On Wednesday (April 19th), the Orange County Power Authority (OCPA) board decided that Brian Probolsky’s two-year run as CEO of the agency will end on May 30th.
Probolsky had survived previous attempts to remove him — in one instance by filing a whistleblower complaint against hostile board members — alleging corruption, which insulated him during the ensuing investigation. That investigation was completed late last year, but the results were not made public and no actions were taken.
This time, however, Irvine City Councilmember Kathleen Treseder, who joined the OCPA board in December, was able to make good on her demand that Probolsky be removed as the price for keeping Irvine in the four-city joint agency.
The OCPA Board vote was 3-1-1, with Treseder’s Irvine colleague Councilmember Tammy Kim and Buena Park Councilmember José Trinidad Castañeda voting for Probolsky’s ouster. Orange County Supervisor Don Wagner voted NO. Board Chairman and Fullerton Councilmember Frank Jung abstained while Huntington Beach’s representative, Councilmember Casey McKeon, did not attend the meeting.
Questions have swirled since Probolsky’s original appointment in 2020, which was done behind closed doors without a search or interviews. At the time, Probolsky was known as a local political operative, with zero experience in the electricity industry.
The April 2022 rollout of OCPA’s electricity delivery service to non-residential customers was marred by confusion and complaints from business ratepayers that they were not given adequate information about their options to enable them to make sound business decisions. (Two of the City’s largest commercial customers, Irvine Ranch Water District and Irvine Unified School District, immediately opted-out of OCPA.)
Audits by the Orange County Grand Jury, the Orange County Auditor, and the California State Auditor faulted OCPA’s management and lack of transparency. The State Auditor identified contracts that Probolsky entered into without board approval or knowledge, in violation of OCPA’s own policies. In response to these audits, Orange County Supervisors voted last fall to withdraw from the agency.
Since joining the City Council in late 2020, Irvine City Councilman Larry Agran has been pointing out serious risks and problems with the City’s membership in OCPA. For nearly two years, Councilmember Kim and other Councilmembers blocked Agran’s repeated requests for a public discussion of the agency.
In December 2022, the Irvine Council narrowly defeated Councilman Agran’s motion to withdraw Irvine from the agency, on a 2-3 vote, with Treseder joining Kim and Mayor Farrah Khan in voting NO.
Strangely, after her April 18th vote to fire Probolsky, Councilmember Kim — who joined the OCPA board in January along with Treseder — praised him, saying: “You’ve held composure and grace under pressure. I just applaud all your work and all your efforts. Kudos to you.” Kim said that the former board had been “challenging” for Probolsky to work under, appearing to blame Mayor Khan and Councilmember Mike Carroll, who formed the previous board.
Even with the removal of Probolsky, the OCPA still has problems.
“The OCPA was formed in large part because it promised ratepayers lower costs for greener electricity and a slew of community energy projects,” said Councilman Agran. “Those fundamental promises have been broken.”
In addition, Agran said, the sky-high opt-out rate among ratepayers — the highest in the state — caused by higher rates and lack of confidence in the agency, threatens OCPA’s financial model.
“OCPA has to do a lot more than change the nameplate on the CEO’s desk to survive,” said Agran. “I have no reason to believe they can do so, and I’m very worried that Irvine’s continued participation in this agency exposes the City’s taxpayers and its ratepayers to significant financial risk.”