Committee approves CleanPowerSF over downtown opposition

Opponents and supporters packed today's long hearing on CleanPowerSF.
Steven T. Jones

The question of whether San Francisco creates a renewable energy program that offers an alternative to Pacific Gas & Electric got its first major hearing at City Hall today, with the business community claiming it's too expensive and supporters arguing that the time has come for the city to address climate change and the long-term energy needs of city residents and businesses.

The Board of Supervisors Budget & Finance Committee voted 2-1 in favor creating CleanPowerSF, entering into a contract with Shell Energy Northern California to administer the program, and devoting $19.5 million from the San Francisco Public Utility Commission's water fund to help launch it and buy clean power for city residents.

Sups. John Avalos and Jane Kim supported the project, while Sup. Carmen Chu was opposed. It now goes to the full Board of Supervisors next week, where it is expected to have progressive support and be opposed by the fiscal conservatives.

“I do think we will have the necessary majority to get this through,” the measure's sponsor, Sup. David Campos, told us. But one open question is whether Mayor Ed Lee will veto a measure that his SFPUC appointees developed but his downtown allies are trying to kill, and if so, whether there are eight supervisors willing to override a veto.

But Campos noted that SFPUC officials testified today that CleanPowerSF is the only way they've identified to meet the city's ambitious official goals for reducing greenhouse gas emissions, which call for a reduction of 20 percent below 1990 levels by the end of this year and an 80 percent reduction by 2050.

Supporters who testified today included environmentalists, progressive groups, and young people who cast addressing climate change as the defining struggle of their generation. “This, not to go overboard, is the most important vote you'll ever do,” said the Sierra Club's Arthur Feinstein.

Those who spoke against the program included the usual array of downtown groups that have traditionally defended PG&E's interests – including the Committee on Jobs, Golden Gate Restaurant Association, and Plan C – and they were joined by an unusually large number of elderly Asian individuals wearing stickers opposing the project.

“It's a bad program that doesn't meet even the basic elements of its original promise,” said Chris Wright, executive director of the Committee on Jobs, which PG&E has helped fund since its inception. Like most CleanPowerSF opponents, they have long opposed even the concept of community choice aggregation (CCA), the state law that allowed the city to create CleanPowerSF.

PG&E's longtime support by local politicians has eroded in recent years because of its overkill campaigns against public power initiatives and supporters and its negligence in the deadly San Bruno pipeline explosion.

Even GGRA Executive Director Rob Black told the committee, “PG&E, a local company, candidly has its problems.” But he and other project opponents – and even a few supporters of the project – centered much of their opposition on the involvement of Shell, which has a bad reputation and environmental record, like almost every other multinational energy company.

“I have the same qualms about Shell that everyone else does,” said Katherine Roberts, who said that she nonetheless supports the project, calling it the only way for most San Franciscans to directly support the development of renewable energy sources. Shell was the sole bidder on a project that requires enormous financial wherewithal.

Campos calls the focus on Shell a diversionary tactic: “PG&E already buys energy from Shell. To the extent people don't want Shell in the picture, Shell is already in the picture.”

Both the supervisors and the mayor will be under intense pressure to derail CleanPowerSF, with that campaign led by downtown groups and IBEW Local 1245, the union that represents PG&E workers. Sup. Scott Wiener, who says he's still undecided, told us that his office was flooded with phone calls today, mostly in opposition to the project.


of participants in hearings or demonstrations ONLY if they happen to be Asian? It's a constant - he also did it in his report on the ill-fated challenger to Avalos.

Why is the racial profiling necessary Steven? Why? Are you happy when Asians are providing manicures or cooking at Chinese restaurants but find it disturbing when they're participating in our democratic process?

Posted by Troll II on Sep. 12, 2012 @ 6:19 pm

"White liberals" whenever he rambles on?

Posted by - on Sep. 12, 2012 @ 6:58 pm

I mention demographic characteristics like race or age when there is an unusually large grouping of a certain constituency that doesn't seem connected to the issue, raising the possibility that one side was recruiting (and possibly busing in and/or paying) supporters, which happens all too often on high-stakes issues in San Francisco.

Posted by steven on Sep. 13, 2012 @ 9:52 am

your mention of all the associated facts -- that individuals of the group were all elderly, all asians, and all wearing the same printed signs -- was necessary for you to make that point; no harm, no foul.

The problem with mention of race has always applied to gratuitous mention of race, done for no reason except to seem to put some ethnic group in a bad light.

And, *obviously*, this only reflects poorly -- to the degree that it does -- on the *individuals* who allowed themselves to be used as PG&E props; not on any class or elderly people, or asians, or people wearing yellow stickers.

