In a 3-2 vote, the Irvine City Council voted on Thursday, Dec. 29, to remain enrolled with the Orange County Power Authority, in an effort to help fix the agency’s struggles with providing transparency and experienced leadership.
The City’s decision goes against the Orange County Board of Supervisors vote to exit the green power provider on Dec. 20. The Supervisors voted 3-2 to leave the OCPA, citing worries about the agency’s leadership experience, financial status and transparency.
In the county’s vote, Fifth District Supervisor Lisa Bartlett, Second District Supervisor Katrina Foley, and Fourth District Supervisor and Chairman Doug Chaffee approved the withdrawal. Third District Supervisor Don Wagner and First District Supervisor Andrew Do voted no.
In a special City Council meeting called by Irvine Council Members Larry Agran and Dr. Kathleen Treseder, Agran suggested the council exit the authority immediately. In his comments, Agran sided with many criticisms referenced by the county supervisors including transparency and lack of leadership.
“OCPA has operated in such an exceedingly opaque fashion that public confidence has been dramatically cut over the recent months and the last couple of years,” Agran said.
In terms of cost, a staff report included with the special meeting agenda indicated that Irvine would be responsible for approximately $145 million in withdrawal costs. Irvine ratepayers count for the majority of OCPA accounts — about 40%, with the other 60% of accounts spread across Huntington Beach, Fullerton, and Buena Park.
Irvine Council Member Mike Carroll, who serves as chairman of the OCPA Board of Directors, said the spotlight was on Irvine’s decision to exit, in the sense that the Council would be “tanking” the authority by departing. While Carroll agreed with the decision to exit, Carroll said the Supervisors hold the majority of responsibility for OCPA’s success.
“There’s some talk about us potentially tanking the Orange County Power Authority, and some other thoughts around whether we should make our notice to withdraw or not to withdraw,” he said. “What happened is the County of Orange tanked it with its recent withdrawal from the Orange County Power Authority – and what hasn’t been talked about is approximately $65 million of power purchases made for the unincorporated areas of Orange County and those have to be unwound.”
Caroll added that the Supervisors’ decision to depart created “a great and serious financial risk” to the authority.
“The Orange County Power Authority is incredibly solvent and incredibly financially strong and if it continues it’s going to be financially strong,” he said. “I don’t really see a way out having Irvine been pushed into a wall by Orange County and the three supervisors that decided to withdraw.”
Prior to Thursday’s vote, Irvine Mayor Farrah Khan suggested that Irvine commit to OCPA and urge the Supervisors to rescind their vote to withdraw from the Orange County Power Authority.
Addressing Carroll’s comments, Khan said that energy purchased for the unincorporated areas of Orange County by OCPA can be resold.
“We have options – OCPA can try to sell the energy [it] bought, and [the second option], the remainder will be paid for by the county,” she said. “We as a city still remain to have a $7.65 million loan that is scheduled to be repaid by January 1, 2027 — that’s if we stay. However, if we are going to withdraw then we are possibly liable for potentially $145 million.”
Both Treseder and Irvine Vice Mayor Tammy Kim supported Khan’s motion. In an amendment to Khan’s motion, Treseder suggested the council make an amendment, adding for the mandatory replacement of the agency’s CEO.
Treseder also asked for the Council to delay a vote on exiting the authority for at least six months.
“I think we would be better situated to know what the consequences will be of leaving, we’ll have a better dollar figure that Irvine will owe. Also, it will give us better breathing room if we’re trying to fix OCPA because if we fought to leave the OCPA today, the staff are going to be undertaking a major endeavor to try to unravel all of our assets from OCPA’s,” she said. “They’ll be working on this in concert with the board trying to fix it. It could make it very difficult — that gives us time to try to remove the CEO or replace him with somebody who is competent to do the job.”
Both Carroll and Agran voted against Khan’s motion. In his final comments, Agran criticized Khan’s motion as “weak and ineffective.”
“We have been doing precisely what is included in your motion for months and months. We’ve been trying to assess things from afar and what do we get in return — we get stonewalling [from OCPA],” Agran said. “Bringing it back in six months, after six more months of craziness is just unconscionable in my view.”
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