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Council stays with Sonoma Clean Power

By David Bolling and Don Frances

It’s been a year since the Sonoma City Council voted to sign on with Sonoma Clean Power, an alternative public power supplier known by the acronym CCA (Community Choice Aggregation). On Monday, they had the opportunity to reverse that decision.

They didn’t, deciding instead to heap praises on the local power provider before voting unanimously to keep their business.

“I want to recommend, actually, that the City Council choose to stay with Sonoma Clean Power,” said Jonna Ramey, the company’s customer service director, before the vote.

If they do, she said, “The city can expect to realize dollar savings of roughly 5 percent of total current charges.” That means roughly $8,400 saved per year, out of a total electricity cost of $169,000, representing power bills from 46 separate city accounts.

City administrators also believe that Sonoma Clean Power’s energy is better for the environment, stating in a staff report, “continued participation in SCP would support cleaner, local, renewable energy.” Ramey underscored that, speaking of “the greenhouse gas benefit that Sonoma Clean Power brings to the city.”

Pacific Gas & Electric puts 445 pounds of greenhouse gases per megawatt hour into the atmosphere, Ramey said. By comparison, she said, SCP puts 294 pounds per megawatt hour.

Mayor Tom Rouse noted the 5 percent savings over PG&E and asked Ramey, “Is that something that will ebb and flow?”

Ramey said SCP originally expected a 2 or 3 percent savings, but then PG&E raised its rates. “There could be a year when PG&E dips below us in rates,” she said. “But not this year. And probably not next year.”

“When you couple that with the greenhouse gas savings, I think it makes a good deal for the community.”

Critics of the SCP arrangement, none of whom appeared at the council meeting, have argued that PG&E’s clean power figures – and thus its greenhouse gas production numbers – are skewed by PUC rulings that don’t allow the utility to count energy from large hydropower projects or nuclear power from the Diablo Canyon power plant. With those energy sources added – none of which produce greenhouse gasses, critics argue – PG&E would have a higher percentage of clean power than SCP.

One other complaint about SCP, and other CCAs, is that customers are automatically transferred into the new agency’s rate base, and out of PG&E’s, until they “opt out.” Critics have argued that CCA’s should be required to let customers opt-in by first choice.

A measure requiring that CCA customers first opt-in to an alternative power provider, instead of the other way around, was eliminated from an Assembly bill on Monday, during a hearing before the state Senate Energy, Utilities and Communications Committee. Elimination of the opt-in measure means that CCA customers will continue to be automatically enrolled until they opt out. CCA proponents warned that eliminating the automatic opt-in could make it disastrously difficult to aggregate enough ratepayers to make alternative energy providers viable.

Following the City Council discussion, members voted 4-0 to not opt out of SCP. Councilmember Laurie Gallian, whose husband works for PG&E, recused herself at the beginning of the meeting because it “could be construed as bias on my behalf.”