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Power brokers: Sonoma County plan imminent

  • Operator Tech Mike Taylor stands next to a spare steam turbine used to produce power at the Socrates geothermal plant at the Calpine facility in the Geysers. Calpine is one of several companies bidding to become part of a partnership with Sonoma County's new power agency. (JOHN BURGESS / The Press Democrat)

Five months from now, Sonoma County intends to launch its program to become the power supplier to 220,000 local homes and businesses, displacing Pacific Gas and Electric Co. from its position of energy dominance.

At stake in the short term is up to $170 million in annual revenue.

County supervisors this week begin a series of rapid decisions to implement a program that assumes customers — who can opt out — prefer a program designed to rely more heavily on renewable energy and shrink the county's carbon footprint.

Questions remain about the proportion of actual renewable energy supplied — and the amount generated locally — versus its purchase through energy credits. But the cost of the program to customers will be the focus for decision makers.

“It's rates, rates, rates,” said David Rabbitt, the county Board of Supervisors chairman. “For me, it's always the amount of the check you write to PG&E, that's what I want to know.”

As part of their campaign, county officials last week unveiled potential customer rates they said would make their electricity prices competitive with, if not cheaper than, PG&E rates.

Monthly bills in the first year could range from $1.73 less to $1.02 more — or 1.8 percent less to 1.1 percent more — than a PG&E bill for a 2,000-square-foot single-family home, according to county projections. For a mid-sized commercial customer such as a restaurant, large convenience or retail store, the monthly bill could be $80 less to $13 more — 3.1 percent less to 0.5 percent more.

The rate comparison drew an immediate challenge from PG&E officials, who called the county's calculation of their rates inaccurate. Program supporters voiced hope the data would lend further momentum to the effort.

(Related story: Sonoma County, PG&E at odds over rate calculations)

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