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Irvine Continues to Put the City’s Taxpayers & Electricity Ratepayers at Financial Risk

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Three years ago, Mayor Farrah Khan promoted the Orange County Power Authority (OCPA) with the promise that Irvine electricity ratepayers would receive greener energy at lower rates, and that the agency would provide the public with full transparency.

Since that time, here’s what has transpired:

  • In 2020, OCPA was established by the Irvine City Council. Over the next two years, $7.7 million in Irvine taxpayer money was provided to the agency to cover start-up costs. None of the other member cities (Huntington Beach, Fullerton, and Buena Park) or the County of Orange were asked to contribute.
     
  • The OCPA Board was formed in late 2020, comprised of Councilmembers from each of the member cities (two from Irvine) — none of whom have any experience in the electricity field. A year later, the County joined OCPA and a County Supervisor was added to the Board. He too has no experience in the energy field.
     
  • The OCPA Board hired one of their political cronies to run the agency as its CEO, even though he has zero experience in the electricity field.
     
  • The Board voted to give the inexperienced CEO authority to enter into energy purchasing agreements worth hundreds of millions of dollars.
     
  • In early 2022, before the agency’s official launch date, the OCPA Board approved significantly higher monthly electricity rates than had been previously promised. Within months, all Irvine ratepayers had been transferred from Southern California Edison (SCE) and automatically enrolled in the new, more expensive OCPA plan, unless they “opted-out.”
     
  • In June 2022, the Orange County Grand Jury released a report on its investigation of OCPA, stating that the agency was rife with cronyism, incompetence, and a lack of transparency.
     
  • Also, in the summer of 2022, the City of Irvine launched an audit of OCPA. By the end of the year, the City Manager reported that OCPA had not provided auditors with any meaningful documentation regarding its operations and finances.
     
  • In September 2022, the California State Auditor’s Office launched its own an investigation into OCPA, which is currently underway.
     
  • Also in the fall of 2022, the County of Orange conducted its audit and review of OCPA. Its findings mirrored those in the Orange County Grand Jury’s report. As a result, the County voted to pull out of OCPA.
     
  • In December 2022, the new majority on the Huntington Beach City Council signaled that they are considering withdrawal from OCPA.

Armed with the facts from the past three years, you would think that the Irvine City Council would reconsider its involvement in OCPA, and take action to limit the financial risk to the City and its taxpayers.

That’s exactly what Councilman Larry Agran proposed during an emergency Council meeting on December 29th. Agran requested that the City of Irvine give OCPA a notice of withdrawal from the agency, effective July 1, 2023, with the caveat that the withdrawal will be rescinded if OCPA has taken concrete steps to address the problems identified in the Orange County Grand Jury report and County of Orange audit and review.

Agran had an unlikely ally in his request: OCPA Board Chair, Irvine Councilman Mike Carroll. During the meeting, Carroll stated: “The worry we have is that if we don’t do this [give notice of withdrawal from OCPA], Irvine gets caught holding the bag at the end of the story….I don’t really see a way out.”

Let’s face it. When the Chair of the OCPA Board says it’s time to get out, you know there’s trouble ahead.

However, Mayor Khan — joined by Vice Mayor Tammy Kim and newly-elected Councilmember Kathleen Treseder — refused to heed Carroll’s warning. Instead, Kim and Treseder indicated they were ready to replace Khan and Carroll on the OCPA Board and work together to “fix” the troubled agency.

After wasting three years and millions of Irvine taxpayer dollars, isn’t it time to focus on policies that will allow us to reach our goal of carbon-neutrality by 2030, without putting the City of Irvine and its taxpayers and ratepayers at financial risk? As Agran has repeatedly pointed out, we should be solarizing rooftops in Irvine; planting thousands of trees; and greening our local transportation systems.

Incidentally, for those of you wanting 100% renewable electricity, you can enroll in SCE’s 100% renewable plan which is significantly cheaper than the forced-enrollment OCPA plan.

Franklin J. Lunding

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