Dirty war over clean power - Page 2

City program attacked by PG&E allies — and enviros

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Large-scale solar arrays like this one are expensive.
GUARDIAN PHOTO BY MIRISSA NEFF

That has some clean-energy advocates furious — and they've threatened to withdraw their support for the program.

"Ever since Harlan Kelly took over, the PUC staff has been less supportive of a robust build-out," Eric Brooks, who works with Our City has been a longtime supporter of CleanPowerSF, told us. "We're not saying the city should stop moving forward with the Shell deal, but the city has to continue the planning work for the build-out. It can't be a piecemeal thing."

The SFPUC hired a Marin-based outfit called Local Power, led by longtime clean-energy advocate Paul Fenn, to do some preliminary work on how a build-out could proceed. Fenn's conclusion: The city could create 1,500 to 3,000 jobs and build enough renewable energy to power much of the city, over a seven-year period — at a cost of about $1 billion.

That's a huge tab — and almost certainly more ambitious than this SFPUC and Board of Supervisors could accept.

Fenn told us that his economic analysis, presented to the SFPUC's Rate Fairness Board Feb. 18, indicates that the city's cash flow from CleanPowerSF with a renewable build-out would more than cover the payments on the bonds. But he also agreed that he's suggesting the best possible alternative — and he expects the city would go for a much smaller piece.

"The Board of Supervisors hasn't made the decision to spend that kind of money," he said.

Fenn's contract expired April 1, and the SFPUC hasn't renewed it. Instead, another consultant will review Local Power's work, Campos said.

Part of the political challenge is that Local Power has proposed that much of the build-out include what's known as "distributed generation" — small-scale solar, wind, and cogen projects on private houses and buildings.

Those installations would be "behind the meter" — that is, they would allow households and businesses to generate their own power without buying it through PG&E's distribution system.

The build-out proposals that the SFPUC staff have discussed are primarily larger solar arrays, some on land the city owns in the East Bay.

"That's the most expensive way to do this, and it allows PG&E to still control the transmission and distribution," Brooks said.

[TK-SFPUC comment Monday.]

Meanwhile, PG&E is preparing to roll out its own competing "green energy" plan — while IBEW ramps up it assault on CleanPowerSF.

The IBEW campaign includes robo-calls, mailers, and advertising, all aimed at convincing customers to opt out of the city program.

And now, with advocates from the Sierra Club to Our City criticizing the program on the left, and IBEW trying to undermine it before it gets going, there's a real chance that a plan more than 10 years in the making could be in trouble.

That concerns Campos. "All I'm hearing from the advocates is negative," he said. "I want more build-out, too, but unless we move forward with the program, we won't be able to do that."

In fact, he said, "you could wind up killing it and have nothing to show for it at all."

That, of course, would be PG&E's preferred alternative.