Money is power

Green City: PG&E spent a record-breaking $10.3 million against Prop H -- more than $53 per vote
|
(0)

amanda@sfbg.com

GREEN CITY While the latest public power proposal was soundly defeated at the polls, the apparent failure of a pair of electricity generation initiatives backed by Mayor Gavin Newsom and Pacific Gas & Electric Co. is fueling an existing plan to create more city-owned energy projects.

Proposition H, which would have moved the city toward 100 percent renewable energy by 2040 and allowed public power to help meet that goal, lost Nov. 4 by more than 20 percentage points. PG&E spent a record-breaking $10.3 million against the measure, or more than $53 per vote as of the Nov. 10 tally.

For that kind of money, said campaign finance expert Bob Stern of the Center for Government Studies, "they could have taken every voter out and bought them an expensive meal." But, he said, that's a pittance for a company like PG&E. "They knew spending $10 million was going to save them a bunch of money."

Two days after the election, PG&E announced a 9 percent increase in year-to-date profits over last year, boosted partly by a 6 percent rate increase PG&E implemented Oct. 1, which it argued was needed to cover the increased cost of natural gas.

Prop. H would have moved San Francisco away from volatile fossil fuel prices, although the city is still hoping to procure 51 percent of its energy needs from renewables by 2017 through the community choice aggregation (CCA) program.

Meanwhile a plan to retrofit the Mirant Potrero Power Plant is looking shakier since Nov. 4, when the Board of Supervisors tabled legislation that would have authorized the Mayor's Office and San Francisco Public Utilities Commission to negotiate the deal.

Prior Land Use and Economic Development committee hearings showed that retrofitting the plant to run on natural gas instead of diesel may not be as technologically or economically feasible as suggested in a report commissioned by Mirant (see "Power possibilities," Nov. 5).

But a recent report on CCA outlines ways the city may be able to procure the baseload energy demand required by the California Independent System Operator (Cal-ISO) without retrofitting Mirant or building new peak-demand fossil fuel plants (known as "peakers"), as city officials originally proposed.

The report by Local Power, the lead CCA consultant hired by the city, suggests that the SFPUC's current plan to upgrade natural gas steam boilers in large downtown buildings can be modified to capture waste heat and turn it into energy, a process known as cogeneration.

The city Department of the Environment has already identified 106 MW of potential energy — about the same amount Cal-ISO is requiring the city to have on hand for energy reliability. Although this isn't renewable energy because it's capturing wasted gas heat, "it's really clean, good quality brown power," said Paul Fenn of Local Power, noting that it makes use of something that is currently being wasted.

Local Power's draft report, which lays the groundwork for what the city needs to do before 2010 to make CCA work, also disputes the conclusions of a tidal power feasibility study conducted for the SFPUC. In July, URS Corp. reported that tidal power in the Golden Gate would cost between 80 cents and $1.40 per kW-hour and only generate a little over 1 MW of power. "We do not consider a tidal power project located in the vicinity of the Golden Gate to be commercially feasible at this time," the report states.

Local Power contends that URS undervalued the potential energy by using computer modeling rather than actual tidal data and overlooked the strongest area for building an underwater turbine. It also failed to account for public financing at a lower interest rate, which would make city-owned tidal power much cheaper.

"We are confident you can get 10 MW," Fenn said.