Orange County’s green power agency is being investigated by the California State Auditor’s office after six members of the county’s state delegation asked for a deep dive into the agency’s inner workings.
The state auditors are now the third group to jump into an audit of the power authority, following up on requests for an audit from city of Irvine and the county supervisors, which came after a grand jury report criticizing the agency’s competence and performance on transparency.
Meanwhile, the power authority is set to begin providing power to over 700,000 residents in the cities of Buena Park, Huntington Beach, Irvine and Fullerton next month. The agency offers residents the option to purchase more renewable power.
Residents are automatically opted in under state law but can choose a cheaper option or opt out altogether.
The power authority has been beset by questions over competency and transparency since it opened its doors at the end of 2020, with many residents who say they feel they don’t have enough information about what’s happening with their power to feel comfortable with a switch from traditional power providers to the new agency.
They’ve turned to their local elected officials who don’t have much information either, with some city council members and members of the authority’s board sharing how they’ve struggled to get information for themselves.
In a letter to the Joint Legislative Audit Committee, three assembly members and three state senators from Orange County asked for a review of the agency because of the lack of answers.
“Multiple events and complaints have triggered concerns regarding the governance, operation, and basic competence of the Authority,” legislators wrote. “There is deep concern, at this point, about the long-term viability of OCPA.”
To read a copy of the letter, click here.
State Senators Tom Umberg, Dave Min and Josh Newman signed the letter, along with Assemblymembers Sharon Quirk-Silva, Tom Daly and Cottie Petrie-Norris.
Umberg said he hoped the auditors would be able to recommend some transparency improvements for the authority in a press release announcing the investigation.
“It’s clear that (OC Power Authority) has had little oversight,” Umberg said. “With the federal investigations in Anaheim and Irvine concerning public corruption — we owe it to the taxpayers to explain why their energy costs are going up – and who or what is responsible.”
In a Thursday evening email, power authority staff disputed the letter from state legislators, saying it contained “misleading or incorrect,” information.
“The Agency is concerned by the continued repetition of meritless claims, including the questions raised about OCPA by members of Orange County’s state delegation. No evidence of mismanagement or corruption has ever been put forward and the Agency fully expects the various audits to put these claims to rest.”
“OCPA is financially strong.”
While the specific parameters of the audit have not been released, Assemblyman David Alvarez, who chairs the Joint Legislative Audit Committee, said it would “provide transparency to the authority’s finances, projections, and hiring practices.”
Orange County legislators also laid out their own concerns in their letter, asking for investigations of any potential Brown Act violations along with a full review of the agency’s spending and how transparent that information is to the public.
The letter also set a ceiling for the budget at $190,000, which is required by state rules that bar any more expensive audits being approved during a legislative recess.
Leaders of the power authority have disputed those transparency concerns, pointing to state laws that require they conduct business that could expose trade secrets behind closed doors, and repeatedly said they were compliant with transparency laws at their meeting earlier this month.
During that same meeting, the authority’s board members approved $200 million in power purchases without a public staff presentation, but Irvine Mayor and board member Farrah Khan said board members were briefed privately ahead of the meeting.
OC Power Authority’s press office was not aware of the audit when contacted by Voice of OC Thursday afternoon, and have yet to issue a statement.
Fullerton Mayor Fred Jung, who also serves on the agency’s board, said he was supportive of the round of audits of the authority.
“I’m supportive of it, and I appreciate Senator Umberg’s efforts,” Jung said in a phone call with Voice of OC. “It’s a benefit to the public that all these credible agencies are goin to verify what we already know. There isn’t anything sensational or nefarious happening.”
Jung added while there may have been transparency problems in the past, with the agency now being fully staffed those should vanish.
“The more agencies take a look at it, the more credibility the authority gets.”
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.