Who is (and isn’t) taking cash from PG&E


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Besides dumping millions of dollars on influencing the outcomes of elections, Pacific Gas and Electric Co. also doles out a lot of cash to charities – about $18 million a year, which is around one percent of their pre-tax income. It’s a gift from the shareholders back to you, the community that’s making them rich.

The list of non-profits that get grants from PG&E is long and spreads from coast to coast, but most of them are based in and around San Francisco. It’s an interesting thing to look over, for it says a lot about who might have a soft spot for PG&E, and it reminds us of the perennial shills, like the A. Philip Randolph Institute (APRI), which sends members to speak at public meetings against anything PG&E also opposes.

But I was a little surprised to see Brightline Defense Project make the list of grantees in 2007.

Anyone who’s been following the “peakers” issue will be familiar with Brightline Defense, which sued on behalf of APRI, to stop the city from building new fossil fuel power plants. The suit was ultimately dropped, though the debate rages on and Josh Arce, the executive director of Brightline, has continued to argue against building the plants, often rallies people and organizations to turn out for any public meeting about the issue, and according to documents I received through a public records request, has played an active, behind-the-scenes role at City Hall on the plan to retrofit Mirant’s diesel peakers instead.

PG&E, of course, is totally opposed to any city-owned power plants. It’s a no-brainer to see why they might want to help Arce out with his cashflow. But Arce has said from the beginning that the case was pro-bono and he wasn’t getting any money from PG&E. He even defended his clean image in our blogs.

But PG&E’s General Order 77M [PDF], a state-required filing that discloses the recipients of grants from PG&E, shows Brightline got $45,000 in 2007.

Damn. I called Arce right away, and he stood by his PG&E-free bank account, even faxing a signed statement that he never took their money and putting his girlfriend on the phone to vouch for his cash-poor, values-rich existence.

PG&E actually got back to me on this one. “In late June, Accounts payable learned that the check was not cashed and indeed returned, at which point CPCI was informed,” Darlene Chiu, PG&E’s spokesperson, wrote in an email. [CPCI stands for Civic Partnership and Community Initiatives, their charitable organization.] Apparently, those two don’t talk very often.

Which, of course, calls into question everything else listed in the report. When I was down at the CPUC verifying my copy with the original, an employee there told me the accuracy of the report isn’t something the CPUC verifies – PG&E has to self-report any errors by filing amendments, which rarely happens.

I rang up the IRS to see if they audit these kinds of filings, and to, you know....hey, it’s my shareholder profit they’re lying about, isn’t it?


Eric and Patrick,

Damn, do I have to do everything? I DID post the list of PG&E grantees -- it's the PDF linked in the blog. (See pages 51-98) Open it up and see for yourself.

Here are some highlights, and I'll post them as a separate blog, as well.

Association of Bay Area Governments, $15,000
Audubon California, $40,000
Board of Glide Foundation, $15,000
Bay Area Council, $40,000
CA Black Chamber of Commerce Foundation, $110,000
CA Association of Nonprofits, $60,000
CA Climate Action Registry, $25,000
CA Energy Commission, $2,500
CA Foundation on Environment and Economy, $45,000
CA League of Conservation Voters, $25,000
CA Newspaper and Publishers Association, $8,000
Chinese American Voter Education Committee, $10,000
Chronicle Season of Sharing Fund, $10,000
City College of SF, $35,000
Clean Air Watch, $20,000
Congressional Black Caucus Foundation, $50,000
Earth Island Institute, $5,000
Ella Baker Center for Human Rights, $10,000
Equality California Institute, $10,000
Foundation for Environmental Education, $1,195,000
Foundation of the State Bar of CA, $200,000
Friends of the Urban Forest, $5,000
Full Circle Fund, $10,000
Gays & Lesbian Leadership Institute, $35,000
Glide Church, $10,500
Go Green Initiative, $10,000
Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy, $25,000
KQED, $8,000
Latino Issues Forum, $1,000
League of CA Cities, $80,000
Marin Municipal Water District, $5,000
Neighborhood Parks Council, $20,000
Pacific News Service, $25,000
Public Policy Institute of CA, $35,000
UC Regents, $65,500
Rocky Mountain Institute, $50,000
SF Chamber of Commerce Foundation, $25,500
SF Connect, $30,000
SF Chapter of APRI, $75,000
SPUR, $50,000
Save San Francisco Bay, $40,000
Slide Ranch, $5,000
Solar Electric Power Association, $10,000
Greenlining Institute, $200,000
John Burton Foundation for Children, $25,000
Tides Center, $25,000
Trust for Public Land, $50,000

Posted by Amanda on Aug. 10, 2008 @ 1:22 pm

Readers, I took it upon myself to meet with power dispatch people (men and women) while working on the BPA project in State of Washington. These are the real people working in the power plant. I also met with other power plant operators. They are human and are interested in climate change. I then met power dispatch guys here in the Bay Area. They are also interested in climate change. However the told me that most pundits have not operated a plant. And therefore feel their point of view is lost in the noise of opinion. The issue I see is that the Potrero Mirant Power plant is worth about 250 megawatts of which I read adds "stiffness" to the local transmission and distribution system. So the issue is when the 250 megawatts of load is removed there will be a less stiff local grid. Now conservation helps but it is not spinning reserve. The comparision is when you drive down the highway and some comes at you at 80 mph from the side. You absolutely have to get out of the way by slowing down or immediately speeding up. That's sorta what I found out these operators do on a daily or hourly basis. Energy conservation helps...but we need an integrated approach. And the ability to listen to different opinions...and put ourselves in eachother's shoes.

