An improvement plan designed to address questions raised by three audits about the Orange County Power Authority’s management, pricing strategies and transparency was presented to its board Wednesday, March 15, outlining changes already made and others in the works.
The OCPA launched in 2020 as an alternative option to Southern California Edison, offering more renewable energy blends in founding cities Buena Park, Fullerton, Huntington Beach and Irvine. It is the county’s first community choice energy program. The OCPA was set to also begin serving unincorporated communities of Orange County, but the OC Board of Supervisors decided to leave the program late last year amid the criticisms.
“We have undergone several audits over the past six or seven months and numerous hours responding to these audits and reports,” Joe Mosca, OCPA’s director of communications and external affairs, told its board of directors Wednesday. “What we have for you today is an improvement plan that captures all the recommendations ever made and how we are going to address every one of those audits.”
The improvements were outlined by Elaine Howle, principal at Balance Public Relations and a former California state auditor, who officials said helped the OCPA executive team come up with its response.
Already addressed, officials said, is the greater inclusion of a Community Advisory Committee in oversight and board meetings. Regular meetings will be held and a member of the committee will be present at board meetings from here on out. The agency has also amended how it tracks its agendas and meets notification requirements, including time stamping when they go online to improve transparency, according to Mosca.
The OCPA has also hired a board clerk and assistant to the CEO to better ensure transparency.
In its recently released findings, the California State Auditor’s Office recommended the agency amend its risk management program, so by May, OCPA officials said an oversight committee that includes members of the board, will start meeting regularly.
Orange County Third District Supervisor Don Wagner, who also sits on the OCPA board, said a change like that “seems like a pretty practical application that the state is recommending,” and asked staffers why it would take until May to implement. “Why hasn’t this come before the board already?”
Howle said the simple answer is “there’s just a lot to go through and there’s only so many hours in the day.”
Some changes have already been implemented relating to issues pointed out by auditors with the agency’s contracting practices, Mosca said. Already, policy has been set to report contracts to the board between $50,000 and $125,000 and all active contracts more than $125,000 have been approved by the board and the board will sign off on any contract of that value going forward. The board is also now getting a quarterly progress report that details the financials of every contract.
The agency has also made amendments to its disclosure of payments to establish accountability and will require large checks to be signed by senior management, Howle said.
There are plans to further amend contracting concerns raised in audits by discussing whether the CEO should be able to bypass existing purchasing requirements, including when there is urgency, Howle said. It is looking at how other community choice programs in the state handle these needs as well as at what dollar amount formal bids are sought. The agency expects have a policy developed by June.
Auditors also challenged the use in the past of customer statistics from Southern California Edison. Now that it has begun servicing its own customers, officials said the agency can now plan to use its own data and participation rates when developing its budget for the next fiscal year to better plan for power usage and opt-out rates.
Together with the board, the agency’s executive team addressed the need for bylaws to increase its transparency and they were also reviewed Wednesday.
“We have gone through so many challenges particularly to the dynamics within our jurisdictions, but it doesn’t mean that we’re not accountable to the public; it doesn’t mean that we aren’t trying hard to restore that trust that has been knocked down in the last two years,” said Jose Castaneda, OCPA board member and Buena Park councilmember. “I appreciate the opportunity to memorialize our improvements.”
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