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Climate and Environment

OC's Green Power Agency Fires CEO In Attempt To Save Clean Energy Plans

Diesel big-rig trucks drive towards the camera on a freeway in the foreground as huge white wind turbines rise up in the background.
Diesel trucks pass through wind turbines on the 10 freeway near Banning.
(David McNew
Getty Images News)
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After a series of damning audits, the beleaguered Orange County Power Authority (OCPA) voted 3-1 on Wednesday to fire its CEO Brian Probolsky. The OCPA is the county's only provider of community choice energy, a model designed to accelerate clean energy development.

Local officials backing the management change said it was likely the only way to save the clean power authority, which currently serves customers in Buena Park, Fullerton, Huntington Beach and Irvine.

"We need to have a total organizational renovation," said Jose Trinidad Castañeda, Buena Park city councilmember and OCPA board member, ahead of the meeting. "I envision that to include new management staff and new leadership."

Castañeda and Irvine councilmembers Kathleen Treseder and Tammy Kim voted to dismiss Probolsky without cause. County Supervisor Don Wagner voted against the dismissal. Huntington Beach Councilmember Casey McKeon was absent.

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The board also voted to appoint an internal candidate as the interim CEO, with a starting date of June 1, but the name of that person has not been announced.

All three members who voted to dismiss Probolsky thanked him for his contribution to developing the agency, which was founded in 2020. "I know it has not been easy," Kim said. "What you've done to build OCPA … is nothing short of commendable."

Probolsky declined an interview request from LAist on Wednesday. In a statement he said he helped the clean power authority grow from an idea into "one of California's largest and greenest retail energy providers."

Climate activists say the OCPA and similar community choice aggregation models are among the surest ways to move California communities toward renewable energy that would help mitigate the devastating effects of climate change. But the OCPA has already lost one member, the county, and is on the brink of losing member cities as public confidence in the agency wanes.

    • Want more background on the OCPA or community choice energy in general? Read this.

A CEO under fire on several fronts

Probolsky has taken flak from official auditors and citizen groups for his lack of experience in the highly complex energy field, along with sloppy hiring practices, financial mismanagement and brash treatment of a former colleague.

Local officials have been calling for Probolsky to step down, including State Sen. David Min, Treseder and, most recently, Castañeda.

Shortly after the vote Wednesday, Min released a statement saying: “While we are still a long way from fully restoring public trust, this was the right choice by the Board of Directors and a step toward greater accountability."

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Treseder and Castañeda, who both played a role in birthing the clean power agency, placed separate items on this week's board meeting agenda to discuss Probolsky's potential departure from the agency. Earlier this year, Treseder promised her Irvine City Council colleagues that if Probolsky wasn't replaced by April, she'd vote for the city to exit the power agency.

After the vote Wednesday, Treseder said she'd work to keep Irvine as a member. "I'm very optimistic about OCPA," she said at the board meeting. "I hope that we will be able to grow and bring in more cities."

Recently, all four active city members of the agency have indicated that they're thinking about bowing out, which would almost surely spell its demise. It’s unclear whether firing the CEO will change their minds.

Huntington Beach began looking into leaving the agency earlier this year.

Castañeda last month informed fellow OCPA board members that Buena Park Mayor Art Brown had requested that the city consider withdrawing from the agency.

More recently, the Fullerton City Council said it was also studying a potential exit.

The county, which was supposed to start OCPA service in unincorporated areas later this year, has already begun the process of withdrawing.

Probolsky defends his record

Probolsky has faced multiple attempts to replace him. Last year, he filed a whistleblower complaint alleging that several former OCPA board members were conspiring to oust him and take over the agency.

Throughout, Probolsky has continually defended his performance. In an earlier statement to LAist he said that under his leadership “OCPA is generating tens of millions in reserves, bringing rate and fiscal stability."

Probolsky also noted the OCPA's cheapest electricity plan for ratepayers is 2% lower than that offered by local utility Southern California Edison, and that the agency is "on its way to paying down its start-up loan."

In the wake of a state audit released in February, the OCPA presented an improvement plan intended to address concerns brought up in the audit and previous audits and reports. Castañeda and Treseder said the agency had made progress on many of the problems outlined in the plan, including transparency with member cities about the terms of power purchase agreements.

Huntington Beach and Irvine have both negotiated deals with the OCPA that would allow city leaders to view the terms of power purchase agreements, which OCPA leaders had previously insisted could not be shared.

Castañeda said earlier this week that he's seen "dramatic improvement from our CEO in terms of his performance, responsiveness, transparency, and accountability." But he said the negative attention surrounding Probolsky was threatening the OCPA's viability.

"The negative media is definitely impacting the full agency, not just one person," Castañeda said.

Have a question about Orange County?
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Updated April 19, 2023 at 7:22 PM PDT
This story was updated with a response from Brian Probolsky.
Updated April 19, 2023 at 2:40 PM PDT
This story was updated with details from the Orange County Power Authority's vote on Wednesday.
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