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Lower Power Cost Drives SSJID Plan
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The South San Joaquin Irrigation District is continuing to take steps towards providing retail electricity to customers in Manteca, Ripon and Escalon.

The district got the chance Friday morning to give the Local Agency Formation Commission - known as LAFCo - a glimpse into their plans as they watched a consultant lay out a draft municipal service review and sphere of influence update to the body that will ultimately have to approve the move by the SSJID into retail power service.

The final determination into whether the district can pursue its plans hinges on an upcoming decision by the agency that could, if approved, grant SSJID the right to tackle the retail venture they believe will ultimately save ratepayers 15 percent on their power bills.

But according to the independent report that was recounted to the commissioners Friday morning, getting to the point where those sorts of savings could be guaranteed will take some work on behalf of SSJID.

According to the report - cited by Mintier Harnish Planning Consultants Project Manager Ted Holzem - reaching the 15 percent reduction would require a $39 million initial investment as well as an annual equity investment of $15 million on top of anything they might have to shell out to acquire the transmission system from PG&E, Pacific Gas & Electric.

SSJID plans to tap into more than $60 million in undistributed reserves to accomplish that as well as divert annual returns from the Tri-Dam Project into the retail system that often tops $15 million a year.

In the eyes of SSJID General Manager Jeff Shields, however, having five locally elected board members that are accountable to their constituents builds in an extra layer of protection for ratepayers that have been banking on the 15 percent reduction in their support of the district.

"We could continue to put a lot of money into lawyers and consultants who will end up saying what we want them to say because we commissioned them," Shields said. "But these directors are in a very small boat and they're accountable to their constituency - and these guys all know each other.

"One of the biggest things that we're pushing for here is home rule - keeping this money in the community and having it available here in this community paramount and key for the next 100 years. We're accountable to our constituents and I think that our constituents and everyone around would stand as an example of the retail power plan that's being discussed."

PG&E Attorney Mark Penskar saw things a little bit differently.

Even though SSJID has been dipping their feet into the water of large-scale retail power sales for several years, diving head first into the deep-end of the pool, he said, is something completely different altogether.

"They're talking about going from having 3,000 water customers to 40,000 water and power customers overnight. That's a big jump," Penskar said. "And water from the sky hasn't proved to be terribly reliable this year. You can bet that our power customers are going to want to see the light come on when they flip a switch."

A public hearing will officially be opened once the environmental impact report - the document that outlines what impacts, if any, will come from SSJID's proposed takeover of PG&E's distribution network - is completed.

Manteca Bulletin reporter Jason Campbell contributed this report.