The Orange County Power Authority (OCPA) was created by a vote of the previous Irvine City Council at the urging of then-Councilmember and now-Mayor Farrah Khan and Councilmember Mike Carroll. Irvine agreed to loan the new public agency $7.7 million in City funds to pay for start-up costs and to underwrite a line of credit from Union Bank for another $35 million to cover operations until OCPA could begin providing electricity to Irvine customers and collecting revenue. (No other member-City was asked to contribute.)
At the time, the new agency was promoted by Khan, Carroll and others as an alternative to Southern California Edison (SCE) that would provide electricity from “cleaner” renewable sources at a lower cost than SCE.
In January 2022, OCPA released the rates it would be charging customers when it rolled out power service this year. Contrary to earlier promises, those rates were equal to or higher than SCE’s. At its June 29th meeting, the OCPA board approved a 2022-23 budget that includes even higher electricity rates for businesses and residents in January 2023.
On June 29th, the OCPA board met to discuss embattled CEO Brian Probolsky’s possible termination in a 90-minute closed session, but the board took no formal action.
The board’s inaction comes against a backdrop of mounting public criticism of the OCPA’s management and methods; a scathing Grand Jury report; an audit by the City of Irvine that is now underway; and internal turmoil marked by Probolsky’s filing of a formal complaint against some board members and threatening legal action against his own agency.
The OCPA board discussion of Probolsky’s job performance was originally requested on May 31st by four members of the six-member board who pressed for a special meeting to be held the first week of June. Probolsky immediately responded with a formal complaint alleging misdeeds by some board members and claiming whistleblower protection against his possible termination.
The OCPA clerk and legal counsel, Ryan Baron, refused to schedule a special session, questioning whether the request was properly submitted. The matter was then resubmitted for inclusion on the regular June 29th meeting agenda, but resulted in no action.
Meanwhile, the Grand Jury, in a report released on June 24th, was highly critical of the OCPA’s management, especially its lack of transparency and lack of senior managers with energy industry experience. Indeed, Probolsky himself had no industry experience whatsoever when he was appointed — without a search — to lead the agency in 2021.
Specifically, the Grand Jury issued these six findings:
- OCPA has not properly implemented bylaws and other procedures to promote and ensure transparency.
- OCPA unreasonably delayed the formation of the CAC [Citizens Advisory Committee], has failed to properly utilize CAC member expertise, and has stifled the CAC from functioning as an advisory committee as intended.
- OCPA hiring practices and procedures for both employees and contractors have failed to follow best practices, potentially damaging the credibility of the agency and raising questions of cronyism.
- OCPA has failed to hire a Director of Power Purchases or other experienced senior staff as appropriate for a CCE [Community Choice Energy], resulting in a lack of oversight of contractors and fewer checks and balances in its operation.
- OCPA lacks experienced in-house staff to develop and implement a long-term strategic plan as well as short-term plans to mitigate economic risks.
- OCPA Board meeting agendas and staff reports are distributed at the last minute and Board meeting minutes are not always accurate, complete, or posted in a timely manner.
- Implement OCPA and Community Advisory Committee by-laws consistent with those of other CCEs within California.
- Include the Community Advisory Committee as a standing item on the OCPA Board minutes and recognize the Community Advisory Committee as an advisory committee, and not simply a mouthpiece.
- Hire a Director of Power Purchases or other qualified staff positions to properly oversee Pacific Energy Advisors and CalPine contractors utilizing best practices.
- Utilize a member agency clerk or assign a qualified OCPA staff member to handle the agendas and minutes for the OCPA Board and OCPA Community Advisory Committee to ensure that they are prepared properly and posted in a timely manner.
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