The Orange County Power Authority had a rough start this year after failing four audits in a row that called them out for failing to be transparent or properly oversee where they were spending money, and the agency nearly imploded altogether after firing its controversial CEO.
But now, the agency’s looking at a stark turnaround, answering questions on its operations and proving to the public they are actually purchasing renewable energy.
The agency’s interim CEO Joe Mosca said while he would not “ever wish that upon anybody,” the audits made them a better agency.
“It’s made us a more open, more transparent agency. We’re kind of the gold standard now in terms of contracting and transparency,” Mosca said in an interview. “We’re creating a positive culture in this organization so we remain an open and transparent organization.”
Authority Struggled With Transparency From the Start
Before the audits, the power authority had a much different reputation.
Launched in the final days of 2020, the cities of Irvine, Huntington Beach, Fullerton and Buena Park agreed to launch a community choice energy program, leaving Southern California Edison behind to purchase their own power and offer more renewable energy options to their residents.
But those efforts were quickly thrown into question after reporting by Voice of OC highlighted numerous problems at the startup, including a lack of transparency, struggles securing funding and questions around then-CEO Brian Probolsky, who had no experience in the energy sector.
Ultimately, the Orange County Grand Jury, independent investigators hired by the county, the county auditor and the state auditor all reached the same conclusion after investigating the agency – the power authority failed to show the public what they were doing.
State auditors also found Probolsky had violated the agency’s own rules by improperly awarding contracts without showing they were the best deal for residents.
“OCPA’s staff repeatedly circumvented key elements of its contracting policies. As a result, OCPA cannot demonstrate that it acted in customers’ best interest,” state auditors wrote in their February report.
After the audits, Huntington Beach announced they planned to quit the agency altogether, and the county government backed out of joining after initially signing on.
Ultimately, every one of the agency’s starting staff either quit or were fired, and the agency’s chair Fred Jung, also the Fullerton mayor, is the only remaining board member who’s been with the authority since the start.
Agency Announces Redemption Plan
After those audits, agency leaders put together a 24–point plan to clean up the authority, including every recommendation from the state auditor’s office and several from the other investigations.
Several of those changes improved the agency’s transparency, such as publishing all of their new contracts with each board agenda instead of requiring the public to file a records request for them, as they’d done in the past.
So far, the agency appears to be sticking to their promises, implementing every recommendation from state auditors on how to clean up the agency and publicly showing what kind of power they’re purchasing for the first time after years of resident requests.
The agency’s power content label, which is overseen by the California Energy Commission, shows they actually bought more renewable power than originally promised, giving every customer at least 60% of their power from renewable sources after promising less than 40%.
To view the label, click here.
That’s unlikely to happen again according to interim CEO Mosca, who confirmed the agency will issue annual reports on what kind of power they were purchasing going forward.
“Going forward…we can now tell you with some accuracy what we’re purchasing when we’re purchasing it,” Mosca said. “A lot of the data isn’t really finalized and put into a format that can be digested by the public until the middle part of the year, and then it’s all uploaded to the state California Energy Commission.”
The agency is also moving away from the network of consultants it used in its early days, with Mosca noting they hoped to have over two dozen full time staff onboard by the end of next year.
“We have processes that people can rest assured are open and transparent, you can trust us,” Mosca said. “It’s not just a snapshot in time, it’s forever.”
Despite the improvements, the agency still has some challenges on the horizon.
The board of directors are still searching for a permanent CEO eight months after they fired Probolsky, and have yet to schedule interviews with candidates as of Oct. 26, according to Mosca, who is looking to get the job permanently.
Huntington Beach city leaders are moving ahead with pulling out of the agency in July 2024, reaffirming their choice at a special meeting last month where they switched to the least renewable power option.
“This is coming before us in order to mitigate any cost for our city moving forward,” said Surf City Mayor Tony Strickland at the Oct. 23 meeting. “The OCPA was a disaster from the very beginning and now I believe professional experts are going to be running our energy.”
It’s unknown how much Huntington Beach could end up having to pay when it exits, but Mosca said none of the costs will be on the power authority.
“We’re doing our best to mitigate liability for everybody,” Mosca said. “If you withdraw, the cost of withdrawing is on you, and not on the remaining members.”
It also remains unclear if any more cities are going to join the agency, which now counts just the cities of Irvine, Fullerton and Buena Park to its name.
Mosca repeatedly claimed more cities were also expected to join the agency before the end of the year, but none have scheduled a discussion yet.
Any city that joins this year wouldn’t start receiving power until 2026.
“Around 2025, you’ll see revenue go down, until we bring on new members, then you’ll see it go up,” Mosca said. There are a lot of cities in Orange County who find giving their customers a choice in their electricity for the first time…appealing.”
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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