Orange County Supervisors could be on track to leave the controversy-ridden green power agency tomorrow – but it could come at a steep price.
Internal county auditors estimate it could cost $65 million to pull out of the OC Power Authority, the freshly minted clean energy program.
When the county joined the Authority last year, it was with the goal of providing more renewable power to residents alongside the cities of Irvine, Fullerton, Huntington Beach and Buena Park.
Because it joined late, the county hasn’t started receiving any power just yet for unincorporated OC, with a rollout currently scheduled for the end of next year.
But two audits performed by the county found a series of issues at the agency where staff failed to follow best practices, approved contracts without proper bids, failed to inform the public and had their board approve multi-million dollar purchases without reviewing what they were buying.
Power Authority staff have claimed they’re the target of a “political misinformation campaign,” and that they have been completely transparent.
Yet they haven’t directly refuted findings in the audits, instead saying they haven’t broken any laws and arguing that they need to function differently from other public agencies.
But there’s one issue that neither audit was able to fully address: How much would it cost the county to leave?
So far, the only estimate has come from the county internal auditor’s office, which said it could cost as much as $65 million to pull out if there aren’t any mitigation measures taken by the power authority, an amount county staff feel is unlikely.
“The withdrawal cost estimate provided by OCPA does not include any mitigation measures that could dramatically impact the final amount,” auditors wrote. “However, OCPA has not provided estimated mitigation figures at this time.”
Supervisors Doug Chaffee and Lisa Bartlett both called to discuss pulling out of the agency before the audits came back, and have already drafted the paperwork that would let the county depart by July 2023.
Supervisor Katrina Foley could be the swing vote, previously saying she wanted to wait for the results of these audits before making a final decision.
The OC Board of Supervisors meet tomorrow at 9:30 a.m. to discuss the future in the power authority at their last scheduled meeting of the year.
Staff at the agency have also refused to let auditors review the records that would justify why the price is that high to withdraw.
“If the County opts to withdraw from OCPA, we recommend an audit of any amounts assessed to the County be performed,” auditors wrote. “The County should also consider consulting with County Counsel on the validity of the continuing liability.”
County leaders have been debating pulling out since August, and the information in the audits hasn’t helped their case.
“I’m very concerned about the results of the audit, but not surprised,” said Supervisor Katrina Foley. “It exposed what we think is a poorly operated and dysfunctional power authority that’s not serving the best interests of the community.”
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.