Enviro justice groups spar with SFPUC on power program

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A coalition of environmental groups is advocating for CleanPower SF as a tool for green job creation.

A Pew Research Center analysis based on the latest U.S. Census data has found that Latino and African American households weathered deeper blows in the economic recession, driving the wealth gap between whites and minorities to an historic high. As things stand under current economic conditions, the Washington Post reports, the median net worth of a white family is now 20 times that of a black family, and 18 times that of a Latino family -- roughly twice the gap that existed before the recession, and the biggest gap ever since 1984.

Meanwhile, a report issued yesterday by the Natural Resources Defense Council hit on another alarming trend, outlining the water-related challenges coastal cities will face as climate change takes its toll. The report highlights sea level rise, land erosion, saltwater intrusion, flooding, impacts to fisheries, and more frequent and intense storm events. (That's to say nothing of wildfires.)

In San Francisco, a small group of environmental justice advocates has been working for the better part of a decade to help craft a municipal energy program with the aim of turning the tide, at least on a small local scale, to promote greater economic equality and fend off the worst impacts of climate change. Advocates from groups such as Global Exchange, the Local Clean Energy Alliance, the Sierra Club, the Brightline Defense Project, the San Francisco Green Party, and others have long envisioned CleanPower SF as a way to bolster local job creation, particularly for people who reside in the city's low-income neighborhoods. The twin goal of CleanPower SF, also known as community choice aggregation (CCA), is to launch a local response to climate change by offering San Franciscans the option of purchasing clean electricity generated from local, renewable energy sources such as wind and solar.

At a July 26 meeting of the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission (SFPUC) in City Hall, however, it became clear that this overarching vision for the program wasn't gaining traction with the agency that is tasked with implementing it. As the program inches closer to a review by the Board of Supervisors, advocates have reached an impasse with SFPUC staff as to how the whole endeavor should proceed.

Grassroots advocates raised concerns that the latest proposal for CleanPower SF amounted to a setup for failure, unless there was a concerted effort to plan for robust development of local green-energy sources. While SFPUC staff indicated that the current proposal would result in new jobs at call centers, advocates said more needed to be done to plan for installing local energy-generating sources which could truly bolster local job creation.

Yet SFPUC General Manager Ed Harrington said that what the advocates were asking for wasn't realistic. He dismissed the original vision for CCA, articulated in a 2007 board-approved ordinance, as "not a realistic goal." And he spoke in a condescending tone about the grassroots stakeholders, saying, "People saw that they would like green power to be cheaper, and therefore they believed that it was.”

Under the proposal that the SFPUC described to commissioners July 26, monthly electricity rates under CleanPower SF would be at least $7 more than estimated PG&E rates. That's a key difference from the original draft implementation plan, hammered out in 2007, to "meet or beat" rates offered by the investor-owned utility.

The new proposal has also been scaled down considerably since 2007. As planned, CleanPower SF would contract with Shell Energy North America to begin offering 30 megawatts of 100 percent green power to just 75,000 municipal customers by the spring of 2012. That's assuming most of the 229,000 residential account holders who will initially be enrolled will opt out; and SFPUC media relations representative Charles Sheehan noted that the full customer base would eventually roll up to the original goal of 340,000 customers. Still, the target at the outset represents just a fraction of the 360 megawatts of power for 340,000 customers originally called for, with a 51 percent renewable energy mix. Under this new scheme, electricity would be purchased through Shell on the open market, with long-term plans to develop local sources but no solid short-term goals for achieving that end.

SFPUC Commissoner Francesca Vietor asserted that SFPUC staff should continue working closely with the grassroots stakeholders and find a way to seriously plan for building local renewable sources, which could ultimately serve to drive municipal rates down and make the program more viable and competitive. "I think local build-out is a really exciting and important opportunity, and a critical piece of the CCA program," she said.

Commissioners continued the decision on whether to approve parameters for a term sheet and submit it to the full board, pushing the discussion back until September unless a special meeting is called. Several commissioners raised concerns about the financial risk to the city, since the program would have higher rates than PG&E and is designed in such a way that a bulk of power would have to be purchased up front before the agency can determine how many customers will opt out.

“I was actually glad to hear a lot of commissioners raise a lot of concerns, especially about the financials," Eric Brooks, a long-time CCA advocate speaking on behalf of the Green Party and an organization called Our City, told commissioners. "The more of a local build-out … the lower your price, and the lower you can get in terms of the risks."

