Board members of the Orange County Power Authority are set to respond to a grand jury investigation calling them out for a lack of transparency and requests from OC Supervisors for an independent audit of their work today.
At their Tuesday meeting, OCPA is expected to deny any lack of transparency and approve several changes to their board policies, along with over $200 million worth of power contracts.
To watch the board’s 10 a.m. meeting today, click here.
Since its inception near the end of 2020, the agency has been plagued by questions over transparency and whether or not the agency’s leadership is qualified to oversee the daily workings of an electricity provider.
The grand jury reaffirmed those concerns when they reviewed the agency in a report released earlier this year.
“There has been a pattern of failure and/or resistance to providing information to the Board, even when the information has been specifically requested,” jurors wrote. “Information has been made equally unavailable to the member cities and the public.”
To read the full report, click here.
The agency is set to begin providing electricity to residents of Buena Park, Fullerton, Huntington Beach and Irvine next month, with the goal of offering more renewable energy to residents at a slightly higher cost. Residents are automatically opted in.
Unincorporated Orange County is set to start receiving power in late 2023.
In the Power Authority’s grand jury response released over Labor Day weekend, agency staff “disagreed wholly,” with nearly every recommendation offered by the grand jury, saying the hiring of their chief financial officer Tiffany Law and controller Owen Lee had fixed any lack of expertise on staff and they were wholly compliant with transparency laws.
While fully compliant with the Brown Act, which requires agency agendas go out at least 72 hours in advance of the meeting, the power authority is known for running up closer to that deadline than any other city or agency in the county, usually releasing agendas on Friday evening or Saturday for their upcoming Tuesday meetings.
By comparison, most cities that have their meetings on Tuesday typically release the agenda by Thursday the week before or earlier, with other cities releasing no later than Friday.
Staff also argued they had no need for further bylaws because they have policies in place that help direct how the staff and board are managed.
“The finding by the Grand Jury report that OCPA has not properly adopted ‘bylaws,’ appears to place form over substance and ignores the existence of these previously adopted policies,” staff wrote.
But the board is also set to discuss amendments to its joint powers agreement today, shrinking the terms of future board members from four years to two.
They are also discussing eliminating their policy that new board members don’t have a vote until the agency begins providing them power – a rule that wasn’t implemented for Orange County Supervisor Don Wagner when he joined the board last year after the deadline to be a founding member had passed.
County supervisors are also looking at potentially pulling out of the agency before their launch date in 2023, citing the numerous concerns around the agency, and demanding their own audit of the agency’s work to determine if they’ll stay in.
They aren’t the first ones to call for an audit: the city of Irvine is already conducting one of all the agency’s pre-launch operations.
In their proposed response to county leaders, staff asked the county not to hire a third party auditor to review their books and instead collaborate with Irvine’s audit, but said they’d be willing to meet with a third auditor.
The agency also asked for the power to appoint an auditor of their own choice with county CEO Frank Kim’s signoff to conduct a review of their power purchase agreements, saying it would be a “complex undertaking,” due to how much of the information was confidential.
“Although OCPA can provide copies of its energy purchase agreements and confirmations, all pricing and market sensitive information in those documents is subject to redaction,” staff wrote. “We propose that OCPA hire a consultant that has not previously worked with OCPA … to conduct a review.”
If OC Supervisors decide to pull out of the Power Authority, it’s still unknown what the impacts would be since the agency buys power for its members all at once.
“It is not possible to segregate costs that have been incurred by a specific member,” reads the authority’s response.
The agency also promised to delay purchasing power for the county as long as it can, but they can’t guarantee there will be no additional expenses on the county’s behalf.
Board members are also set to approve two power contracts today, one with Southern California Edison and Shell Energy.
There is no information on how much electricity is being bought or the exact cost of the Edison contract, with agency staff saying it will be reevaluated annually.
Under current conditions, the contract with Edison is set to cost $36.5 million according to the staff report. The contract is set to run through September of 2041, and that price covers the “total contract cost,” according to the staff report.
The Shell contract is set to run for 12 years, purchasing hydro, solar and wind power, with a total cost of $176.5 million.
Board members were set to again discuss whether or not to fire their controversial CEO Brian Probolsky, but the item was pulled off the agenda over the weekend, along with a discussion on “anticipated litigation,” against the agency.
The last time the board discussed firing Probolsky, the discussion was delayed to bring in an outside investigator to review a whistleblower complaint he filed alleging double dealing and corruption by current and former board members.
Noah Biesiada is a Voice of OC reporter and corps member with Report for America, a Groundtruth initiative. Contact him at email@example.com or on Twitter @NBiesiada.
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