Irvine city leaders are looking at potentially pulling out of the green power agency they created in an abrupt special meeting scheduled over the holidays.
Last week, the county board of supervisors pulled out of the Orange County Power Authority, citing a series of audits calling out the agency’s lack of transparency, inexperienced leadership, questionable contracts and a failure to answer questions from county leaders.
That same day, Huntington Beach city leaders announced they were looking at pulling out as well, pointing to the same concerns and sharing complaints that residents weren’t properly informed before they were automatically opted in.
“It’s been well documented in the press of how much of a dumpster fire the Orange County Power Authority is,” said Huntington Beach Councilman Casey McKeon at a city council meeting. “The CEO has zero experience.”
Now, Irvine city leaders are looking at doing the same thing despite being the city that led the charge to found the power authority four years ago.
The city provided the agency a loan of $7 million when it launched at the end of 2020, allowing the cities of Huntington Beach, Fullerton and Buena Park to come onboard without committing to any spending up front.
Now, Councilmembers Larry Agran, Kathleen Treseder and Mike Carroll are calling for a special meeting on Thursday to publicly discuss the city’s own future in the agency.
In a text message to Voice of OC, city manager Oliver Chi confirmed there would be a brief staff presentation, but the meeting will be “to hear from council on their preferences regarding OCPA membership.”
Agran has been one of the most outspoken voices calling for the city to look at pulling out, and has repeatedly called out the agency for refusing to answer his questions from the dais.
“We need to look into OCPA, its operations, its viability going forward and liabilities that might be associated with its failure,” Agran said in a phone call with Voice of OC earlier this month.
In a statement to Voice of OC, Treseder said while the meeting wasn’t initially her idea she wanted to discuss potentially replacing the agency’s controversial CEO Brian Probolsky.
“I will take the opportunity to ask my colleagues to support replacing the current CEO with an interim CEO who is qualified to lead OCPA,” Treseder said.
Treseder was one of the loudest activists calling for the creation of the agency before Probolsky’s hiring, and has become one of its fiercest critics, saying she has shared her concerns about the management of OCPA directly with FBI investigators.
Carroll, who until earlier this month served as chair of the agency’s board, did not respond to requests for comment.
Total costs for either city to pull out are unknown, but early estimates from the county internal auditor estimates such a move could cost county leaders as much as $65 million, despite never receiving any power.
That cost is expected to drop after the power authority sells off any excess power it doesn’t need after losing the county as a customer, but the agency also puts at least $2 million of the $65 million on administrative costs.
Chi confirmed that while the city has asked power authority staff for an estimate on how much it would cost to withdraw, they have not been given a concrete number.
“If you applied the same cost scale for Irvine’s customer base, our number would be around $135 million to $150 million,” Chi said in a text to Voice of OC. “It’s important to note that we’d also be getting the rights to the power that was purchased for Irvine should we withdraw. That asset would offset/pay for a portion or all of the withdrawal fee.”
“Again, all preliminary,” Chi concluded.
To read the agenda item for Thursday’s meeting, click here.
In a text to Voice of OC, Councilwoman Tammy Kim said she wanted more information on how much it would cost to pull out before committing to anything, saying she hoped to “minimize (the city’s) exposure.”
“It’s important that we get to the bottom of what the actual number will be,” Kim said.
State Senator Dave Min, who represents portions of both Irvine and Huntington Beach, announced on Tuesday that he sent letters to both cities asking for more information on how much it would cost them to pull out.
“Unfortunately, throughout its short history, the Orange County Power Authority has been plagued with serious concerns about its executive leadership, transparency, and its finances,” Min said in a statement. “I believe it is imperative that we understand the financial risks that these cities bear from their membership in OCPA.”
Kelly Jones, Min’s spokesperson, confirmed the senator is not introducing any new legislation related to community choice energy programs like the power authority, and that he is awaiting the results of a report from the state auditor’s office on the agency.
The special city council meeting to discuss the power authority starts at 8 a.m. Thursday, and can be watched here.
Noah Biesiada is a Voice of OC reporter and corps member with Report for America, a Groundtruth initiative. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @NBiesiada.
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