LAKEPORT, Calif. – On Tuesday the Board of Supervisors is set to consider a contract with a Windsor-based firm to provide a program that would allow the county to save residents money on power costs while increasing the mix of renewable and green power that’s used locally.
The agreement with California Clean Power Corp. is timed for 9:20 a.m. during the board’s meeting on Tuesday in the board chambers on the first floor of the Lake County Courthouse, 255 N. Forbes St., Lakeport.
California Clean Power Corp., http://cacleanpower.com/ , is offering the county community choice aggregation services. Community choice aggregation, which was set up under state law, allows jurisdictions like counties and cities to purchase or generate electricity for businesses and residents, while power continues to be delivered through existing utility systems by investor-owned utilities like Pacific Gas and Electric.
Last week, the board heard a presentation by Peter Rumble, chief executive officer of California Clean Power Corp., on the proposal. The discussion starts two hours and 47 minutes into the video shown above.
He explained that the genesis of community choice aggregation programs was the energy crisis in 2000; the state’s goal was to use community choice to protect communities in a market dominated by PG&E. Rumble said currently there are programs in Sonoma and Marin counties, and the city of Lancaster.
His company was formed after a team of experts – which now composes its leadership – saw a great need for a company to help communities establish their own community choice aggregation programs.
“Community choice is the ability for local communities to control where their energy comes from,” and isn’t about creating generation assets or becoming a power company, he said. “The delivery of power remains exactly the same.”
The transition is seamless, said Rumble. “The only thing you get is lower rates, cleaner power and money that stays in the community.”
His company generated a feasibility report for the county to consider. California Clean Power won’t require the county to go out and get financing for startup costs or ongoing infrastructure operation. He said all of that infrastructure is provided under the proposed public-private partnership.
Rumble said the Board of Supervisors would control the benefits, determine the mix of renewable power and control the revenues that come in from the program. There would need to be at least one annual meeting to set rates.
In Lake County’s case, Rumble said his firm is proposing rates for Lake County residents that would be 2-percent below PG&E’s rates. Those lower rates – set for the life of the proposed 10-year contract – would equate to $750,000 a year in savings, Rumble said.
In addition, the county would get a 33-percent renewable power mix in its energy portfolio, which he said would put it about five years ahead of state mandates to increase renewable power use.
As part of the contract, the county would be guaranteed to receive $2 million annually in revenue, with Rumble explaining that those funds would be unrestricted. In the case of Marin and Sonoma counties, Rumble said they have chosen to channel those funds into energy efficiency program.
If the board approves the contract, Rumble said that beginning this December and into the early months of 2016 his firm would get a program up and running that’s specifically tailored to Lake County’s needs.
Rumble’s firm will oversee the program’s ongoing operation, including regulatory filings, and handle public outreach. “There’s a lot of day-to-day that goes into operating a community choice program.”
He said his firm makes money if it does a good job managing the program. The company takes on the market risk by contractually guaranteeing the county’s benefits.
Even in the worst case scenario – in which California Clean Power goes away – county residents and businesses would simply return to the existing service with PG&E, with no penalties or repercussions, Rumble said. “You really are taking on very, very little risk.”
Board Chair Anthony Farrington said county staff has been working to shape a proposal. He asked what’s not to like about reducing utility rates for ratepayers, moving from fossil fuels to at least 33 percent renewable and green energy, and giving local geothermal and solar sources priority, with the county able to consider doing its own energy project down the line.
He said the $2 million in estimated revenue was “very historic,” adding, “This is a very big, broad, bold vision.”
Supervisor Jim Comstock asked if the power can be purchased from anywhere. Rumble said yes; he added that the county can prioritize purchasing power from local resources and isn’t obligated to purchase it from PG&E.
Supervisor Jim Steele said he was concerned about the proposal moving forward too fast, with not enough public input. “We need a public engagement effort. I would not want to go forward next week.”
He said he saw a conflict of interest with Rumble’s firm completing the feasibility study, with Rumble replying that they worked hard to present an impartial feasibility report. Regarding community engagement, Rumble said his company was happy to move forward in the way the county wanted. “This is really your call, your program.”
