Citing the need for more information, the Cloverdale City Council on Wednesday opted out of a public power agency that would supplant PG&E as the city’s sole source of electricity.
Council members said it is too soon 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 going ahead 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 residents could still choose to stay with PG&E, or join the county power agency.
County officials are appealing to cities other than Healdsburg to join the program by June 30. Healdsburg has operated its own utility for more than a century.
Officials said that in essence 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 Wednesday, even though county official 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 would be automatically enrolled and need to opt out of the new power agency if they wanted to continue with PG&E.
“I want to opt out now,” Frank Cramer, 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 1percent higher than PG&E’s, and for commercial customers 3 percent lower to 0.5 percent higher.
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 advertised.
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.
The city’s electric utility expense is about $450,000 annually mostly to run its sewer and water operations. If estimates are correct Cloverdale’s power expenses could increase one-half a percent if it participates in the county plan.
That’s only $2,250 more. But Cloverdale’s budget is tight.
Cayler said the city’s fiscal condition is such that “an electric expense increase may not be sustainable.”
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