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Serious Management & Transparency Problems Persist at the Embattled OC Power Authority

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On November 7th, a vote to remove Brian Probolsky as CEO of the troubled Orange County Power Authority (OCPA) failed in a closed session of the agency’s board, according to sources at the OCPA and Irvine City Hall. No further action is planned, the sources said. That means the decision as to how long Probolsky will lead the agency is now his alone.

The board  — which is chaired by Irvine City Councilman Mike Carroll — took its vote the day before a new slate of Council candidates in Huntington Beach, who campaigned on the promise to pull out of OCPA, won election. Sources also say that the Orange County Board of Supervisors will soon discuss pulling the County out of OCPA as well. That would leave just Irvine, Fullerton and Buena Park as member cities. If Huntington Beach and the County exit, it is unclear whether enough ratepayers would be left to keep OCPA afloat.

If OCPA collapses, Irvine taxpayers and electricity ratepayers could be on the hook for tens of millions of dollars in loans, loan guarantees, and other liabilities that OCPA has incurred. In fact, ratepayers in all of the OCPA member cities could be responsible for the more than half-a-billion dollars in energy purchase agreements that OCPA has signed.

Created by the Irvine City Council in 2019 at the urging of Councilman Carroll and Mayor Farrah Khan, the OCPA was originally promoted by Carroll and Khan as an agency that would provide electricity from “green” sources at rates lower than what Southern California Edison (SCE) charges.

However, all Irvine residential and commercial ratepayers have been forced into the new OCPA electricity plan at a much higher monthly rate for the same ratios of “green” electricity that SCE provides its customers.

Carroll and Khan also promised that as a public agency, OCPA would be completely transparent. In fact, OCPA has been loathe to make public basic information about its operations, or even provide key financial data to member cities when they request it.

An Orange County Grand Jury report earlier this year was scathing in its review of the OCPA’s insular leadership and lack of transparency. And, just last month the OCPA board approved a policy that allows its staff to remove critical comments posted on the agency’s social media sites … and even permanently ban individual critics from its sites.

Frustrated by the lack of information and cooperation, the City of Irvine and the County of Orange both invoked their rights to conduct formal audits of the OCPA. Those audits have been hampered by the agency’s foot-dragging in turning over necessary documents, which after four months continue to arrive “in dribs and drabs,” according to one Irvine City Hall source.

The California legislature’s Joint Legislative Audit Committee is also investigating OCPA’s finances and operations.

Since joining the City Council in December 2020, Councilman Larry Agran has been the only member of the Council to question OCPA’s long-term viability, and to point out the financial liability that the agency poses to Irvine taxpayers and ratepayers.

When asked for comment about the prospects for OCPA, Agran said: “This is clearly an agency that is in deep trouble. It has to be a top-most matter for the incoming City Council to address.” (In the November 8th election, Agran was re-elected to the City Council, along with political newcomer, UCI Professor Kathleen Treseder, who has also been a vocal critic of OCPA management.)

Roger Bloom

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