The Orange County Power Authority (OCPA) was established last year — by the previous City Council — promising to deliver to residents and businesses in Irvine and other Orange County cities cleaner, less expensive electricity than what they currently purchase from Southern California Edison.
Irvine City Councilmember Mike Carroll is Chair of the five-member OCPA Board and Irvine Mayor Farrah Khan is also a board member. In 2019, Carroll and Khan secured a commitment from the previous City Council to have Irvine fund the Power Authority through 2022. None of the other cities in the Power Authority — Huntington Beach, Fullerton, Buena Park — contribute any money at all to the OCPA.
The City has already advanced more than $7.5 million of Irvine taxpayer money to the OCPA, with no oversight by the current City Council.
Since its inception, the OCPA board has made a number of questionable choices. For example, with no explanation as to the hiring process, the board quietly contracted longtime political consultant Brian Probolsky — who has no energy sector experience — to run the agency at a salary of $239,000.
Now, the OCPA has released the three “energy tiers” (percentage of clean renewable electricity) that will be offered to consumers without providing the public with any costs associated with each tier. When the Power Authority officially launches — scheduled for about a year from now — Irvine residents will be transferred from their current provider of electricity, Southern California Edison, and automatically enrolled in the OCPA plan.
The lowest tier (tier 1) will offer customers electricity that is derived from 38.2% renewable sources (primarily solar and wind); tier 2 will provide 69.1% renewable sources; and tier 3 will offer customers electricity that comes from 100% renewable energy sources.
At the upcoming December 14th Irvine City Council meeting, Mayor Khan has added an agenda item, asking the Council to offer Irvine residents only the two top tiers, and to automatically enroll the City’s residents in tier 2 with the option to upgrade to tier 3 for an additional cost. Khan wants to enroll the City government itself — which already spends roughly $5 million annually for electricity — in tier 3. It’s unknown how much more this is going to cost Irvine taxpayers.
When we reached out to Councilmember Larry Agran — who has voiced concerns over the OCPA in the past — for comment on the Mayor’s proposal, he stated: “I have been on this Council since December of last year and because of the Mayor’s ‘Rule of Two,’ I can’t even get a presentation from the OCPA to determine if the City should be a part of this entity or if we are being put at grave financial risk.”
Agran, a Harvard-trained lawyer and economist, continued: “While I remain strongly committed to getting us to 100% renewable energy as quickly as possible, it doesn’t make sense to me to implement a massive new energy program without first knowing the cost to our residents, and to our City. “
Agran concluded his remarks by stating: “Last year, OCPA promised to deliver cleaner energy at lower rates. We need to hold them to that promise.”
Agran isn’t alone in his concerns regarding OCPA. The Voice of OC has reported that the Power Authority is apparently in trouble with California state regulators regarding its finances. And, a local environmental group, Climate Action Campaign, has questioned the OCPA’s commitment to clean energy, telling their supporters that “OCPA has been talking about using Renewable Energy Credits (RECs), but the problem with RECs is that, for the most part, they don’t drive change, don’t reduce emissions, and they send jobs and economic development out of our communities.”
Late last week, yet another controversy took place at the OCPA when the one staff member with a background in sustainability — chief operating officer Antonia Castro-Graham— abruptly resigned.
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