Irvine, one of its founding cities, will not be leaving the Orange County Power Authority.
The decision came after almost two hours of debate with Mayor Farrah Khan casting the deciding vote, emphatically declaring that the city of Huntington Beach and the county will “pay” for pulling out of the ratepayer-funded agency.
Huntington Beach voted to pull out of OCPA earlier this month with one councilmember alleging the agency was “a total disaster and doomed for failure.” Huntington Beach is the first of the four-member cities to remove itself from the green power agency. Last year, the Board of Supervisors voted to withdraw the county before any customers in its territories were transferred over to start receiving power from the green power agency.
Surf City’s move prompted Councilmembers Mike Carroll and Larry Agran to debate Irvine’s future with the green power agency at the City Council meeting late Tuesday, May 23.
OCPA is “a failing enterprise,” Agran said, and promises of carbon neutrality and clean energy “have been broken and they were broken very early on.”
“It’s not getting us any closer to carbon neutrality as compared with (Southern California Edison), and it is just sucking an unconscionable amount of money out of the pockets of our residents,” he said.
Since its inception, the OCPA has been marred by controversy: An audit by the Orange County Grand Jury, reviews by the county and a state audit all critiqued the OCPA, particularly its leadership, for its management, pricing strategies and transparency.
However, the agency has tried to turn things around by implementing audit recommendations with personnel changes, including firing CEO Brian Probolsky and installing the communications director, Joe Mosca, as interim chief.
During Tuesday’s meeting, City Manager Oliver Chi said staffers have had a chance to review OCPA’s purchase power agreements and confirmed that the green power agency is purchasing renewable energy for customers, squashing rumors that the OCPA does not procure clean energy.
In 2002, California greenlit allowing cities to form “community choice energy” agencies, allowing residents who avail of these green power agencies to choose renewable energy options. Eighteen years later, in 2020, Irvine hired a consultancy agency to form the OCPA and lent the community choice energy agency $2.5 million initially to get operations off the ground. Later, it pumped a further $5 million in loans to the OCPA, putting a total $7.5 million of taxpayer money at risk.
It’s “unknown,” city attorney Jeffrey Melching said Tuesday, if Irvine would be able to recover the money put into the agency if councilmembers voted to withdraw.
Councilmembers Tammy Kim and Kathleen Treseder, who both serve on the OCPA’s Board, both voted to stick with the ratepayer-funded organization.
“We are the founding agency, and I want to see this through, I don’t want this to be used for political gain in any way, shape and form,” Kim said. “When we keep signaling to the world that we’re in, that we’re out, how are we going to bring other people in.”
This is a developing story and will be updated.
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