The Orange County Power Authority (OCPA), the region’s new energy provider, is facing a crisis of leadership and a call by the Irvine City Council to audit the agency.
OCPA is a community choice energy agency that was established to give member cities a greater mix of renewable energy. Currently, OCPA’s members include Irvine, Fullerton, Huntington Beach, Buena Park, and unincorporated areas of Orange County.
OCPA CEO Brian Probolsky filed a whistleblower complaint on May 31 against Board member Dan Kalmick and former Board member Mike Posey (who are also Huntington Beach City Councilmembers), alleging that they violated various public meeting laws in a conspiracy to oust Probolsky.
Since the beginning of OCPA, Probolsky—a politically connected figure in Orange County who has served as chief of staff for three OC Supervisors— has been criticized by climate activists and others for lacking experience in the field and facing ethics complaints when he worked for the County.
At a special meeting on June 14, Irvine City Council voted 4-0 to conduct a comprehensive audit of OCPA. Irvine was the founding member of OCPA and fronted the initial costs of the agency. Notably, Irvine Councilmember Mike Carroll, who is the chairman of the Board of OCPA, was not present at this special meeting.
Councilmember Larry Agran, who called the special meeting, said, “When the Orange County Power Authority was established…we were promised three things:…cleaner electricity generated from non-fossil fuel sources such as solar and wind, thereby reducing our carbon footprint. Second, OCPA promised to deliver cheaper electricity as compared with our current provider, Southern California Edison. Third, OCPA promised transparency so we would know everything we needed to know about its operations…I regret to report that each of these promises has been broken.”
Irvine Mayor Farrah N. Khan, who is also on the board of OCPA, said, “As the only city that has loaned the initial startup costs for the OCPA, I think it is very important that there be transparency and I agree with the financial audit of the organization…And we also want to make sure that [OCPA] provides programs and resources and incentives for the community and provide the fastest method toward achieving 100% renewable energy.”
At the special meeting, climate activists like Linda Kraemer from Climate Reality OC, expressed support for the audit, and expressed their belief in the importance of OCPA in procuring renewable energy and fighting climate change.
“I have full confidence that the Board of OCPA is strongly invested in the agency’s success, and they are working extremely hard to make that happen,” Kraemer said. “Orange County is critically behind when it comes to climate action.”
Probolsky submitted a letter to Irvine City Council saying that he welcomes “all inquiries and audit requests…and that OCPA is a transparent organization.”
Fullerton Mayor Fred Jung, who is on the Board of OCPA, said he supports Irvine’s audit and that he believes the whistleblower complaint needs to be investigated.
“The number one thing as a Board of Directors that we have to do, and we have a fiduciary duty to do it as soon as possible, is to do a thorough, independent investigation of all things Orange County Power Authority,” Jung told The Observer.
This is not the first leadership crisis the OCPA has faced. In December 2021, less than a year into her position, OCPA Chief Operating Officer Antonia Castro-Graham abruptly resigned her position, following reports of a conflict between her and Probolsky.
In April of this year, just a month after it started serving business customers, OCPA was issued a nearly $2 million fine by the California Public Utilities Commission for failing to purchase enough electricity to ensure that its customers have uninterrupted service. Jung said that many providers were issued similar fines, and that OCPA is appealing the fine.
Despite the leadership and transparency issues, Jung said he still believes in the goals of OCPA.
“I still believe in the Orange County Power Authority,” Jung said. “I think it is an important step in fighting climate change. If you really believe that it’s the largest existential threat to our well-being, then we’ve got to do all the things we can to help mitigate it.”
OCPA is expected to start serving residential customers in October.
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