Harrington finally brings CleanPowerSF to City Hall, hoping his SFPUC legacy will be a city that produces its own renewable energy
Over the coming years, the SFPUC could gradually add enough clean electricity at competitive rates into the CleanPowerSF mix, generated by its own facilities and purchased off the open energy market, to meet the needs of all the city's residents and businesses.
The build-out of solar power plants and other renewable energy facilities has always been imagined as an integral element of CleanPowerSF. But until last October, critics say SFPUC officials were treating the build-out as an afterthought, making little effort to lock in plans to move forward with the construction as a structured part of a CCA program.
"The SFPUC staff decided they wanted to do this the easy way and just buy energy," said Eric Brooks, a regular at City Hall hearings who chairs the San Francisco Green Party's sustainability committee and has spent years working with the SFPUC on CleanPowerSF. "They wanted to do that because it was easy — you can just declare victory."
Once the general manager started to meet directly with local activists, Brooks says, "Harrington started hearing what we had been saying to the staff for all these years about how important the build-out is." Harrington began to understand the importance of a renewable energy build-out that begins as soon as the new program launches. In turn, the activists threw their support behind Harrington and the program.
Brooks said that the build-out of city-owned renewable energy facilities could create thousands of jobs. It could also lead to energy independence in a city where environmentalism is a badge of honor, but where PG&E continues to sell nuclear and polluting fossil fuel energy without facing any competition.
"This is the perfect solution to the climate crisis and the economic crisis," Brooks said. "We need to create a green New Deal. That's the depth of crisis that we're in, economically and environmentally."
Such a build-out is also expected to build support for the program at the Board of Supervisors. Without it, the City Controller's Office calculated that the city's economy could take a hit to the tune of $8 million over five years after CleanPowerSF launches in the spring in additional electricity expenses, potentially jeopardizing about 100 jobs. But that analysis failed to consider the thousands of jobs that could be created laying panels, installing turbines, and performing other tasks if the city develops its own renewable energy supplies as a part of the program.
It's impossible right now to say precisely what type of renewable energy facilities would be built by San Francisco: A $2 million study that would paint that picture is planned. But Paul Fenn, president of Local Power Inc., which is helping the SFPUC prepare to call for bids from companies interested in building the facilities, said they could include everything from solar panel arrays to customers' energy efficiency gains to a wave energy plant.
The first CleanPowerSF committee hearing is scheduled Sept. 12, followed at some point thereafter by an historic board vote that will almost certainly prove contentious, likely pitting the board's progressive members who have long supported public power against some of its fiscal conservatives.
Much of the debate will focus on an initial $19.5 million investment by the city. Of that money, about one-third would be used as collateral — a pool of cash held in escrow and available to reimburse Shell if the program flops. SFPUC spokesperson Charles Sheehan said the $7 million in collateral would gradually be recouped by San Francisco if the program moves forward successfully.