The Irvine City Council will hold a special meeting on Thursday, Dec. 29 to discuss whether the city should stay with the Orange County Power Authority.

The meeting comes on the heels of the Orange County Board of Supervisors’ decision last week to pull out of the controversial Power Authority.

The Power Authority launched as an alternative to Southern California Edison in the latter half of 2020 with the city of Irvine spearheading its creation. Fullerton, Huntington Beach and Buena Park were also early joiners of the county’s first community choice energy program. However, since its inception, the ratepayer-funded public agency has been riddled with critiques of mismanagement.

The Huntington Beach City Council is considering withdrawing from the Power Authority. And in Irvine, Councilmembers Larry Agran, Kathleen Treseder and Mike Carroll called for the special meeting to consider the city’s future with the group.

Mayor Farrah Khan said she is unhappy with the OC supervisors’ decision to pull the county from the OC Power Authority. The Irvine City Council is set to meet to discuss its future with OCPA on Thursday, Dec. 29, 2022. (Courtesy of Tony Kawashima/City of Irvine)

But Irvine Mayor Farrah Khan, who sits on the board of the Power Authority, lambasted the supervisors’ decision.

“They would rather burn it (OCPA) to the ground than actually work to make it better and provide options for our residents and businesses and help us get to 100% renewable energy faster,” Khan said.

Khan, who was the first Muslim and the first woman of color elected to the Irvine City Council, added, “I almost feel like if this Brown woman hadn’t started this effort, maybe they would have liked it.”

The OC Board of Supervisors’ move came after three audits — by the Orange County Grand Jury, an external contractor hired by the county and an internal county audit — detailed issues within the Power Authority. Some of the problems outlined include an inexperienced manager in Power Authority CEO Brian Probolsky, loss of customers and a lack of savings.

However, an independent audit of the OCPA’s finances by the accounting firm Pisenti and Brinker, released earlier this month, found no evidence of mismanagement or financial irregularities.

“It boils down to trust and transparency,” Supervisor Katrina Foley recently told the Register on her vote to pull the county out of the Power Authority. Foley said she does not believe “that we’ll be able to fix what I think are systemic problems.”

Yet, Khan attributed these problems to the growing pains of a start-up.

“The first few years are hard because you’re starting a brand new business, and it’s not going to be perfect off the ground,” Khan said.

On the accusations of lack of transparency, Khan said some aspects should remain private as a business operates.

Khan said she is open to discussing measures Thursday to make OCPA better.

Earlier this week, state Sen. Dave Min sent letters to Irvine and Huntington Beach, which he represents, seeking clarity on the potential financial liabilities facing the cities given that Irvine has invested an estimated $7 million in the Power Authority.

“Specifically, I am seeking estimates of the city’s potential financial losses that may result if the city withdraws from OCPA or if OCPA terminates its operations,” Min said in his letter to Irvine’s mayor.

Khan said the supervisors’ decision does not cost Irvine anything. But she maintained it “will cost the county, and it’s unfortunate that they took this premature step.”

In an internal audit by the county, the estimate for withdrawing from the Power Authority could be as high as $65 million but most of that could be refunded as the Power Authority resells energy contracts currently earmarked for future customers.

The special City Council meeting will be the first one with the OCPA on the agenda since Treseder, a UCI professor and a climate activist who helped start the Power Authority, was elected. Treseder has been a vocal critic of Probolsky, the Power Authority CEO.

The City Council meeting starts at 8 a.m. at 1 Civic Center Plaza on Thursday, Dec. 29.

Andre Mouchard contributed to this report.

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