Posted by Politiks08 on Aug. 10, 2008 @ 6:44 pm

Yes dahling, you do
- that's why Bruce pays you the big bucks !!!!

Posted by Patrick Monk.RN on Aug. 10, 2008 @ 2:23 pm


I will defer to Eric Brooks to elaborate, but here are a few things to be aware of.

1. Most of San Francisco's electricity comes into the City through transmission lines from south on the peninsula. We currently need about 1,000 megawatts on our grid to keep the lights on.

2. In the first quarter of 2010 the first-ever non-peninsular transmission line plugs into San Francisco, under the Bay, drawing 400 megawatts of unutilized energy from Pittsburg into our city.

3. With 40% more energy on the grid come 2010, our argument has been that the 2004 Action Plan to build the $273 million new natural-gas CT (combustion turbine) power plants to replace the aging Potrero Power Plant needs a 2008 Overhaul. Activists and residents, together with Supervisors Mirkarimi, Alioto-Pier, and Daly locked onto comments from the Cal-ISO regulatory body that suggested we could shut all or most of the old Potrero Plant once the Trans Bay Cable came online.

4. In early June Mayor Newsom pulled his support for the new power plants and in a meeting with Cal-ISO indicated that the City would no longer build the new CT power plants. Cal-ISO responded that most of Potrero can shut down once the Trans Bay Cable comes online in 2010, but the Cal-ISO still wanted 150 megawatts of electricity on standby, to run an estimated 200-250 hours per year. The new power plants need to run 1,900 hours per year in order to get paid off over a 20-30 year span.

5. Activists, residents, and the aforementioned Supervisors continue to push to close the remainder of the Potrero units through development of in-city renewable generation, small distributed generation that can be called for support during times of intermittence in renewables, transmission upgrades, and energy efficiency.

6. There was once a school of thought, and there are still power plant advocates who believe, that you cannot invest in renewables without companion fossil fuel-generation to turn to for dependability. The need to address climate change, the desire for environmental justice in our over-polluted Southeast neighborhoods, the opportunity cost of a massive new investment in fossil fuel-generation, and emerging developments in batteries that can store renewable energy in order to create dispatchable, peak power suggest that we must reject the age-old CT power plant proposal and go a step further than the Cal-ISO has currently permitted us to go in ridding the City of fossil fuel-generation.

Joshua Arce, Exeutive Director
Brightline Defense Project

Posted by Joshua Arce on Aug. 10, 2008 @ 11:37 am

If you shut ALL OF Potrero down, and end the history of power plants in San Francisco, where will we get our electricity and power from?

Posted by Scott G on Aug. 10, 2008 @ 4:03 am

Glad You Verify Brightline Defense Never Took PG&E Support.

This blog entry is a good start but -desperately- begs to have you actually post a full list of locally active nonprofits with how much they have received from PG&E...

Posted by Eric Brooks on Aug. 08, 2008 @ 5:52 pm


Thanks for setting the record straight. The only things I would add are:

1) We don't support the retrofit so much as we oppose the construction of new power plants. You best summarized our position in your June 11 article about Cal-ISO's change of heart on the CTs, "Newsom's Power Play": "David has just moved Goliath, but we need to keep pushing," said Josh Arce of Brightline Defense, which sued to stop the city's plan to build the two power plants.

2) Re: our lawsuit, which was dismissed in March, I can say without violating confidences that the most difficult task I've faced as an attorney was maintaining a class of plaintiffs that included a group that has accepted PG&E support and a group that regularly sues PG&E.

3) At public hearings and hopefully in the emails you've read we simply articulate our take on the retrofit proposal like this: "If the retrofit proposal is cleaner than building the new CT power plants according the SFPUC's Edward Harrington and Barbara Hale, let's at least remove the CTs as an option and focus on pushing to close ALL of Potrero." Source: "http://www.brightlinedefense.org/files/mp3/july_1_2008_sfpuc_cac_comparative_emissions.mp3"

4) Burying the CTs once and for all is a herculean effort: witness a recent Op-Ed in the Guardian that attempts to resurrect the CTs rather than join us to push past the retrofit to a transmission only, renewable and green solution that comes when we collectively pile pressure on the Cal-ISO.

5) We declined PG&E's offer late last year. We have turned down money and support from both sides of the power plant debate and have been able to stay independent for that reason. P.S., I hope it wasn't tacky when my girlfriend stole my phone from me to vouch for witnessing me send a $45,000 check back to sender, but she's an attorney too and reads everything you write.

6) That's it, let's sell the CTs and unite to declare the retrofit alternative a starting place and not an ending point to reach the goal I think we all agree upon: shutting ALL OF Potrero down and ending the history of power plants in San Francisco.

Joshua Arce, Executive Director
Brightline Defense Project

Posted by Joshua Arce on Aug. 08, 2008 @ 6:50 pm

Excellent point Eric, Amanda needs to tell it like it is, NAME NAMES GODAMMIT, quit this titillating, pussyfooting, soft-core crap.
Sarah, take her out to lunch and set her straight.

Posted by Patrick Monk.RN on Aug. 08, 2008 @ 8:10 pm