Steele said during the discussion that he was taking the stance based on his community outreach efforts. “The board gets criticized a lot for what he public doesn’t understand, and this is a huge change in direction for the county.”
Farrington questioned at what point in time Steele would decide there was enough public outreach, adding the program has been analyzed by county staff and there exists an opt-out component to program for residents who don’t want reduced utility rates.
Steele said the devil is in the details. “This just looks too smooth, that’s all that I’m saying.”
He asked Rumble what outreach effort took place in other counties. Rumble said Sonoma and Marin counties undertook “multiple year” community engagement efforts, but Lancaster’s was much quicker, lasting under a year.
Steele wanted Rumble to commit to a town hall meeting in each of the five supervisorial districts, which Rumble said he would do, but Farrington raised issue with whether there would be such town halls held in districts other than Steele’s.
He said approving the agreement didn’t end public engagement, with Steele replying that public input needed to take place before it came back to the board. “This just seems like the kind of thing that gets us in trouble,” Steele said.
Supervisor Jeff Smith called the proposal a “no-brainer,” adding that his constituents elected him to look for ways to save money whenever possible. As such, he wanted to move forward quickly to prevent his constituents from losing savings.
“We could take everything that comes before us and completely vet it and i don’t think we’d get anything done,” Smith said.
Comstock said he wouldn’t have supported the plan if it meant adding a large number of staff to run the program, and noted that he thought the opt-out provision was “huge.”
Supervisor Rob Brown said the program would allow the county to support Calpine and The Geysers geothermal steamfield by purchasing power from the company.
Brown said he was prepared to move forward. “I don’t want to minimize public input at all, but I’ve also seen how it works just the opposite. we could be here two years from now still having this discussion,” he said, adding he’s not willing to let that happen.
Running a quick calculation based on the projected savings, Brown said Lake County residents and businesses pay $37 million a year for utilities. “I’m not waiting for them to save money. We need to do this as soon as we possibly can.”
Special Districts Administrator Mark Dellinger told the board that he’s been involved with the program review, and he noted that the county government is one of the largest consumers of electricity in Lake County. At the same time, it also owns one of the largest public solar installations.
He said California Clean Power has technical expertise to help the county dig in and look at purchasing its solar facilities, which in turn would allow the county to generate surplus power and make it available locally.
“It’s a significant thing from my perspective,” Dellinger said.
Brown said the program offers an opportunity for county facilities and schools to have further reduced rates, with Farrington adding that there also is the opportunity for the cities of Clearlake and Lakeport to implement similar programs.
Lakeport resident Heather Powers wanted there to be a community engagement process, adding there should be a lot of investigation. Farrington responded that he was comfortable moving forward because of the opt-out option.
Steele said he wanted to hold at least one town hall in his district before moving forward. Farrington asked him about his conflict concerns regarding California Clean Power’s feasibility study.
“Read the feasibility study,” Steele said.
“I did,” Farrington replied.
“We have consultants and contractors come before this board all the time providing their own analysis. You’ve done that,” Farrington said, referring to Steele’s work as a consultant for the county on quagga and zebra mussel prevention before he ran for office.
“I did not come to this county with any proposal. The county came to me and asked me. That’s a difference,” said Steele.
Farrington replied, “How many town hall meeting did we have?”
Steele insisted that the county came to him. “I did not,” Farrington said.
“The hell you didn’t,” said Steele, adding he should ask Water Resources Director Scott De Leon. “He was the one who did. And by the way, I didn’t take any pay for that.”
Comstock asked if residents can opt out at any time, “The short answer is yes,” said Rumble, noting there are some windows for opting in and out based on how the program was set up by the state to work.
Rumble noted during the discussion that the community choice program “is very, very popular, no matter where it’s at.”
County Administrative Officer Matt Perry told the board that the ordinance would need two readings, so the soonest it could be approved was two weeks out – putting final approval possible at the board’s first June meeting.
Brown, Comstock, Farrington and Smith agreed by consensus to have the proposed ordinance brought back for its first reading on Tuesday.