PG&E’s extreme makeover

Utility promises cooperation and green power — while delivering the same old deception and big money attacks
Mayor Gavin Newsom called a meeting with Pacific Gas and Electric Co. president Thomas King in July to let the utility chief know that the city intended to pursue public power projects on Treasure Island and Hunters Point.
“It was just to tell him that we’re going to do it,” Newsom spokesperson Peter Ragone said of the meeting. “The mayor thought it was a gentlemanly thing to do.”
King used the occasion to start an aggressive new offensive — and to preview PG&E’s latest political strategy.
In an Aug. 10 letter to Newsom, King promised not to fight the city’s plans in court and pledged to develop a better relationship with the city.
“We know that it was in this spirit of cooperation that you approached us last month, and we want to foster this spirit and forge an even stronger partnership in efforts to protect our environment in the years ahead. That’s why I wanted to respond to your questions and suggestions — and to share with you some ideas of my own,” King wrote, listing one of those ideas as helping the city develop energy from tidal power at the mouth of the bay, which Newsom had recently announced a desire to pursue.
The day after PG&E wrote the letter, Newsom and San Francisco Public Utilities Commission (SFPUC) head Susan Leal announced the city’s intention to supply public power, mostly from clean solar and hydroelectric sources, to the redevelopment project on Parcel A of the former Hunters Point Naval Shipyard, where the politically connected Lennar Corp. (which is also part of the team with the rights to build on Treasure Island) has the contract to build 1,600 new homes.
“What we want to provide is a green community at a rate that meets or beats PG&E,” Leal told the Guardian, noting the history of environmental injustices that have been heaped on the southeast part of town. “We’re very excited about what’s going on at Hunters Point. . . . It’s important that the city do the right thing for that community.”
And just as PG&E was pledging cooperation, it aggressively set out to undermine the city’s plans with competing bids and continued its fiercely adversarial posture in another half-dozen realms in which it must work with the city, battles that have cost San Franciscans millions of dollars.
“This is a competitive world and this is fair game, don’t you think?” PG&E spokesperson Darlene Chiu — who used to be Newsom’s deputy press secretary — told us of company efforts to subvert the public power projects.
Last month PG&E also hired away SFPUC commission secretary Mary Jung, who had been privy to closed-session discussions about various city strategies for dealing with PG&E. Jung, who did not return a call for comment, was required to sign a confidentiality agreement and threatened with criminal charges if she spills city secrets, although city officials acknowledge that would be difficult to prove.
PG&E has also launched a high-profile public relations offensive designed to repackage the utility as a clean and green crusader against global warming and a supporter of community programs such as the mayor’s pet project, SF Connect, to which it contributed $25,000 last month.
“The company has a long and continuing history of fighting against the city rather than working with the city on issues involving municipal power, improved reliability, connecting city facilities, and protecting ratepayers,” Matt Dorsey, a spokesperson for City Attorney Dennis Herrera, told us.