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PD Editorial: Will county power plan pencil out?

  • Solar panels above a parking lot at Agilent in Santa Rosa. (The Press Democrat)

For nearly three years, Sonoma County has been pursuing a dream of creating its own power agency, one that gives customers the assurance that when they turn on their lights, the source of that electricity is not damaging the planet. At least not to the extent that existing sources, used by Pacific Gas & Electric Co., are.

The process included a survey a year ago that found about 80 percent of county residents favored the idea, along with about three-quarters of businesses. But support dropped significantly when potential customers were asked if they would be willing to pay more — even a little more — for a locally operated system.

The problem is that paying less or the same amount for such a system is not an option. Breaking away from PG&E and tapping into more renewable energy sources would come at a price. The question is how much.

Sonoma County will get its first look at how much today.

In late February, the Sonoma County Water Agency, the lead agency behind this proposed community choice aggregation plan, requested bids from companies interested in running the Sonoma Clean Power system. Today is the deadline for turning in those bids.

One company that's expected to make a pitch is Shell Energy North America, the supplier for Marin Clean Energy, Marin County's community choice aggregation system. But the hope is that Sonoma County will receive more than one bid and that this county will get a better deal — specifically one that commits more to locally produced renewables.

More important, however, is that this is the moment the county will get its first look at the bottom line — how much more residents, businesses and public agencies can expect to pay to be part of this new system. These numbers are critical because the contract is based on the commitment of eight cities in the county and, as yet, none has committed. (Healdsburg has its own municipal utility district and won't be participating.) The contract also anticipates that rates will be attractive enough that only 20 percent of residential customers would opt out and stay with PG&E. To make that work, the cost increases must be modest.

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