As the head of Sonoma Clean Power, Geof Syphers is one of the most influential CEOs in Sonoma County.
“This position is exactly what I’ve been preparing for since I was a child,” he told the interviewing panel when he applied in 2013 to be Sonoma Clean Power’s chief executive officer.
At first Syphers was cautious.
“I’m a scientist. I’m a skeptic of everything. I don’t trust what I know,” Syphers said. But he came around. “When you’re trying to be effective and honest, you are willing to change when new ideas come along.”
Syphers, 48, was raised in Pleasanton in a family committed to self-reliance.
“I grew up with a grandfather who had solar hot water in 1971, who built his house with his own hands in Apple Valley almost a mile from the nearest home.
“My mother knows how to cook and fix anything. We had to know how to mend clothes and make five meals before we left home,” Syphers recalled during an interview in his fifth floor office at 50 Santa Rosa Avenue, overlooking Santa Rosa’s Courthouse Square.
He came to Sonoma County in 1988 to study applied physics at Sonoma State University, where he focused on the theory and fabrication of photovoltaic and superconductor materials. He followed up at the University of Massachusetts at Lowell, getting a master’s of science in energy engineering with an emphasis on community solar energy systems and on designing rate-based incentive programs that utilities could use to encourage energy efficiency. He is a licensed mechanical engineer.
In 1998 he and his wife joined three other couples as founders of a co-housing community in Cotati, acquiring and developing the land and adding 26 families. In the co-housing community, Syphers and his wife live in an 800-square-foot home.
“I believe in the principle of living well but not excessively. The principle of self reliance is very close to the principle of renewable energy,” he continued. “It’s using what you have, not what somebody else has.”
After college, he became an energy consultant and from 2006 to 2013 he was chief sustainability officer for Codding Enterprises in Rohnert Park. There he helped SOMO Village become the first community in North America to be endorsed as a One Planet Community that lives within its fair share of the Earth’s resources.
“From a young age, the environmental movement had a profound impact on me,” Syphers said. “But also I saw that it was broken in some ways, because it was based on protests. You have to have answers, not just anger. This agency’s potential is one of those answers.”