Lenore Rutherford, The Union Democrat

Tuolumne County government leaders hope to improve the local economy by taking full advantage of New Melones Dam's excess power.

Earlier this year, the Board of Supervisors directed county staff to look into ways to use the power to attract business to Tuolumne County.

Tuesday, they unanimously approved the first changes made to the Tuolumne Public Power Agency's Joint Powers Agreement since the agency was formed in 1982. They are expected to take effect in January 2013.

To make up for land that was inundated, the law that authorized construction of the Stanislaus River dam allocated 184.4 gigawatt hours per year to be shared equally by Tuolumne and Calaveras counties, plus a smaller allocation for state-owned Sierra Conservation Center.

The power goes to public agencies, and each county has a joint-powers authority of member agencies eligible to receive the power.

Calaveras County only uses 30 gigawatt hours, and Tuolumne County and the Sierra Conservation Center use a combined 37 gigawatt hours. That leaves almost 41.5 gigawatt hours of unused power each year.

Tuolumne County's joint-powers authority has 30 member agencies, all of whom are eligible to receive excess power.

Supervisor Evan Royce said Tuolumne County is the main agency involved and does all of the governance. He asked if a joint powers agreement is really needed.

Haff said the decision was made in 1982, and so far all of the agencies involved have gotten along and complied with decisions made by the county supervisors.

County Administrator Craig Pedro said if they try to do away with the joint powers agreement, that could break a contract with PG&E, and they could create an opening for PG&E to increase costs. A contract is in place that will expire in 2024.

Tuolumne Utilities District General Manager Pete Kampa agreed, sayings his agency is a prime recipient of low-cost power because of the agreement.

"We are probably No. 2 behind the county," he said, "and we are getting power at half of the cost from PG&E."

The revised JPA contains three new sections: Full Utilization of New Melones Power Entitlement and the intent to maximize the county's use of this allocation; Benefits of membership, and Resolution of disputes.

It also beefs up the definitions of such things as public agency and membership, widens the array of energy options, including providing short-term retail energy service contracts to local businesses, and more clearly spells out rules and regulations.

Contact Lenore Rutherford at lrutherford@uniondemocrat.com or 588-4585.