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Ongoing OCPA tensions races ‘red flags’ for county officials

The Orange County Power Authority was sparked by a goal of offering customers a greener and cheaper alternative to Southern California Edison.

But since its 2020 inception, OCPA has been accused of mismanagement, even from climate activists who advocated for its creation. Additional concerns have been levied, just this week, by the Orange County Board of Supervisors.

“The Orange County Power Authority has recently faced a litany of issues that have spilled into the public — including the potential removal of the CEO, increased rates, and fines from the state to the tune of $2 million,” Supervisor Katrina Foley said during the board’s Tuesday meeting.

Foley requested “a thorough analysis by city staff to determine (whether) to join the Authority at this time, due to some risks and red flags.” Her five colleagues agreed to the review, due within 30 days.

So far, four cities have joined the OCPA: Irvine, Huntington Beach, Fullerton, and Buena Park. The County of Orange is slated to plug in next year, adding to the mix its unincorporated communities like North Tustin and Rossmoor.

Vice Chairman Donald Wagner, who represents the county on the OCPA board, expressed confidence that the analysis would show “a clean bill of health.”

“Staff has already done their due diligence,” Wagner said. “The risk to the county is not there.”

OCPA is the county’s first community choice aggregation model, approved by the state in 2002, that lets cities form agencies to purchase electricity. Two dozen such public agencies exist statewide.

With OCPA, residents and businesses can choose from a range of clean energy blends.

According to the agency, the option that uses 38% clean energy is pegged to match Edison’s rate. The 70% option would cost customers 3.7% more — estimated at $4.25 more monthly for the average home. The 100% choice would cost 5.6% more than Edison.

Customers can opt out of OCPA and remain with Southern California Edison, which draws from a grid that currently has about 34% clean energy.

But first, customers must pay attention to the notices they receive about OCPA choices. Those who don’t respond automatically will be enrolled in the 70% tier. Some customers have complained about a lack of transparency regarding the options and pricing.

Still, such details — and the ultimate goal of cleaner energy — have little to do with the disputes unfolding among OCPA staff and board members.

A clash of personalities at OCPA set it off to a rocky start.

The conflict

In December, veteran green-energy advocate Antonia Castro-Graham abruptly resigned as OCPA’s chief operating officer amid ongoing conflicts with CEO Brian Probolsky.

Probolsky’s position as CEO has also caused consternation among some clean energy advocates who do not believe he has enough experience in the field to lead OCPA.

Probolsky, who has served as chief of staff to multiple Board of Supervisors members, previously served on the Moulton Niguel Water District Board of Directors.

Now, he is at the center of OCPA turmoil.

Last month, OCPA staff called a special meeting “for a closed session discussion of the potential dismissal/release of (the utility’s) Chief Executive Officer,” scheduled for June 7.

Four of the board’s six members — Irvine Mayor Farrah Khan, Buena Park City Councilmember Susan Sonne, Fullerton Mayor Fred Jung, and Huntington Beach Councilmember Dan Kalmick — were listed as participants.

However, the meeting was postponed due to a lack of quorum, Kalmick said in an interview. Plans to reschedule are underway, but there is not a concrete date set yet.

Then, less than a week after news of the special meeting broke, an attorney representing Probolsky sent the OCPA what she called a “whistleblower claim” against Kalmick and Mike Posey, a Huntington Beach councilman who previously served on the OCPA board.

Addressed to OCPA’s general counsel, the letter alleged Kalmick violated the Brown Act, California’s open government law, by contacting three other board members to devise Probolsky’s ouster.

Kalmick recently took over Posey’s seat on the OCPA board; Posey, whose time on the city council is coming to a close due to term limits, had nominated Kalmick for the position.

Probolsky’s Lake Forest-based attorney, Megan Lencek, alleged Posey bequeathed his seat to Kalmick as part of a “conspiracy.” Posey aimed to be hired as the utility’s chief business officer, a newly created position, Lencek said.

Huntington Beach City Attorney Michael Gates denied the allegations, saying the meeting was “properly noticed.” And Kalmick maintained it is not a violation of the Brown Act to organize a special meeting so long as decisions are not reached in private.

Reached by phone, Lencek said she and her client had no further comments.

Kalmick said OCPA’s management team “is opaque for the sake of being opaque.” When board members ask for documents regarding contracts, he said the information comes to them “heavily redacted.”

“We have a public perception problem,” Kalmick said. “If we can fix the organization, people will be happy to join.”

Recent fallout

During the board of supervisors meeting this week, Supervisor Lisa Bartlett agreed a reexamination of the OCPA is in order.

“Residents were supposed to get better rates with (OCPA) when, in fact, that might not be the case,” Bartlett said.

It’s not only county officials who wish to delve further into the machinations of OCPA. So, too, do at least two Irvine officials: Khan and Councilmember Larry Agran.

During a city council meeting earlier this week, Khan and Agran requested a special meeting be called soon to discuss an OCPA audit.

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