Brian Probolsky, Orange County Power Authority’s chief executive officer, was dismissed by its board members on Wednesday.
He will stay on through the end of May and will receive six months’ severance, as stipulated by his contract, said Tammy Kim, one of the members who voted to oust him during a closed-door meeting on April 19. Members Jose Castaneda and Kathleen Treseder joined Kim in voting for his dismissal while Don Wagner voted against the move, Fred Jung abstained and Casey McKeon was absent,
An interim CEO will be announced in the coming days, said Jung, the board chair.
“In just a few short years, the Orange County Power Authority has gone from one city’s vision to a fully operational community choice energy provider serving approximately 240,000 residential and commercial customers in four Orange County communities,” Jung said.
“While OCPA is financially strong with tens of millions of dollars in reserves, and operationally sound, the Board of Directors has made the decision to begin a search for a new CEO. The Board is committed to working together throughout the executive search process to select a CEO who will lead OCPA into the next phase of its growth,” Jung said. “The Board appreciates Brian Probolsky’s dedication and service building an organization that is having a positive environmental impact on the region.”
Wagner, an OC supervisor, said it was a closed-door personnel decision and could not comment.
During Probolsky’s two-year tenure at the helm of the ratepayer-funded agency, he oversaw the launch of the agency which now serves four cities. Both residential and commercial customers receive power purchased through the agency.
However, it was not without controversy. An audit by the Orange County Grand Jury, reviews by the county and a state audit all critiqued OCPA, particularly its leadership, for its management, pricing strategies and transparency.
The state audit alleged that Probolsky and staff did not follow their own procedures when executing power purchase agreements and improperly issued $1.8 million in marketing and financial services contracts. Probolsky also appeared to lack the necessary experience for the role, the county’s report, released in December 2022, said.
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OCPA has a higher opt-out rate (23%) compared to other green power agencies which typically have a rate between 5-10%, according to a recent review of the agency commissioned by Irvine.
A high opt-out rate means more customers are choosing to revert to traditional electric bills. And fewer customers mean the agency has less leverage to negotiate energy contracts, which can translate into higher prices over time.
Launched in 2020 as a green alternative to Southern California Edison, OCPA started with the cities of Irvine, Huntington Beach, Fullerton and Buena Park — with the county slated to join in late 2022. However, following the release of the first three audits, the county pulled out in December.
Supervisor Katrina Foley, who voted to withdraw Orange County from OCPA, said there is still a need for “structural reform” at the agency despite the dismissal of the CEO.
“I will continue monitoring the OC Power Authority’s actions to see which reforms (from the county audit) they decide to enact,” Foley said.
And state Sen. Dave Min, who recently called for Probolsky’s resignation, said the move will allow OCPA to “finally focus on putting ratepayers first.”
“While we are still a long way from fully restoring public trust, this was the right choice by the Board of Directors and a step toward greater accountability,” said Min, an Irvine Democrat. “While I am hopeful OCPA can now operate with integrity, I will continue to monitor the fiscal impacts this transition poses.”
Irvine spearheaded the creation of OCPA, investing an estimated $7 million of taxpayer dollars to launch it. That money is due to be repaid in the future, but at least some of that could be at risk if the Power Authority isn’t in operation or isn’t making money. This has led to its leaders debating the city’s future with the green power agency — ultimately, the city will stick with OCPA for now.
“The termination of anyone is never a good thing so I do have some amount of compassion and empathy and nor do I completely blame him for everything that has happened with OCPA,” said Kim, an Irvine councilmember, noting she believes the blame for transparency issues should also be placed on former board members.
“The reason why I made the decision was because the agency is too bogged down by distractions,” she said. “No agency should have a single soul eclipsing it.”
Staff Writer Destiny Torres contributed to this report.
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