Once the CCA was in operation, PG&E imposed a delay on the billing process that made one month's bill artificially low and the subsequent bill abnormally high, making it appear that CCA rates were higher than PG&E rates. This gaffe, which the company chalked up as a technical error, amounted to a sleight-of-hand: "Our rates were set to match PG&E rates," Weisz explained.
PG&E did not return calls seeking comment.
Against all odds, Marin County is forging ahead with a power program that offers a 26.5 percent renewable energy mix, with 78 percent of its power generated without greenhouse gas emissions. State records show that only 14 percent of PG&E's energy comes for renewable sources, failing to meet a state requirement that utilities get at least 20 percent of their power from such sources.
Charles McGlashan, a Marin County supervisor who chairs the Marin Energy Authority, noted that implementing a CCA was the most effective method the county could have employed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, yielding an estimated 500,000-ton reduction of greenhouse gas emissions annually.
While the potential exists for other municipalities to follow suit, PG&E smear campaigns will likely discourage similar projects. "This is a powerful opportunity that has been virtually destroyed by the antics of PG&E," McGlashan said. "It has had an extraordinary chilling effect on the political leaders to even embark on such an enterprise." Later he added, "I'm only doing it because I'm so hell-bent on answering the children's questions about climate change."
Meanwhile, in San Francisco, CCA advocates are getting ready to batten down the hatches. "We're under no illusion — PG&E will compete fiercely," San Francisco Public Utilities Commission spokesperson Charles Sheehan told the Guardian. He said the city was taking a proactive approach by conducting early outreach to residents and holding public informational meetings about CleanPower SF.
The SFPUC has received four bids from prospective electricity service providers. The respondents are Constellation Energy Commodities Group, Shell Energy North America, Power Choice Inc. (which was selected during the last RFP process but was unable to secure a binding agreement with the city), and Noble Americas Energy Solutions, formerly known as Sempra Energy Solutions. During the Senate hearing, San Francisco CCA director Mike Campbell noted that the city expected to complete a scoring process and select one of the four by the end of the year. The goal is to be fully operational by 2011, he added.
Leno predicted resistance from PG&E. "It's like a storm coming in," he said. "We have no doubt of its arrival. They have endless opportunities for nefarious creativity." He queried Clanon on why the PUC wouldn't levy fines or sanctions against the utility for the negative campaigns it waged in Marin, as a way to signal that such activity wouldn't be tolerated in San Francisco.
Clanon did not commit to taking such an action. "That's a choice about how you get the right behavior," he said. He noted that the CPUC issued a decision last May preventing the utility from distributing false or misleading information about CCAs or illegally soliciting opt-outs. Clanon warned that PG&E might not be deterred by "fines and sanctions and specific rules." Pressed on this point later, Clanon told the Guardian that imposing fines or sanctions "would take a lot of resources by us" at a time when the state agency is consumed with other pressing issues, such as the aftermath of the San Bruno explosion caused by a PG&E gas pipeline rupture. "If you set a rule, more people get around the rule," he said.