Energy deficiency - Page 3

Green Issue: Utilities miss energy efficiency goals but seek more public funds anyway
Photo by Thomas Hawk

"Non-utility implemented programs make up 18 out of the top 20 rankings; utility-implemented programs make up 15 out of the 17 poorest rankings," that report concludes.

Under the current system, "PG&E makes a profit on every dollar," says Lynch. "In addition, all of PG&E's costs are covered. Then, of course, all the subcontractors' costs are covered too, so it gets down to only 50 or 60 cents of every dollar that is actually going into programs. The rest of the money is going into PG&E's profit, PG&E's overhead, and the subcontractors' overhead. Not surprisingly, if you're a nonprofit or a government, you're doing that service directly at no profit and lower administrative costs."

Paul Fenn, a consultant to Clean Power SF, sounds a similar note. In his view, PG&E "doesn't want to reduce energy consumption. Why? Because every year, they go to their shareholders and they predict next year's load growth. That's their business. They burn gas, and they sell power. They're a gas and electric company. The idea that a gas and electric company could be adequately incented to reduce their sales is naïve."

Fenn is the founder of Local Power, Inc. and the author of Assembly Bill 117 — a state bill passed in 2002 under the sponsorship of then-Assembly Member Carole Migden that allows municipalities to set up community choice aggregation programs. Local Power has been a key player in San Francisco's own embryonic CCA.

AB 117 also gave cities the option to gain control of Public Goods Charge funds generated by their own ratepayers. In SF, that would mean funneling roughly $18 million annually into Clean Power SF's energy efficiency budget.

Sup. Ross Mirkarimi, who chairs a committee overseeing the CCA implementation, told the Guardian he supports the idea. But he warned that the city probably wouldn't be able to wrest the funding away from PG&E without a fight. "It's completely appropriate for city government to be in charge of those funds," he says. "PG&E shouldn't be in the driver's seat with all that money anyway."

San Francisco is already hailed as a green city, but Clean Power SF, which has renewable energy as its centerpiece, would set a new standard for what cities can do to address climate change. The plan calls for 50 percent renewable energy, compared with PG&E's energy mix of 11 to 12 percent renewable power. The SFPUC is slated to present CCA program plans to the state next year.

SFPUC's Michael Campbell, the CCA program director, rejects the idea of going after Public Goods Charge funds just yet. "It's premature to do that now," Campbell says. "About one-third of the energy efficiency dollars that PG&E collects ... come from Public Goods Charge, and the other two-thirds are charges associated with procurement portions of customers' bills. If a CCA were formed ... to have an equal amount of dollars, we would need to have additional charges to CCA customers that would be associated with the energy portion of their bill."

Yet Fenn said applying to administer those funds is long overdue. Not knowing whether that $18 million is in place every year could derail the CCA bidding process, Fenn argues, since it would be difficult for prospective power suppliers to draft a plan if they lack clarity on the program budget.

The other problem, Fenn said, is that without the energy-efficiency funds, it would be harder for the city's CCA to get its rates down low enough to compete with PG&E. Given the CCA is required to beat PG&E rates, it could make or break the success of the project.

"Energy efficiency is the cheapest resource," Fenn said. "It helps the economic feasibility of the portfolio by creating surplus revenue.