June Brashares, green energy director at Global Exchange, echoed Brooks' comments in a telephone interview with the Guardian. "The proposal they're doing now is really vulnerable," because the higher rates will make the alternative power program less competitive, she said. "The whole reason for CCA -- yes, we want cleaner energy -- but the real key is the building of local energy sources to create an economic boost, and local green careers. And that's not at the core of what the SFPUC is doing."

This article has been corrected from an earlier version.

Comments

Thanks for the great report! It really gets to heart of the matter.

I would add one key detail to it.

Of the 360 megawatts that a robust localized CleanPowerSF program would build in its first three years, 107 megawatts of that capacity is actually efficiency and energy savings installations.

And, it is in such efficiency installations, that we will get the biggest boom in local green jobs; hundreds of them.

Posted by Eric Brooks on Jul. 27, 2011 @ 3:01 pm

Eric,

Can you clarify, wasn't the premium described by the SFPUC 35% over PG&E rates? Why can't this premium support the local build out and jobs program that you and the other advocates have supported! We need jobs!

Posted by Bayview on Jul. 27, 2011 @ 5:12 pm

Excellent question 'Bayview'.

The reason the SFPUC plan will totally fail to create the revenue to install the robust build out to create the hundreds (and possibly thousands) of green jobs that were originally made possible by the 2007 ordinance, is simple.

The SFPUC, under its current ill conceived plan, assumes that only 75,000 customers will join CleanPowerSF. The revenue created by such a small customer base would be woefully insufficient to power up a citywide installation of hundreds of megawatts of renewables and efficiency in the next three years as originally planned.

The 'recession' (actually a depression)

is now.

We need those hundreds of jobs -here- and -now- not in some distant future under the SFPUC's tiny and slow moving plan to buy expensive renewable energy from distant towns and even other states (giving out-of-towners the jobs) to deliver 'green' power to a handful of wealthy San Francisco elites.

While meanwhile, under the SFPUC plan, customers currently in the PG&E low income CARE program would have to pay an extra 13 dollars a month to get -their- clean energy!

The SFPUC plan is designed to allow rich people to feel good about themselves while other cities get the jobs, and while low income PG&E customers remain stuck with dirty PG&E power, all with San Francisco getting no guaranteed local renewable energy and efficiency construction at all.

Meaning -no- guaranteed jobs.

The grassroots enviro and environmental justice organizers' plan on the other hand will begin the local buildout planning and financing right away so that local green jobs will actually happen in the next couple of years.

People should contact SFPUC General Manager Ed Harrington and demand that he stop throwing CleanPowerSF's local green jobs program under the bus!

The SFPUC General Manager's office number is:

(415) 554-3155

and he can be reached via email at:

EHarrington@sfwater.org

Posted by Eric Brooks on Jul. 27, 2011 @ 6:16 pm

Anything you're promoting, no matter its merits, is automatically suspect and wrong until proven right.

Posted by Lucretia "Secretia" Snapples on Jul. 28, 2011 @ 2:25 pm

Years of being in the hole have taken their toll on the troll.

Posted by Lucretia "Secretia" Snapples on Jul. 28, 2011 @ 8:38 am

I hope San Francisco is successful at resolving the challenges it faces in its endeavor to 'go green.' Toward that end, city officials would be wise to heed the concerns of grassroots activists, who fear (as the article reports) "that the latest proposal for CleanPower SF [amounts] to a setup for failure, unless there was a concerted effort to plan for robust development of local green-energy.

I would encourage SF to pay close attention to what is happening in Marin County.

Here in Marin, to the county's credit, Marin Clean Energy (MCE) did become "California’s first operational community choice aggregation," but it's important to understand that MCE, despite its highly successful "green marketing campaign," has not generated one kilowatt of renewable power locally, nor has it "broken away" from PG&E, nor has it created any local green jobs.

MCE's recently announced partnership with EnXco, a wholly owned subsidiary of nuclear power giant EDF belies its green spin, as does its contract with Shell Energy North America, a subsidiary of Royal Dutch Shell, with an even worse reputation for poor "corporate citizenship" than PG&E, and one of the worst environmental polluters and human rights abusing corporations on the planet.

