Public power, underground - Page 2

Daly seeks plan to create city utility system, block by block

For example, residents in Bernal Heights could decide to add a 2 percent property tax to their bills to buy the power lines, the Public Utilities Commission could put a solar array on the nearby reservoir — and a percentage of that neighborhood's power would be locally owned and operated and cleaner than putting up a peaker plant on Potrero Hill.

"We're undergoing a dramatic expansion of our renewables in the city," PUC spokesperson Tony Winnicker said. "If we could move our renewables through our own distribution system, there would be enormous cost savings for our ratepayers."

The Department of Public Works would coordinate the work. "We've been running the Street Construction Coordination Center for as long as I've been here," said spokesperson Christine Falvey, who's been with the DPW for more 10 years. The center manages the permits for digging up the rights-of-way and tracks construction projects five years into the future to make sure streets aren't continually wracked with potholes.

A fiber optics feasibility study prepared for the city by Columbia Telecommunications Corp. and released this past January also recommended that the city take advantage of open holes in the roads. "Opportunities for cost-effective installation of fiber arise each day as City crews work in the right of way. At a minimum, San Francisco should immediately adopt a future-looking policy to add to existing fiber and conduit infrastructure at every opportunity to build up critical mass," the report reads.

About half of PG&E's lines are already underground, and the company is slowly moving to comply with state mandates that call for more buried cables. But the city's Utility Undergrounding Task Force reported that at PG&E's current rate, undergrounding the remaining 470 miles of wires would take 50 years.

San Francisco activists have tried repeatedly to take over PG&E's system and enforce the federal Raker Act, which requires the city to operate a public power system. But every attempt has required a citywide vote to create a new power agency and to authorize the sale of bonds to buy out the utility's system — and every time that's gone on the ballot, PG&E has spent millions to defeat it.

The Daly plan would also require a ballot fight — but perhaps not an expensive citywide campaign. The Mello-Roos taxes could be approved neighborhood by neighborhood. The price would most likely be in the millions, not the hundreds of millions it would cost to buy PG&E's entire system at once. *