by William Gallaher
Guest opinion in the Press Democrat


The recent celebration of our nation’s independence brings to mind another form of independence — the ability of our local community to break away from the polluting energy sources of the past that now threaten our very future.

On Jan. 1, 2014, residents of Sonoma County and participating cities will buy energy from Sonoma Clean Power. We will take into our own hands the power we need to change business as usual.

First Community Bank has made a decision to join this exciting new venture. Sonoma Clean Power is an opportunity, not a mandate, and we believe it’s time to move forward.

Every day that our cities wait creates a greater risk for our community, to those who can save money for power and for the health of our planet. For months, we have carefully worked with the talented team of engineers, energy experts, financiers and lawyers who make up the Sonoma Clean Power team. We have vetted their plans. They have earned our trust and our money.

First Community Bank believes in community choice — an innovation in itself that allows each of us to work with local partners. This opportunity will allow hundreds of millions of local ratepayer dollars to stay right here in Sonoma County. We will finance $2.5 million in startup costs and an additional $7.5million later this year when it comes time to purchase energy. We have analyzed the numbers and asked the tough questions.

As utility ratepayers see that locally controlled clean energy rates are competitive, and perhaps even less than PG&E’s rates, we are confident that our investment and that of Sonoma County will be fully repaid, with no cost to taxpayers.

This is only the start. As Sonoma Clean Power grows, it will begin to make choices that don’t exist today — where to invest in local power supply, where to reduce emissions and where to encourage new technology. And, for the first time ever, we will have local control over what local ratepayers pay.

We see this as a spark to a field of research and development that will lead the nation. As local energy entrepreneurs come to us with innovative projects, we will invest in solar, wind, biomass and other non-fossil, non-nuclear renewable energy. For good projects that need financing, we want to be the first to say “yes.”

As a lifelong resident of Sonoma County, I ask you to say “yes.”

I applaud the county and those cities that have given you a choice: Windsor, Cotati and Sebastopol. Soon, many of us as residents and businesses will help make energy independence a reality. This is a well-thought-out, well-vetted program, made possible by the laws of California.

We are proud to partner with the very capable Sonoma Clean Power team to give our community a local choice, with local impact, and to lead the way in our great state.

William P. Gallaher is chairman of the board ofFirst Community Bank.