PG&E’s spooky stories headed to your mailbox

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By Rebecca Bowe and Rachel Sadon

At a Halloween-themed press conference on the steps of City Hall this afternoon, Supervisors Bevan Dufty and Ross Mirkarimi warned that PG&E plans to disseminate misleading information about the city’s Community Choice Aggregation (CCA) program.

The attack comes on the heels of the Board of Supervisor’s approval of a request for proposals for Clean Power SF, San Francisco’s own fledgling CCA, which seeks to provide competitively priced and significantly greener energy than PG&E. The CCA would challenge PG&E’s monopoly in the San Francisco Bay Area, and the utility is expected to fight it tooth and nail.

Sup. Dufty got a heads up from a PG&E employee this morning that mailers criticizing the program would be sent out tomorrow. Recalling last year’s multimillion dollar campaign against Prop H, an initiative for public power, Dufty emphasized that the city does not nearly have the funds to match a misinformation campaign.

Tom Ammiano denounced PG&E and their tactics as “avaricious, criminal, morally corrupt” and “a throwback to robber barons.”

Though the content of the mailers is unknown, it has already created a stir around City Hall and throughout the community that is advocating for community choice. At the press conference, which was scheduled with very little advance notice, Dufty and Mirkarimi were joined by Sup. David Campos, San Francisco Public Utilities Commission director Ed Harrington, state senator Mark Leno, and Sierra Club representatives Michael Borenstein and John Rizzo.

Mirkarimi, chair of the Local Agency Formation Commission (LAFCo), insisted that “San Francisco is steadfast in its commitment to Community Choice Aggregation,” and stressed that “PG&E continues to mock our commitment to green energy and will do everything in their power to circumvent the process.”

Emphasizing that Clean Power SF is not a takeover of PG&E, Harrington noted that under the program design, the powerful utility would still own the distribution system, send bills, and provide workers. The ordinance allows the city to solicit an energy supplier with the intent of “buying cheaper, cleaner power” While the CCA has a target goal of 51 percent renewable energy by 2017, PG&E already falls short of the mandated requirement of a 20 percent renewable mix.

Leno pointed out that the program offers choice to San Franciscans, who would have the ability to opt-out of the Clean Power SF program if they so desired. In contrast, PG&E is trying to stamp out the city’s ability to create a CCA with a ballot initiative that could create impossibly high barriers to community choice. "As you know, PG&E has been gathering signatures for the ballot initiative to support another two-thirds vote threshold. It is anti-democratic and un-American to allow one-third of the population to veto what two-thirds wants."

David Campos noted that PG&E’s response to this “pretty modest” endeavor demonstrates how threatened it is by any changes that could potentially jeopardize its monopoly.

Mike Campbell, who directs of the city’s CCA program through the SFPUC, told the Guardian later that he wasn’t surprised to learn of PG&E’s tactics. “So far, they’ve been quiet with our potential customers, but as we move forward, that won’t be the case,” Campbell noted. When asked how the SFPUC might respond, Campbell said they are beginning to work on the marketing component of the program. “We’re going to have the benefit of offering the customers a choice,” he said. “We believe San Franciscans will choose the environment.”

Campbell did add, however, that he thought PG&E might frame its attack in such a way as to convince voters that the city had “flip-flopped” on Clean Power SF, because the language in the RFP is softer than in the original ordinance approving the creation of a CCA. The SFPUC advocated framing the overarching program goals as guidelines, rather than requirements, in the RFP, in an effort to attract more interest. At the time, Mirkarimi bristled at the change in language, but he and other LAFCo members went along with it in the interest of staying on schedule and giving themselves enough options to choose from.

“It seems like a short-sighted approach,” Campbell said, while also saying that since he had not seen the mailer, he was “speaking in a vacuum” and speculating about PG&E's approach. “Because we can say, ‘We’re still greener than you.’ The goals of the program remain the same.”

LAFCo met in closed session several weeks ago to discuss legal options concerning the ballot initiative. Calls to City Attorney Dennis Herrera for comment were not returned as of press time.