Irvine city council members are set to choose new options for how their residents can purchase electricity at their next meeting, but it’s still an open question of how much it will cost or if residents can go against that decision. 

The entire discussion centers around the county’s new community choice energy program, a system that lets local governments purchase power for their residents and sell it to them using the electrical company’s infrastructure. 

The OC Power Authority launched just under a year ago, with the cities of Irvine, Fullerton, Huntington Beach and Buena Park. That means individual homeowners can decide how much renewable energy they want to purchase for themselves without impacting anyone else.  

The actual prices remain a mystery, as the agency’s board of directors aren’t expected to set the actual rates until next month.

It’s also unclear whether or not the plans will be more or less expensive than Southern California Edison. 

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Despite Irvine being the city that initially launched the program, one council member has already said he’s got some concerns about the agency. 

Councilman Larry Agran asked publicly for a briefing on the authority’s progress at their Nov. 9 meeting when the council agreed to a debt subordination agreement — meaning if the agency goes belly up, the banks have the first rights to get their money back before the city does. 

City attorney Jeff Melching said if the authority fails, the city would not recoup the nearly $8 million they invested to launch the agency. 

Agran said he’d asked for a presentation since Sept. 30, but hadn’t been able to find anyone else to support the request. 

“I have grave doubt, I don’t want to see any more Irvine investment until such time as we get OC Power Authority officials in here in front of this council,” Agran said at the November meeting. “I have very substantial doubts whether this will be successful.”

The agency has come under scrutiny from clean energy advocates as well, who point to a lack of transparency and concerns with the CEO Brian Probolsky, who was awarded the top job despite no experience in running an electric utility or a college degree. 

Most recently, the agency’s chief operating officer resigned.

[Read: Top Official At OC’s Green Power Agency Abruptly Resigns Just Before Launch]

While the system can’t control the exact mix of power sent to each resident’s house, the more people who purchase renewable energy, the larger the total mix of clean power on Orange County’s grid will be. 

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Right now, Mayor Farrrah Khan, who sits on the power authority’s board, and Councilwoman Tammy Kim are proposing to start out all their residents at 70% renewable energy, with the option for up to 100% renewable energy, the two highest tiers offered by the power authority. 

However, it’s unclear if residents in Irvine would be able to choose the agency’s cheaper option that sits at the state minimum requirements of just over 38% renewable energy if the council approves this plan. 

Residents will have the option to opt out of the program, but unless they fill out the necessary paperwork, they will be automatically opted in October when the authority begins providing power to residential areas.  

The Irvine City Council meets on Tuesday evening at 4 p.m. for what will likely be their last meeting of 2021. 

Noah Biesiada is a Voice of OC Reporting Fellow. Contact him at nbiesiada@voiceofoc.org or on Twitter @NBiesiada.

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