YES ON SONOMA CLEAN POWER: Give residents control, choice
Published: Monday, April 22, 2013 at 3:00 a.m.
Last Modified: Monday, April 22, 2013 at 9:03 p.m.
Sonoma County residents and businesses will soon have a choice in purchasing electricity. Sonoma Clean Power, the proposed community choice program, is about to bring a competitive alternative to PG&E.
Up until now, PG&E's monopoly meant that we had no choice. But a new way of introducing competition into the energy market is now available. It lets PG&E do what it does best, such as maintaining wires and responding to outages, while allowing Sonoma Clean Power to offer greener energy at a competitive price.
In the process, money that is now sent out of the county to PG&E is kept in our community to support local efficiency programs and renewable energy projects.
Sonoma Clean Power will initially purchase bulk power in the wholesale market, where competition is fierce among energy suppliers to provide electricity to Sonoma County. Eleven companies submitted energy supply bids.
The result of this competition is that Sonoma Clean Power's estimated rates for 2014 will be within 1 percent of PG&E's rates, and it would not be surprising to find Sonoma Clean Power's rates below those of PG&E.
Sonoma Clean Power is also offering a better product. While PG&E only supplies 20 percent renewable power, Sonoma Clean Power would supply 33 percent, and anyone wanting to upgrade to 100 percent green power would be able to do that for a premium.
Each city in Sonoma County will decide if it wants to allow its residents and businesses to participate in Sonoma Clean Power by June 30. For people in participating cities, service will start for some in January 2014, expanding to many more customers six to 12 months later. Customers who want to stay with PG&E can opt out of receiving service from Sonoma Clean Power.
By setting the initial power mix at 33 percent renewable energy, Sonoma Clean Power will launch with competitively priced power. It is a responsible approach that will help us build an affordable program that works for everyone. Over time, Sonoma Clean Power will increase its use of renewable power with a strong focus on local sources, while keeping rates competitive with PG&E.
For the first time, our community will get the full value of our energy payments, too. Instead of paying dividends to shareholders, this income will support the operation of energy-efficiency programs and incentives for local renewable energy projects.
To give a sense of the potential, a similar program in Marin County brought in $3.6 million of net income at the end of its third year. Sonoma County is about 2½ times the size of Marin, so it is fair to expect that income from Sonoma Clean Power will be proportionately greater. This net income will be used to stabilize rates and support local renewable-energy and energy-efficiency programs, thus aiding our county's solar industry, efficiency retrofit contractors and anyone who wants to cut their power bill.
Sonoma Clean Power's budget is also totally separate from other government budgets. The program would be funded entirely with revenues from energy sales. No tax money would be diverted from other important public programs, and its revenues cannot be diverted to other uses, so Sonoma Clean Power customers will never wind up closing gaps in city or county budgets.
The bottom line: Sonoma Clean Power will deliver greener power at a competitive price while creating a new permanent source of income to run local programs. Let's get it started.
Efren Carrillo is a Sonoma County supervisor, and Dick Dowd is a member of the Santa Rosa Board of Public Utilities. Both are active members in the Sonoma Clean Power Steering Committee.
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