It is not well understood by those outside of Marin County that Marin residents are still dependent on PG&E for transmission, distribution, billing and line maintenance, or that Marin Energy Authority (MEA), the "purchasing arm" of MCE, procures every kilowatt of its "green energy" from non-local suppliers. Thus, MCE is is hardly a model example of "community choice" or even "clean energy policy."

The energy mix MEA is purchasing from Shell (and more recently, G2 Energy) may be RPS-eligible, and it may even qualify for Renewable Energy Credits (RECs), under state and federal law, but it offers very little (real) green energy. Other communities considering forming CCAs should watch very carefully to make certain that their officials do not subvert the concept of CCA, as our officials did here in Marin.

Sadly, at least so far, Marin Clean Energy is proving to be far better at greenwashing than actually generating green energy.

As the editor of an energy newspaper that views energy from both a progressive and human rights perspective, I can assure other journalists and the public that there is a very important story tucked between the lines of MCE's greenwashing campaign. MCE should serve as a warning, not a model, for other communities hoping to create CCAs that offer (genuine) clean, locally generated energy. In Marin, the local press (Pacific Sun and Marin Independent Journal) never provided any critical analysis of MCE's plan, instead serving as its mouthpiece, rather than doing real journalism. Had the local press been willing to dig a little deeper, they might have served the critical function of protecting the community from being "greenwashed." My hope, at this point, is that someone in our business (with a bigger staff than SolarTimes) is concerned enough about serving the public interest (what we used to call "Public Service Journalism") to dig in and do the kind of investigative work that our little paper simply hasn't the resources to do.

Fortunately, the movement for (real) "energy democracy" is growing, and SolarTimes is building alliances with communities that have had similar experiences to Marin's. I have a regular column in the local West Marin newspaper (West Marin Citizen), so a handful of people here in West Marin may also be starting to catch on.

I recently interviewed both Al Weinrub, author of the groundbreaking new publication, "Community Power -- Decentralized Renewable Energy in California" and local sustainability guru John Farrell on my program, "Political Analysis." It airs weekly on the Progressive Radio Network (www.progressiveradionetwork.com). To learn more about this issue and the meaning of (real) "energy democracy, people can listen at www.progressiveradionetwork.com/Political-Analysis

Posted by Sandy LeonVest on Jul. 28, 2011 @ 2:04 pm

I hope San Francisco is successful at resolving the challenges it faces in its endeavor to go green. Toward that end, city officials would be wise to heed the concerns of grassroots activists, who believe (as the article reports) that, in the absence of a concerted effort to plan for robust development of local green energy, the latest proposal for CleanPower SF amounts to "a setup for failure."

One need look no further than Marin County to see what can happen when the local "environmental community" and the local media get so caught up in the official greenwashing spin that they forget whose interest they are supposed to serve, and end up serving as mouthpieces for local government.

Here in Marin, to the county's credit, Marin Clean Energy (MCE) did become "California’s first operational community choice aggregation," but it's important to understand that MCE, despite its highly successful "green marketing campaign," has not generated one kilowatt of renewable power locally, nor has it "broken away" from PG&E, nor has it created any local green jobs.

MCE's recently announced partnership with EnXco, a wholly owned subsidiary of nuclear power giant EDF belies its green spin, as does its contract with Shell Energy North America, a subsidiary of Royal Dutch Shell, with an even worse reputation for poor "corporate citizenship" than PG&E, and one of the worst environmental polluters and human rights abusing corporations on the planet.

It is not well understood by those outside of Marin County that Marin residents are still dependent on PG&E for transmission, distribution, billing and line maintenance, or that Marin Energy Authority (MEA), the "purchasing arm" of MCE, procures every kilowatt of its "green energy" from non-local suppliers. Thus, MCE is is hardly a model example of "community choice" or even "clean energy policy."

The energy mix MEA is purchasing from Shell (and more recently, G2 Energy) may be RPS-eligible, and it may even qualify for Renewable Energy Credits (RECs), under state and federal law, but it offers very little (real) green energy. Other communities considering forming CCAs should watch very carefully to make certain that their officials do not subvert the concept of CCA, as our officials did here in Marin.

Sadly, at least so far, Marin Clean Energy is proving to be far better at greenwashing than actually generating green energy.

