Recurrent Energy project passed on 7-4 vote


By Rebecca Bowe

The Board of Supervisors voted 7 to 4 this afternoon to approve a 25-year power purchase agreement with Recurrent Energy, a private firm that plans to construct a 5-megawatt photovoltaic array at the Sunset Reservoir. Supervisors John Avalos, David Campos, Chris Daly and Ross Mirkarimi voted against the agreement, voicing concerns that the city would be locked into a bad financial deal for years to come and asserting that the city could strike a better deal with Recurrent. Part of the problem, Mirkarimi noted, is that the city would be locked into paying a fixed price for solar energy even if the going rate drops significantly in coming years.

The Guardian has weighed in on the project at several junctures. While everyone at the table believes that the end goal is laudable – adding 5 megawatts of clean energy to the city’s renewable portfolio – Supervisors Mirkarimi and Campos have expressed opposition to contract terms that they say would ultimately sell San Francisco ratepayers short. At a joint meeting between LAFCo and the SFPUC on April 24, Mirkarimi also worried that the Recurrent Energy project could undercut the efforts of San Francisco’s fledgling Community Choice Aggregation initiative.

The power purchase agreement was originally put forth by Mayor Gavin Newsom and Supervisor Carmen Chu. Chu advocated strongly for it during today’s meeting, saying she believed it was a good deal and noting that it would create 71 jobs.

Daly weighed in heavily against it, calling the deal a politicized “rush job.” The result, in his opinion, is that “we get electricity that is green, but it is too expensive to give anyone else the opportunity to do it too. … Going green doesn’t mean going green stupid. If it seems like gymnastics for a deal, there is a better way.”


I was against this at 1st. Es algo complicado para mi. This energy is for Muni, schools, street lites, but it seems SF has entered into prior similarly time-structured arrangements w. external entities w/o foregoing the charter-specified Board of Supervisors appropriation jurisdiction to assure payment. It seems that some of the cachet that this smaller company gets from building in SF – rent free --should have been factored into the language to benefit us more. I don't buy the argument that only Recurrent (RE-SFCITY1) could have benefited from incentives/subsidies. Yes, Chu wants RE-SFCITY1 (which has never sited this big) and Mirkarimi wants CCA.

24 cents a kwh is more than 2x as much as residential electric energy base rates but PV is inherently expensive and the rates in PV power purchase agreements in other municipalities are about the same if not more. Solar cell energy has a free infinite source, yet nowhere have I read how this will be transmitted and distributed because Recurrent’s delivery point will be its side of a transformer. So how will this energy get to Muni’s Dog Patch, and who’s providing this infrastructure? True, this is somewhat better than bringing it via the Jefferson-Martin substation transmission line project pipe from Woodside, but what I do advocate is an even more “distributed” model also comprising the roofs of individual buildings – enterprises, apartment buildings, houses, etc.

The SFPUC may say that the low bidder Recurrent factored into its bid the prescience of falling PV component prices due to the economy yet the price arrangement remains one of my concerns. There were ultimately only two bidders– Recurrent and Sun Power, which, with one of the world’s largest sites under its belt – a 10 MW site in Bavaria, 2d only to Spain’s -- probably would have been much more expensive, and rendered cries of cronyism.

That this may fit into anybody's political calculus in a bid for the California governorship is plausible. As for a public power argument, I think that we've voted it down 12 times -- despite that ballots in one election were probably buried next to all the Florida votes under the White House lawn next to George Bush's dog.

While this gets us closer to federal energy compliance and the concomitants, yo creo that this was not fully studied by either side.

Years from now transducers will be infinitely smaller and more efficient and people will laugh at solar cell arrays.

Michael Farr, your comment tickled me!

Posted by Newt Rox on May. 21, 2009 @ 7:15 am

Will green energy be more efficient and cheaper in 10 years? Of course. So choose: buy the panels today at the best price you can and support renewable energy TODAY, or wait and do nothing and continue to burn fossil fuels.

I'm not sure which shade of green Daly and Mirkarimi are but it looks pretty brown to me. Of course we all know the real reason: the idea came from the mayor's office so Daly, Mirkarimi, and Campos had to piss on it. Sigh.

Posted by Michael Farr on May. 07, 2009 @ 10:49 am

If only San Francisco had more supes like Chris Daly and Ross Mirkarimi... sigh.

Posted by Mike on May. 05, 2009 @ 4:13 pm

Also from this author