Beating the reaper - Page 2

S.F.'s clean energy program clears a key milestone in its race against Prop. 16

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A month-long review period is expected to follow.

"Today was an announcement of a very critical milestone," Mirkarimi, who chairs LAFCo, noted after the meeting. "I'm delighted to see us turn a corner, and I think ... having a term-sheet signed, having a CCA implementation plan approved by the CPUC, and having literature sent out in three different languages to 250,000 households in San Francisco is all a testament that we are, as a city, absolutely serious in implementing and delivering our clean power energy program."

He nonetheless kept cracking the whip on advancing the goals of the program during the meeting. "Any hiccup whatsoever on timelines is a dangerous hiccup," Mirkarimi said.

"We fully expect to meet all deadlines," Harrington responded.

Public power advocate Eric Brooks, who has helped move the CCA program forward since the outset, expressed trepidation at a stakeholders meeting about the SFPUC's commitment to the program, saying he believed that the city could have cleared the deadline months earlier without having to worry about Prop. 16 as a deadline.

Brooks advocated for Local Power, Fenn's firm and a city contractor, to play a more central role in program design, saying that as long as the SFPUC remained at the helm, the program would be shaped by "the same inside-the-box thinking" and limited enthusiasm.

LITIGATION LIKELY

Despite recent leaps forward, the common wisdom around City Hall is that CleanPower SF is nonetheless unlikely to escape PG&E's litigious wrath — particularly if Prop. 16 gets a thumbs up at the polls. If it passed, Prop. 16 would become effective immediately, according to the City Attorney's Office.

"It's not a foregone conclusion that Prop 16 will pass," City Attorney's Office spokesperson Matt Dorsey pointed out. And if it does? "In our view," he said, "San Francisco has already implemented its CCA program," making it capable of withstanding a legal challenge.

"We are talking to the city attorney every single day," Harrington noted during a recent SFPUC stakeholders meeting.

But Fenn warned that a complicated lawsuit could still inflict damage. "Litigation processes can outlast political possibility," he cautioned. "San Francisco may be caught up in the courts." Or, if Prop 16 passes and the program moves forward as planned, "[CCA] might be a weird new variant that only exists in San Francisco and Marin."

Marin County's CCA program is already up and running, and the Marin Energy Authority recently began providing power to its customers. PG&E — which is bound by state law to "cooperate fully" with CCA implementation — fought it by contacting customers to persuade them to opt out of the program via mailers sent in violation of CPUC laws that only allow CCAs to solicit opt-outs. PG&E earned a sharp rebuke in a May 3 letter from CPUC executive director Paul Clanon, specifically warning the company to "refrain from sending any mailers of this nature in the future."

On May 12, Clanon was back with a second letter. "On May 4, PG&E mailed a letter to every customer that had not opted out of MEA's service, formatted in a manner that directly conflicts with the direction I provided to PG&E just one day earlier," he wrote. This time, he warned the utility that it was "in danger of the commission's imposing significant and continuing fines and other penalties."

PG&E responded by saying the mass mailing of illegal opt-out notices had been an accident, and apologized. "They accidentally licked envelopes, accidentally stuck the stamps, and accidentally sent them out?" asked an incredulous Ben Zolno, a Prop 16 opponent, in a phone conversation with the Guardian.

"Nobody quite remembers PG&E acting so outrageously," Sen.

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