Clean Energy Act excites supervisors

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At today’s Rules Committee, Supervisors Bevan Dufty, Tom Ammiano, and Chris Daly, all expressed enthusiasm for San Francisco’s Clean Energy Act. Daly and Ammiano even broke into chants of “victory, victory” during discussion of approving the measure for November’s ballot.

"In 2002 I supported Prop D and I look forward to supporting this measure," said Dufty during his comments on this new public power ballot initiative. "I think PG&E has not held the public trust in San Francisco well," he added, citing the smear campaign PG&E launched against Mark Leno during his bid for State Senate.

The measure, known as the “San Francisco Clean Energy Act,” would amend the city charter to require that, within 120 days of passing the legislation, the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission must “produce a comprehensive plan for providing clean, secure, cost effective electricity for city departments and residents and businesses.” This may include construction city-owned transmission lines, as well as procuring the resources to advance the Community Choice Aggregation plan of 51 percent renewables by 2017.

It actually goes one step farther and says if CCA falls through, the city must still get 51 percent of their energy from renewable and clean sources, 75 percent by 2030, and 100 percent by 2040. A green jobs workforce development must also be part of the plan, and if it’s determined that public ownership of the grid and resources is the way to go, any employees fired by PG&E, the private company that provides our power now, will be hired by the PUC.

Sup. Ross MIrkarimi, who introduced the measure, rattled off figures from Alameda, Santa Clara, Palo Alto, and Sacramento, all of whom have publicly-owned utilities and all of whom charge the average household rates far below PG&E.

His figures, for a 500 kilowatt hour household:

PG&E = $74.55
Alameda = $59.41
Santa Clara = $36.45
Palo Alto = $36.20
Sacramento = $46.60

He said, “They all have proven to be significantly more effective in providing better service, cheaper rates, and are at least investing back into their systems.”

“The San Francisco Board of Supervisors is talking about taking over PG&E,” said the corporation’s manager of government relations, Brandon Hernandez. “PG&E’s system is not for sale,” he asserted, then went on to say a take over will cost the city “at least $4 billion.”

He threatened other losses to the city. “We no longer will be contributing to San Francisco’s non-profits and service organizations,” he threatened, mentioning they gave away $5 million last year. He said putting PG&E out of business would cost the city $29 million a year in taxes and charitable giving.

The San Francisco Chamber of Commerce has already come out guns blazing against the plan, using the same numbers PG&E cites. “San Francisco doesn’t produce enough power from Hetch Hetchy to meet the entire load demand for the city of San Francisco,” the Chamber’s Jim Lazarus told me. The plan, however, makes no claim to rest entirely on power generated by Hetch Hetchy to cover all the city’s needs.

Lazarus confirmed they got numbers from PG&E, but says they didn’t ask him to come down and speak. “We’ve been in touch. Our position on this has been the same every decade this has come up.”

David Campos, who’s running for Ammiano’s board seat in District 9, provided perspective as a former deputy city attorney who litigated the city’s case against PG&E for upstreaming ratepayer funds to their parent corporation while declaring bankruptcy during the 2001 energy crisis. “It’s central for this city to get out of doing business with PG&E.”

Speaking against the measure, Sean Randolph of the Bay Area Council said, “We’re concerned this gives the board unlimited bonding authority."

However the PUC already has the authority to issue revenue bonds for water projects and that bonding requires two-thirds approval from the BOS. This measure would allow them to do the same to purchase clean energy.

PUC staffers, on hand to answer any questions about the measure, tell me the PUC has some minor amendments, but nothing significant and they’ve been working with the city attorney. During the hearing, Daly asked the PUC’s assistant general manager of power, Barbara Hale, if a green community jobs program he’s been working on could be assimilated into this measure, should it pass.

“Yes, we are pursuing a green community at Hunter’s Point Shipyard,” said Hale. “In the context of the Act you’re considering today, I think it’s very compatible.”

James Bryant, of the A. Philip Randolph Institute, said his Bayview community group wasn’t supporting the measure. They have issues with the costs and the idea that former PG&E employees would be hired by the city and get worse retirement plans.

When asked if he was there because his organization gets money from PG&E, Bryant said, “Not really.” In 2006, they received $85,000 from the corporation, and regularly roll out to speak at public meetings against anything PG&E is against. “I don’t have anything to do with their decisions. They don’t have anything to do with my decisions. How independent are we?” He asked, then responded by saying his members opposed building new peaker power plants in Bayview. I reminded him the PG&E opposed that, too.

“Of all the amoral things PG&E does, they fund very worthy grassroots organizations and then they lean on them to speak against things,” said Ammiano.

Mirkarimi asked Hernandez if PG&E could provide a list of the organizations they fund. “That allows us to get a more transparent picture.” Hernadez said he’d see what he could do when he got back to his office.

Lists of PG&E’s charitable contributions can be found here.

Amendments continue to require tweaking and Rules Committee will meet again on July 9 to vote whether to recommend the ballot measure to the full Board.