O.C. Supervisors pull out of Orange County Power Authority; Huntington Beach could be next

Brian Probolsky, Orange County Power Authority chief executive, poses for a portrait outside of his office in Irvine.
Brian Probolsky, Orange County Power Authority chief executive, poses for a portrait outside of his office in Irvine in September as the program was set to launch in its founding member cities. Orange County Supervisors voted 3-2 on Tuesday to pull the county’s unincorporated areas out of a contract with OCPA.
(Kevin Chang / Staff Photographer)

Orange County Supervisors voted 3-2 on Tuesday to pull the county’s unincorporated areas out of a contract with the Orange County Power Authority.

Later Tuesday, OCPA learned that Huntington Beach, one of four cities that are founding members, could also be leaving the Community Choice Energy program in the coming months.

The county had decided late last year to enter into OCPA’s Joint Powers Agreement, though service was not set to launch in these unincorporated areas like Coto de Caza and Emerald Bay until 2023. But it pulled out at Tuesday’s Board of Supervisors meeting, with Supervisor Katrina Foley essentially casting the swing vote.


Foley joined Supervisors Lisa Bartlett and Doug Chaffee in voting to exit OCPA, which could cost the county an estimated $65 million. Supervisors Don Wagner and Andrew Do voted to stay in; Wagner sits on the authority’s board of directors.

Foley said she fully supported the concept of Community Choice Aggregation programs like OCPA. In fact, she put forth an item to possibly join another already established power authority early in 2023.

“I was so hoping that I didn’t have to make this vote today, but at the end of the day it just boils down to trust and transparency to me,” she said. “I don’t trust the information, and I don’t trust that we will be able to fix what I think are systematic operation problems [within OCPA] ... I don’t see that the rates are lower for renewable, sustainable energy and I don’t think that it is working.”

Three audits released this year, one by the Orange County Grand Jury and two orchestrated by the county, have raised questions about OCPA’s management, transparency and pricing.

But an independent examination of OCPA’s finances presented last week by accounting firm Pisenti and Brinker found no business misconduct or irregularities.

Customers have three choices for service with OCPA, which serves as an alternative to Southern California Edison. The plans start with Basic Choice (38% renewable energy) and rise to to 100% renewable energy.

Last week, OCPA approved rate cuts that, as of next month, would have customers on the Basic Choice plan pay 2% less compared to Edison’s rates.

Chaffee lives in Fullerton, one of four OCPA member cities along with Huntington Beach, Irvine and Buena Park. He said during Tuesday’s meeting that he opted out of service.

“When I opted out, I found it a very difficult process,” Chaffee said. “The problem here is that we’re putting people in the deal without them consenting in the first place ... My reasons are not based on an audit, although it does provide good information. My own experience tells me we need to get out.”

Wagner, however, equated the vote with “throwing the baby out with the bath water.” He maintained that any issues with openness and transparency can be successfully addressed.

In a statement released Tuesday night, OCPA officials said they were disappointed in the vote.

“The OCPA Joint Powers Authority (JPA) agreement creates a firewall between the county and OCPA finances and liabilities,” the statement read in part. “Withdrawing from OCPA removes consumer choice and market competition, adds dirty power to the energy grid, raises rates, and creates an unnecessary liability for the county. OCPA is financially stable and delivering on its clean energy goals. We will have more information on the next steps in the days ahead.”

Huntington Beach City Council eyes program pivot

In Huntington Beach on Tuesday night, the City Council unanimously approved an agenda item submitted by Mayor Pro Tem Gracey Van Der Mark and Councilman Casey McKeon, directing the city manager to present options at the Jan. 3 meeting to switch Huntington Beach’s default OCPA rate for commercial and residential customers from the more expensive 100% renewable rate to Basic Choice.

Additionally, the item requested staff return before the end of February with options for removing the city from OCPA entirely. Surf City was a founding member of the power authority in December 2020.

“We all want competition, but government is not the solution for competition,” said McKeon, who along with Van der Mark was elected in November in a conservative sweep of four vacant seats on the panel. “The private sector is. The role of a municipal government is public safety, infrastructure, zoning and being a good steward of our finances, not getting involved in the extremely complicated and volatile energy business.”

Councilman Dan Kalmick served on the OCPA board of directors this year, prior to the appointment of McKeon to that spot by new Mayor Tony Strickland. Kalmick noted that Edison had capped its list of 100% renewable energy subscribers, leaving OCPA as the only option for new customers who want that.

“If we’re going to go back to the dirty mix and the lowest tier [of renewable energy], I want to understand what the replacement [greenhouse gas reduction] program is going to look like,” Kalmick said. “... As someone who has ridiculed the power authority and the way it was rolled out, I still believe in the mission of providing choice in power costs and the ability for those dollars to come back.”

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