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Sebastopol listens to public power agency pitch

Sonoma County officials made their first pitch for a public power agency on Tuesday night to the Sebastopol City Council, with seven more stops to go in a campaign to enroll eight cities in a plan to challenge PG&E’s monopoly as a power provider.

Sebastopol officials indicated at the start of county's presentation that it would not commit on Tuesday to joining the proposed Sonoma Clean Power, which expects to begin delivering power in January.

“Continue to ask the tough questions,” Sonoma County Supervisor Efren Carrillo told the council. “We've got a lot to chew on.”

Carrillo described the public power agency as “a potential opportunity for us to be innovative … to take a little bit of risk.”

Cordel Stillman, the Sonoma County Water Agency's deputy chief engineer, and Steve Shupe, deputy county counsel, acknowledged the risks to buying power under long-term contracts.

“There are ways to manage those risks,” Shupe said, noting that power prices can fluctuate over time.

Ultimately, Stillman said, “the risk is being taken by the power providers” who supply the electricity to the county entity.

“That's the selling point of this program,” he said.

City Manager Larry McLaughlin told the council that “we don't really see any liability” for the city.

An ample majority of the audience of about 30 people stood at one point to indicate their support for Sonoma Clean Power.

The rates the agency would charge for power are “where the rubber meets the road,” Stillman said.

Having narrowed down the list of power suppliers down to four organizations, Stillman said the rates for residential customers would be 1.8 percent lower to 1 percent higher than PG&E and for commercial customers 3 percent lower to 0.5 percent higher.

“Those are great rates,” he said.

The agency plans to start with power that is 33 percent from renewable sources, Stillman said. “It will be cleaner (than PG&E).”

Left unanswered was the question several people asked about whether the public power agency would continue to require SmartMeters, a controversial topic in Sebastopol.

Councilwoman Sarah Gurney said the answer is important because SmartMeters “are an issue to our community.”

Ann Hancock, executive director of the Climate Protection Campaign, urged the council to opt in to public power, calling it “a game-changing innovative platform to achieve very important goals” in reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

County officials hope to get eight cities to sign onto the plan by June 30. Healdsburg is not part of the mix because it has its own municipal utility.

Tonight officials will make their pitch to the Cloverdale council.

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