A June 24 Orange County Grand Jury report entitled “Orange County Power Authority: Come Clean” lays out significant leadership and transparency concerns with this new public agency.
OCPA is a community choice energy (CCE) agency that was established in 2020 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.
Lack of CEO Experience
The report expresses concern with the lack of relevant experience of OCPA CEO Brian Probolsky.
The CEO had “virtually no employment experience with CCEs or energy purchase and trading prior to joining OCPA” and yet he oversees a $34 million budget, with “significant signing authority, little meaningful oversight, and no OCPA governing bylaws.”
The report contains a chart comparing Probolsky’s experience with other California CCE CEOs, which “have employed leaders with years of experience in the energy industry.”
Problems with Hiring Practices
The report states that best practices were not followed when hiring the CEO, as OCPA Board members were only presented with one option for the CEO and Chief Operating Officer.
“The position descriptions for COO and CEO were not made publicly available prior to the hiring decision,” the report states. “The job descriptions also lacked any requirement for prior education, experience, knowledge of the electrical utility or energy industries, or CCEs. Recruiting efforts were minimal at best, despite these public positions being highly demanding and very well compensated. This is not consistent with best practices. The positions require the public’s trust and, preferably, prior familiarity with CCEs.”
In contrast to the lack of experience of the CEO, the Chief Operating Officer Antonia Castro-Graham “had a strong and extensive background in the clean energy field and municipal participation in that field. Despite her job description, the COO was not given a role in the process of vetting, retaining, or working with outside contractors critical to OCPA’s operations. The COO resigned from OCPA on December 3, 2021, after less than a year of service.”
The Grand Jury report also cites numerous problems with OCPA transparency.
For example, “As of early April 2022, past the start date for commercial customers, neither the OCPA notices that were required to be mailed to customers, nor the OCPA website, contained any direct mention of the increased charges that would be incurred due to the default ‘green energy’ tiers selected by member cities for their businesses and residents.”
Findings of the Grand Jury include:
-OCPA has not properly implemented bylaws and other procedures to promote and ensure transparency.
-OCPA unreasonably delayed the formation of the CAC (Community Advisory Committee), has failed to properly utilize CAC member expertise, and has stifled the CAC from functioning as an advisory committee as intended.
-OCPA Board meeting agendas and staff reports are distributed at the last minute and Board meeting minutes are not always accurate, complete, or posted in a timely manner.
“Until at least March 2022, after more than a year in operation and unlike other CCE’s, OCPA did not have budgets, financial statements, or rate comparisons published on its website,” the report states. “OCPA was reticent in providing this information when it was requested, and this documentation only appeared on the OCPA website after the OCGJ investigation and interviews were underway.”
The Grand Jury report includes recommendations to rectify these issues, and states, “The Orange County Grand Jury endorses OCPA’s mission and wants to see it flourish. The citizens of Orange County deserve and will benefit from sustainable energy. However, no matter the mission of a public agency, the ability to see how that agency operates and utilizes public funds is of paramount importance.”
The Grand Jury is awaiting a response from OCPA. Meanwhile, the City of Irvine has approved an audit of the OCPA, and other member cities, including Fullerton, have supported this.
There is also an ongoing investigation regarding a whistleblower complaint filed on behalf of Probolsky, alleging conspiracy to oust him by Board members.
Following the release of the Grand Jury Report, Probolsky released a letter challenging some of the claims made.
Regarding the claim that business customers weren’t given notice about rate increases, the letter states, “Prior to the April launch, OCPA included information including rates and a rate comparison tool on the OCPA website, which directly shows all costs associated with the different plans OCPA offers.”
In response to the Grand Jury’s assertion that “the CEO has nearly unchecked authority over an annual budget exceeding $34 million, power purchasing decisions, and the selection and oversight of all contractors,” the letter states:
“The CEO’s authority is not unchecked. The executive has limited authority over the budget, power purchasing decisions and selection and oversight of contractors as is largely reserved to the Board of Directors under the Joint Powers Agreement. The budget is approved by the Board not the CEO. The selection and oversight of contractors by the CEO is limited to $125,000…The selection of contractors over the CEO’s purchasing limit are selected by the Board, not the CEO.”
To read the full response letter click HERE.
The Grand Jury is awaiting an official response from the OCPA Board to their report.
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