Where to now, SFPUC? - Page 2

War of words surrounding Susan Leal's removal offers more heat than light

We actually addressed it," said Leal, who convened a world-renowned climate change conference in San Francisco last year — on the same day Newsom was confronted by his then campaign manager Alex Tourk about the affair Newsom had with Tourk's wife, Newsom's commission appointments secretary Ruby Rippey-Tourk.

"Why am I fighting back, not going quietly?" said Leal, whose removal is effective March 21. "Because this is too big not to. I actually really like this job and will be going in to work for the next 30 days."

Addressing allegations that she mismanaged the JPower negotiations, Leal explained that PUC staff drew up a term sheet with JPower and presented it to the commission's governing body. And it was at that point, said Leal, "that Commissioner Sklar popped off," claiming that the contract's terms were terrible and should be renegotiated.

In the end, all five commissioners approved a description of the contemplated transaction with JPower, including a brief description of Sklar's preferred alternative, which, as it turned out, had problems of its own.

"So, there never was a deal," Leal told us. "JPower was pushing the city to pay more money up front because it knows PG&E will do everything it can to make the implementation of JPower's contract tough, and the city was pushing to pay the money later and so reduce its own risks."

Today, the PUC continues to work with JPower on a contract that has taken years to formulate and that, Leal notes, will ultimately allow the city to own the plant.

"So, if we want to shut it down, or run it on alternative fuel, we'll have control," Leal told us. "My goal was to make the PUC as viable and green as possible."

She believes Sklar didn't turn against her leadership until she started to push things that infringed on PG&E's monopoly. "Did PG&E get me fired? If I was PG&E, I'd want me fired," Leal said.

Maxwell is a strong advocate of the Newark-to–San Francisco transmission line Leal sought, not just because it would help reduce environmental burdens in Maxwell's heavily polluted southeast district but also because it would give the entire City more ability to bring in cleaner power.

"We could do large-scale solar in the Central Valley, as well as wind and geothermal energy. It would allow us to hook renewable power into statewide grid," Leal said, noting that the link would also allow the city to import the electricity it generates at Hetch Hetchy without using PG&E's expensive lines.

Leal noted that under her leadership, the PUC tripled the city's municipal solar generation. "But we don't control residential solar. PG&E does," she said, noting the city is lagging at getting solar panels on homes but leading at doing in on public buildings. "It's too bad PG&E couldn't have made it easier for people."

Maxwell says she'll miss Leal.

"I don't think we're going to be better off without her," Maxwell told us. "Susan is independent, a straight shooter, a grown up woman trying to make a difference and listening to all sides. She knew we had to be involved regionally. She also understood we have to have relationships with both sides of the hall."

Convinced that PG&E had something to do with Leal's demise, Maxwell also believes the stinky sewage digesters, which sit down the road from her own house, need to be removed, not retrofitted, as Sklar recently advocated.

"The digesters need to go," Maxwell told the Guardian.