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Cloverdale votes to join Sonoma Clean Power

Thursday, July 24th, 2014 | Posted by

Sonoma-Clean-PowerBy CLARK MASON / The Press Democrat

Cloverdale on Wednesday became the sixth city to join Sonoma Clean Power, perhaps unwittingly forcing the departure of embattled Sonoma County Supervisor Efren Carrillo from the power agency’s board of directors.

Cloverdale City Council members, who a year ago had balked at joining the new venture, said they had overcome initial reservations, and unanimously supported the move.

“How can I say ‘no?’ ” said Mayor Carol Russell, saying Sonoma Clean Power offered cleaner power and a rate reduction.

Council members said repeatedly their vote boiled down to “choice” for residents and businesses, who can still remain with PG&E if they prefer.

“There’s nothing here that would allow me to deny somebody the choice, including in my own household,” Russell said.

Sonoma Clean Power began serving the first wave of customers in Santa Rosa, Cotati, Windsor, Sonoma, Sebastopol and unincorporated Sonoma County on May 1, and is trying to persuade Petaluma and Rohnert Park to join now, following Cloverdale’s decision.

Though no one addressed the issue publicly Wednesday, Cloverdale’s enlistment has direct implications for Carrillo, the county official most likely to lose his seat on the board of Sonoma Clean Power.

With Cloverdale joining, Sonoma County and Santa Rosa each lose one of their two representatives on the board, an advantage they enjoyed up until a sixth city joined Sonoma Clean Power.

Carrillo’s arrest last year and blunt testimony prior to his acquittal on charges of attempting to peek into a female neighbor’s home have resulted in calls for him to resign from both the Board of Supervisors and the Sonoma Clean Power board.

Sonoma Clean Power’s board two weeks ago voted 6-1 to request Carrillo be removed from his seat with the agency, saying his arrest made him a distraction.

The request went to Board of Supervisors Chairman David Rabbitt, who appointed Carrillo to the power board earlier this year and has the sole authority to remove him.

Rabbitt said two weeks ago he had no intent to remove Carrillo, but with Cloverdale joining Clean Power it means he has to choose between whether Carrillo or supervisor Susan Gorin, currently Sonoma Clean Power’s chairwoman, stays.

Given the controversy dogging Carrillo, it appears he would be the one who would have to step down.

Gorin said after the Cloverdale council meeting she hopes to remain on the Sonoma Clean Power board. “It’s not certain. It’s up to (Rabbitt),” she said.

Rabbitt was on a family vacation in a remote location and could not be reached for comment Wednesday, according to his aide.

Carrillo was arrested a year ago after a female neighbor made two predawn 911 calls to report a man in his underwear and socks standing outside her bedroom. He was acquitted in April of attempted peeking charges during a trial in which he acknowledged a long-time drinking problem and his desire that night to have sex with his neighbor, whom he barely knew.

Carrillo said his behavior was foolish and unfortunate, but did not undermine his ability to represent the agency going forward. He also has repeatedly said he has no plans to resign his Board of Supervisors post.

If Carrillo departs Sonoma Clean Power, it could happen at its Sept. 11 meeting, when Cloverdale is expected to take its seat on the board.

Cloverdale Vice Mayor Bob Cox on Wednesday was chosen to represent the city on the Clean Power Board with Councilman Mike Maacks as an alternate.

On Wednesday, about a half-dozen Cloverdale residents addressed the City Council and almost all supported joining Sonoma Clean Power.

To not give citizens the choice “would be doing a disservice to the community,” said Councilman Joe Palla, especially with PG&E rates scheduled to increase 5 percent next year.

Customers in the city automatically will be enrolled with Sonoma Clean Power, and have to opt out if they want to stay with PG&E.

A year ago, Cloverdale was one of the first cities to discuss joining the nascent power agency, but City Council members said they wanted to see how the program fared in other parts of the county before making a decision.

Currently about 24,000 customers, primarily commercial accounts, are getting their electricity from Sonoma Clean Power. By December that is expected grow to 148,000 accounts, according to Clean Power spokeswoman Kate Kelly.

Cloverdale accounts for just 1.7 percent of the PG&E electric meters in Sonoma County, representing the smallest number of any city in the county.

Cloverdale City Manager Paul Cayler said the city’s own power bills, now totaling $450,000, likely will be reduced about $18,000 annually because Sonoma Clean Power’s rates are projected to be at least 4 percent less than PG&E’s.

Advocates for Sonoma Clean Power said it offers an alternative to PG&E’s monopoly, reduces greenhouse gases, create jobs and reinvests money in the local community.

But skeptics question whether there will be unforeseen costs and whether government should be getting into the public power business. They also have doubts whether Sonoma Clean Power actually will use significantly more renewable energy, citing the agency’s use of renewable energy credits to achieve its targets.

On Wednesday many of the questions from the audience and council members centered on how Sonoma Clean Power buys its electricity and whether low-income people will still receive discounts through Sonoma Clean Power like they do with PG&E.

PG&E will continue to handle billing, maintain power lines and resolve outages.

Sonoma Clean Power CEO Geof Syphers assured the council those customers will get a discount. As far as the program that allows customers to balance their bills with an average monthly payment to avoid big hits when their energy uses spikes during cold and hot spells, he said the agency is still working with PG&E to enable it.

Council members also wanted to make sure there is sufficient outreach to the community, especially Spanish speakers to answer their questions about how the program works.

By mid-April, Cloverdale residents and businesses will get their first notices about their ability to join, and service is expected to start by July 2015.

You can reach Staff Writer Clark Mason at 521-5214 or clark.mason@pressdemocrat.com.

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Mary Jo Winter is our Cloverdale correspondent.
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