BY ROBERT DIGITALE THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
A new Santa Rosa company has formed to offer California cities and counties the financing and services needed to establish community choice power programs like Sonoma Clean Power.
The new company, California Clean Power, already has formed partnerships with First Community Bank, which provided key financing for the county’s public power program, as well as Santa Rosa’s The Climate Center, an advocate for that earlier effort.
“Our goal is to provide cleaner power at a lower cost with local control,” said Peter Rumble, an outgoing county official and the new company’s CEO. On Tuesday, Rumble will leave his job as a deputy county administrator in order to lead California Clean Power.
The company’s other four owners and directors are developer Bill Gallaher, managing director of Oakmont Senior Living; former North Coast congressman Doug Bosco, a principal investor and general counsel for Sonoma Media Investments, which owns The Press Democrat; Komron Shahhosseini, a county planning commissioner and a partner in Oakmont Senior Living in charge of site acquisition and development; and Jonathan Kathrein, a law clerk for Bosco and law school student with a background in environmental and community organizing.
Gallaher and Bosco also are directors at First Community, which has provided $10 million in financing to Sonoma Clean Power, including a key startup loan of $2.5 million.
Sonoma Clean Power is a government agency that buys electricity for county residents and businesses, with rates said to be about 4 to 5 percent lower than PG&E’s. The agency began supplying power in May and is on track to serve residents in seven of the county’s nine cities, plus those in the unincorporated area.
California Clean Power is the second local company to form using lessons gleaned from the county’s energy initiatives. The first was Santa Rosa’s Ygrene Energy Fund, which began in 2011 with the aim of offering businesses and homeowners around the U.S. a new way to finance solar systems and energy saving improvements. The company found its inspiration partly from the county’s Energy Independence Program, the first countywide program in the nation to provide government- assisted financing with repayment via property tax bills.
Sonoma Clean Power was the state’s second active community choice power program, the first being in Marin County.
County Supervisor Susan Gorin, who is Sonoma Clean Power’s chairwoman, said the new company’s “concept was good” because it takes considerable time and effort to get a community power agency off the ground. The most important service, she said, may be the start-up financing need to pay for a few years’ worth of staff time and other expenses.
“First Community did that for us,” Gorin said of the financing, “and for that we’re very grateful.”
First Community President/CEO Debbie Meekins said the bank got involved with Sonoma Clean Power because the new agency offered communities such compelling benefits as choice, more renewable energy and local control.
“With California Clean Power, we’re looking to do the same thing,” Meekins said.
The company proposes to offer cities and counties “turn key” solutions that include not only financing but also legal assistance, energy purchasing, public outreach, billing and other services.
“We see an opportunity to come in and help them with all the hard stuff,” director Shahhosseini said.
Power purchases will be handled by San Diego-based Noble Americas Energy Solutions. California Clean Power will earn its revenues from a portion of the rates paid by each power agency’s energy users, Rumble said.
Rumble has worked eight years for the county, most recently as a deputy county administrator and spokesman. He was not directly involved with the creation of Sonoma Clean Power, but he did help author the original business plan for the county’s Energy Independence Program and he was involved in the county’s efforts this year to oppose legislation that would have made it much more difficult for new community choice power programs to begin.
“There are several communities that are really interested in this model,” he said.
You can reach Robert Digitale at 521-5285 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @rdigit.