As the editor of an energy newspaper that views energy from both a progressive and human rights perspective, I can assure other journalists and the public that there is a very important story tucked between the lines of MCE's greenwashing campaign. MCE should serve as a warning, not a model, for other communities hoping to create CCAs that offer (genuine) clean, locally generated energy. In Marin, the local press (Pacific Sun and Marin Independent Journal) never provided any critical analysis of MCE's plan, instead serving as its mouthpiece, rather than doing real journalism. Had the local press been willing to dig a little deeper, they might have served the critical function of protecting the community from being "greenwashed." My hope, at this point, is that someone in our business (with a bigger staff than SolarTimes) is concerned enough about serving the public interest (what we used to call "Public Service Journalism") to dig in and do the kind of investigative work that our little paper simply hasn't the resources to do.

Fortunately, the movement for (real) "energy democracy" is growing, and SolarTimes is building alliances with communities that have had similar experiences to Marin's. My regular column (It's All About Energy) published in the West Marin Citizen is distributed locally here in West Marin, so a handful of people here may also be starting to catch on.

I recently interviewed both Al Weinrub, author of the groundbreaking new publication, "Community Power -- Decentralized Renewable Energy in California" and local sustainability guru John Farrell on my program, "Political Analysis." It airs weekly on the Progressive Radio Network (www.progressiveradionetwork.com). To learn more about this issue and the meaning of (real) "energy democracy, people can listen at www.progressiveradionetwork.com/Political-Analysis

Posted by Sandy LeonVest on Jul. 28, 2011 @ 2:29 pm

And he spoke in a condescending tone about the grassroots stakeholders, saying, "People saw that they would like green power to be cheaper, and therefore they believed that it was.”

Why is it condescending to point out the obvious? Mr. Brooks would have you believe that the more you build the cheaper it is. Unfortunately, the facts prove otherwise.

Posted by Guest on Jul. 29, 2011 @ 9:42 am

'Guest' you seem to know very little of how renewable energy and efficiency actually work.

When you build local, community owned renewable energy generation and efficiency installations, after their initial up front costs, those projects -make- money because they don't depend on continuous purchasing of fossil fuel.

Once a solar panel or windmill is paid off, it will then generate essentially free electricity for decades, and that electricity creates revenue. Once efficiency installations are paid off they create large savings which can then be rolled right back in to the the city program making the whole system even more affordable and profitable.

The secret to making a large scale local buildout work in the CleanPowerSF program is to specifically design the entire program to pay for itself over a 20-30 year period by utilizing future revenues from wind, solar, efficiency, etc so that you create a green jobs boom, give customers far cleaner and more localized energy, and at the same or lower rates than PG&E. Its like creating an energy infrastructure with a long term mortgage so that initial high costs are completely balanced with future energy revenues.

It is this strategy which our local SFPUC seems totally incapable of understanding or implementing.

The Board of Supervisors needs to step in immediately and demand that the SFPUC stop fooling around with bad and overly expensive short term designs, and instead listen to the experts and build a long term project with a robust local buildout, which can deliver hundreds of near term jobs, large scale local clean energy, and -true- competition with PG&E.

Posted by Eric Brooks on Jul. 29, 2011 @ 11:33 am

No, Guest. The point is that Harrington is fond of throwing out old numbers for the cost of solar vs. the cost of natural gas as part of the SFPUC's anti-solar rhetoric. In fact, solar is fast and steadily approaching the cost of peak natural gas.

In San Diego, they are paying 10 to 15 cents per kilowatt hour vs. 15 cents per kilowatt for peak natural gas. Three years ago, solar cost 25 cents per kilowatt hour, which is the number that Mr. Harrington threw out at the hearing (I have to watch it again but he may have said even 30-something cents).

Granted, the San Diego facilities are built at a scale that we can only approximate here in San Francisco, but you get the point as to why the article references Mr. Harrington's "condescending" tone: green power IS becoming cheaper over time and this trend will only continue.

And it is a fact that as we deplete our supply of natural gas and the cost of natural gas escalates, solar and other renewables will become cheaper than what proliferates our energy supply today.

Here's a great couple of articles on these points:
http://www.nctimes.com/business/article_77c152d2-4a09-5efb-aac9-b2ffba91...
http://www.maximumpc.com/article/news/wind_and_solar_prices_coming_down_...
http://dougneeper.com/2011/05/10/solar-power-costs-coming-down-you-betcha/

It's critical that we get these anti-solar bureaucrats to begin a plan today to develop local renewables tomorrow for San Francisco to take advantage of this trend.

Posted by Solar Cost Coming Down on Jul. 29, 2011 @ 11:47 am