Power struggle

Mayor Lee misrepresents CleanPowerSF in defending his appointees' effort to kill it



Jason Fried could barely believe what was coming out of the squawk box in his office at the San Francisco Local Agency Formation Commission on Sept. 10, as he listened to Mayor Ed Lee describe the CleanPowerSF program Fried had spent years helping to develop.

The program would give San Franciscans the choice of buying their electricity from clean, renewable energy sources rather than Pacific Gas & Electric's oil, coal, hydro, and nuclear dominated power portfolio, a program that was finally able to become competitive with PG&E on price and still fund the creation of local clean energy projects.

But the program that Lee described — which three of his appointees on the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission have recently decided to block, against the wishes of the Board of Supervisors supermajority that approved it (see "Fizzling energy," Aug. 21) — sounded nothing like the program that Fried, LAFCo's senior program officer, knows so well.

As Lee described it, CleanPowerSF is "based on vague promises" and has "questionable environmental benefits," claiming it has "gotten progressively more expensive" and "creates no local jobs."

"What the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission did was in the best interests of the city," Lee said. The city has spent untold hours and dollars over the last decade developing and approving CleanPowerSF.

"It was very frustrating to watch, particularly when you see him just making stuff up," said Fried. "If he wants to be against CCAs [Community Choice Aggregation, that state-created program the CleanPowerSF is a part of], fine, just say that...But he wasn't even getting his numbers right."



Questioned by the Guardian following his monthly mayoral policy discussion at the board, where all five questions from frustrated supervisors were about CleanPowerSF, Lee cast himself as sticking to the facts.

"I know that elements of this are somewhat complicated because you have to actually read a lot of volumes of materials to understand the choice aggregation program," Lee said, claiming, "I'm taking it exactly from facts that were presented."

But in reality, Lee was cherry-picking facts that were either out-of-date or presented in a misleading way, while ignoring inconvenient questions like how the city can still achieve its clean energy goals without it, or why his appointees are subverting broadly supported public policy on technical grounds that appear to exceed their authority.

Take Lee's claim that the CleanPowerSF program approved by the board "was 95 percent renewable on day one," which he used to support his argument that "when the final project is so vastly different than the original intent, the SFPUC has to intervene."

Lee is referring to the "three buckets" from which the program will draw its energy, as defined by the California Public Utilities Commission. Bucket 1 is the gold standard: juice coming directly from certified renewable energy sources in California. Bucket 2 is renewable energy that isn't reliable and must be "firmed and shaped" by other energy sources, such as wind or solar farms supplemented by fossil fuels when there's little wind or sunshine. And Bucket 3 is Renewable Energy Credits, which support creation of renewable energy facilities or green power purchased from other states.

When the board approved the program in September 2012, the SFPUC called for it to secure 10 percent of the power from Bucket 1, 85 percent from Bucket 2, and 5 percent from Bucket 3, although these were just guidelines and the SFPUC was specifically authorized to change that mix.