah Gurney said. “We need to be ahead of Santa Rosa.”

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