While Orange County’s brand new clean power agency is only days away from providing its first spark of power, many of its customers have been left in the dark on what happens after they flip the switch.
After over a year of planning, the Orange County Power Authority will provide its first commercial customers with power this Thursday, capping off years of activist efforts to get the program approved.
While the agency is set to provide the option of 100% renewable energy to businesses and residents in Orange County, it comes at a tradeoff of higher prices than Southern California Edison.
The only way for the agency to make its cheapest tier competitive with Edison was to automatically enroll all its customers in the most expensive 100% renewable energy tier, meaning customers who want to keep their old rates have to go contact the agency to stop a price increase.
But it remains unclear how many business owners are aware their prices are about to increase.
While the agency is legally required to send out at least two notifications to all affected businesses before launch, there have been increasing reports on social media from businesses saying they never received any information at all, and what they did receive didn’t answer their questions.
The Irvine Ranch Water District, which spends over $20 million on electricity a year, announced last week they were opting out of the agency after not receiving enough information on the program.
“Staff has heard that OCPA will enroll commercial customers on April 1, 2022 (residential customers on October 1, 2022), though IRWD has not received a single notification from OCPA regarding the program or how to opt out,” the agency put in a staff report released publicly on March 15.
A spokesman for the district said they reached out to the power authority for more information in “early March,” and heard back on March 17 and have been in discussions with the agency since then.
The Irvine Unified School District also confirmed in a statement to Voice of OC they would be opting out until they received more information, adding that the shift could cost them an extra $400,000 annually but that they supported the move to clean energy.
Annie Brown, the district’s spokesperson, said the only reason they knew about the change was because they monitored Irvine City Council meetings and saw the issue on their agenda, and they reached out to the agency to inform they wouldn’t participate without more information.
“We will continue to engage in discussions with the OCPA,” Brown said.
Sherri Chang, a small business administrator for a dental office in Irvine, said the only message she got from the agency was one letter that informed her their business would be switching, but didn’t give any information on the rates.
“It only gave us like a week to notify them to opt out if that’s what we wanted,” Chang said in a phone interview. “I did contact another dental office and they were not aware of the change or the switch.”
Chang said her office ultimately chose to opt out of the program because they couldn’t afford the uptick in pricing.
She added the only reason she was aware of the rate increase was Irvine Watchdog, a blog run by volunteers that writes about city government and politics.
“It just says you’ll be automatically switched over, it just says you’ll be more efficient and it doesn’t tell you anything cost wise,” Chang said. “We’re a small business, so it matters how much we could save.”
Moe Kanoudi, owner of Main Street Eyewear in Huntington Beach, said that while he received a notice that the agency was coming in, he was never able to get an answer on what the exact cost increases for his business would be.
“In the mailing I received, it asks you or it tells you what your options are, but it never talks about the actual costs,” Kanoudi said in a phone interview. “There wasn’t anything, not even in their latest letter.”
Kanoudi said he only found out about the price increase from watching a local city council meeting and chatter on social media, and decided to opt out to save money.
A Voice of OC review of the agency’s website found no copies of the disclosure mailed to businesses, with the only public posting available in a news release published by the city of Irvine last month.
To view a copy of the notice obtained in a records request, click here.
While the notices inform businesses they’ll be receiving clean power, it doesn’t mention their rates will be increasing from their old Southern California Edison costs.
“Beginning in April 2022, OCPA becomes your local renewable energy provider. To make things convenient, your business will be automatically enrolled,” the statement says. “You’re all set – there’s no need to do anything.”
But the 100% renewable energy tier businesses and residents are being opted in at will cost more than their current rates, which customers would have to change manually by speaking with the power authority staff.
The only action required is if a business wants to opt out and remain with Edison, which is detailed near the end of the terms and conditions subtext along the bottom of the notice, but not mentioned as an option in the main text of the letter.
When asked to comment on the issue, chair of the agency’s board and Irvine City Councilman Mike Carroll declined to comment and directed reporters to speak to the agency’s staff on the issue.
Brian Probolsky, the agency’s CEO, did not respond to multiple requests for comment.
Residents and business owners aren’t the only ones who’ve had difficulty getting information about the power authority’s inner workings.
In a news release published last week, Irvine Councilman Larry Agran said he filed a records request with the agency for the number of accounts it would be serving, copies of contingency and reserve plans, and a series of other documents he says the agency hasn’t turned over despite repeated requests.
“Previous informal requests have not been honored. The city has not been able to get any information, the city manager hasn’t been able to,” Agran said in a phone interview. “This agency is performing in a totally unresponsive, irresponsible way, and that’s got to stop.”
For customers who do decide to enroll or don’t opt out in time, they’ll be locked into the power authority for at least six months before they’re allowed to transfer back to Edison according to the staff report from the Irvine Ranch Water District.
Noah Biesiada is a Voice of OC Reporting Fellow. Contact him at email@example.com or on Twitter @NBiesiada.
This article was updated when officials with the Irvine Ranch Water District clarified that while they had been in communication with OCPA staff since “early March”, they did not receive any notice of their switch to the service until March 17, which was why their March 15 staff report said they had not received any notice from the OC Power Authority.
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