Leaders in Orange County are set to vote Tuesday, Aug. 22, on withdrawing from a partnership with the Irvine-based Orange County Power Authority along with the Joint Powers Agreement, according to the Board of Supervisors’ August 22 meeting agenda.
The item, presented by Fifth District Supervisor Lisa Barlett, references a recent Orange County Grand Jury report titled, “Orange County Power Authority: Come Clean” in which the OCGJ ultimately reported a lack of transparency within several layers of the green power provider specifically when it came to leadership experience and rate disclosure.
“Although the price differentials were known to OCPA at the time, no pricing information was included in the mailers sent to the affected businesses, nor could it easily be found on the OCPA website,” the Grand Jury report stated.
An alternative memo related to the August 22 meeting from the County Executive Office approves the Grand Jury report.
The OCGJ report states the power authority, which began servicing commercial customers this year, has been reluctant to share requested information with the public and the Grand Jury itself.
Additionally, the Grand Jury reported concerns with the amount of Community Choice Energy supporters that spoke publicly against the way OCPA was operating, citing a lack of industry leadership experience, specifically within the CEO position, to manage significant budgets associated with the power provider.
“In recognition of the fact that OCPA manages a very large budget and commits to long-term power contracts worth hundreds of millions of dollars, the OCGJ is particularly concerned that OCPA is operating without in-house leadership with sufficient expertise to oversee the very complex decisions involved in energy planning and transactions,” the report summary read.
Irvine Mayor Farrah Khan, who serves as a director on the power authority board, said she was not aware of the move the Board of Supervisors was taking prior to the item appearing on the agenda. Khan said she was unsure if her OCPA colleagues were given notice.
“If the county chooses to withdraw, they will be taking away their residents/businesses’ opportunity to have a choice when it comes to getting energy,” Khan said in a text message to Irvine Weekly.
Irvine Councilmember Mike Carroll, who serves as the chair of the OCPA, did not respond to a request to comment.
While Bartlett championed the OCGJ report, Third District Supervisor Don Wagner said he was not impressed by the grand jury report, and added that pulling out of the JPA would be “premature.” From Wagner’s perspective, the OCGJ report is being used as motivation for this move to exit the OCPA is “misguided.”
“It’s been out there, with this Grand Jury, that’s probably what’s sparking the questions. I don’t have a problem with questions, I think the answers are there and will satisfy people,” he said. “What I would come back to as premature – it wasn’t these questions being asked by Supervisor Barlett, it was presuming that these answers were bad, and therefore we’ve got to get out – that’s not a fair read on the situation.”
“I’m encouraged by the direction of OCPA and its status right now. My initial take is what Lisa Bartlett has put forward for tomorrow is premature – at a minimum we need to get the kind of questions that an audit would answer – and get those questions answered,” he said. “It’s also premature because the county unincorporated areas that were talking about here aren’t slated to go into service with the OCPA for about another year, so we’ve got plenty of time to decide when the right move is — whether any changes need to be done with respect to the mix of power that’s available.”
In February, Irvine became the largest city in the nation to offer a 100% renewable energy option to customers.
In terms of energy choices, the OCPA offered three different choices to residential customers — Basic Choice, Smart Choice and a 100% Renewable Energy Choice.
In terms of cost, OCPA’s basic choice is about an $8 monthly increase for customers using 425 kWh of power. The Smart Choice is approximately a $4 increase, with 100% renewable energy option averaging out to an increase of 5% above Southern California Edison rates, per month.
For commercial customers using 90,000 kWh per month, OCPA’s basic choice will be the same as Southern California Edison, with the Smart Choice being approximately $900 – or 4.8% more than SCE rates per month. The 100% Renewable energy option will result in an increase of 7.2% in monthly electricity costs – or about $1,300.
However, in June, after just a few months of commercial service began, OCPA was facing public pressure over its financial transparency, and its response time to public information requests.
At the time, Irvine City Councilmember Anthony Kuo said he was familiar with concerns that information requests about the OCPA were being ignored.
“I have heard both anecdotally, and through public testimony, that people’s public request acts are not being responded to. I hear from others that are involved that they are being responded to,” he said. “They’re either being responded to in a legal way or they’re not – I would like for us, with the association for this review, to look at how these requests are being responded to.”
The aspect of transparency within OCPA was not just public-facing, according to a May 31 memo. A whistleblower complaint alleged transparency issues are also occurring internally and could be in violation of the Brown Act.
The memo, included in the June 14 council agenda, states that OCPA CEO Brian Probolsky has acquired private counsel to represent him in a lawsuit in which he claims he is being unfairly ousted from his position by members of OCPA’s Board of Directors.
The Irvine City Council ultimately agreed to perform an audit on the power authority.
However, on Monday, Aug. 22, Irvine city staff did not return Irvine Weekly’s request for comment regarding the status of the OCPA audit.
This is a developing story.
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