In a way, it is almost as if you got trolled *twice*: why would PG&E be so lame as to try and pass off such obvious plastic grass as real?

I thought to respond previously but decided against it. I'm rethinking my practice of feeding trolls every time they open their mouths.

Posted by lillipublicans on Sep. 14, 2012 @ 7:53 am

Even when its in service to progressive goals.

Posted by Troll II on Sep. 14, 2012 @ 8:58 am

If you go to the meetings at City Hall, as I can sadly admit to have done, you know that practically any big issue has some type of organized contingent present, usually wearing stickers and obviously repeating the same catch phrases.

When they are in favor of the SFBG objective it is reported here as 'The supporters outnumbered the objectors by a wide margin.

When they are against the SFBG objective they are reported as a suspicious group of elderly Asians.

Posted by Another Guest on Sep. 14, 2012 @ 9:21 am

Obviously, if some progressive-looking astro-turf shows up at a city meeting, you've got some corporate media arm to point that out, so spare us your puerile piety.

Posted by lillipublicans on Sep. 14, 2012 @ 11:37 am

those who otherwise have nothing useful to do with their time. The crowd at a city hall meeting are totally unrepresentative of real people. Luckily the supes know that, and after having to sit through hours of whiney 2-minute mini-speeches, they then vote to do what they wanted to all along anyway.

A lot more would get done if the meeting were held in private, and televised.

Posted by Anonymous on Sep. 14, 2012 @ 12:51 pm
Posted by lillipublicans on Sep. 14, 2012 @ 1:18 pm

Do you always contradict yourself so easily bot? Perhaps the bot's programmer needs to consider a few changes in the way the bot is functioning these days. Seems a little rough around the edges.

Posted by Troll II on Sep. 14, 2012 @ 2:03 pm

a post isn't worth responding to by responding to it, thereby drawing further attention to the very same post that he doesn't want people to pay attention to!

Not the sharpest knife in the block.

Posted by Anonymous on Sep. 14, 2012 @ 2:17 pm

Is mildly entertaining. The usual assemblage of SF unemployables rambling out.

Posted by matlock on Sep. 15, 2012 @ 3:17 am

I actually like that race is reported. If you grew up here in San Francisco an have many friends from different races you would be use to people referencing peoples race. When the Asian community is taking part of politics I think its note worthy too since they make up a huge part of the City yet many of them stay in there own community China town, Richmond, Sunset etc.. without integrating into the greater population like many other cultures have already done. If you want to PC,. you should at least be honest. People need to talk about race not bury there thoughts and opinions and pretend it doesn't matter. Race matters especially to minorities which I myself am.

Posted by Guest on Sep. 13, 2012 @ 12:08 pm

Because the idea is that, er, it doesn't matter. just a social construct, no biological basis, blah, blah.

Posted by Anonymous on Sep. 13, 2012 @ 5:00 pm

Don't progressives think they shouldn't be coercing people into going along with their program?

Posted by matlock on Sep. 12, 2012 @ 6:56 pm

Why should the default position be PG&E rather than a green alternative with more democratic oversight? PG&E has coerced San Franciscans into supporting its nuclear and fossil fuel power for decades -- a decision I was never given the opportunity to opt in on -- so it makes perfect sense that residents who don't want to support this city's renewable energy goals and support a taxpayer-funded program would have to opt out. Hurting the city and the planet should never be the default option, but it's a pretty simple thing to opt into that position if you choose.

Posted by steven on Sep. 13, 2012 @ 10:01 am

meddling". Muni has "democratic oversight" and it sucks. do I really want power run the same way.

I'm with the other guy here. I shouldn't have to DO anything to keep what I already have. If instead I want a program that is run by city hacks in cheap suits with unaffordable pensiojn entitlements, I should have to affirmatively choose that.

Posted by Anonymous on Sep. 14, 2012 @ 4:17 am

Would you prefer city hacks in expensive suits?

Posted by Guest on Sep. 14, 2012 @ 3:20 pm

increasing the probability of them doing the essentials in a decent way.

Number one - SF must provide public safety. Focus on that. I don't need the City running all over everything but i do need them to keep me and my property safe from ne'er-do-well's.

The rest can be outsourced.

Posted by Anonymous on Sep. 14, 2012 @ 3:37 pm

So do you consider letting PG&E run our power and gas systems in San Francisco good for public safety...?

Posted by Eric Brooks on Sep. 14, 2012 @ 3:55 pm

trust power company experts and engineers more than I trust city bureaucrats.

Interesting article in the Chron yesterday about how it is the City that is delaying road digs to make old, underground gas pipes safer. PG&E have warned of the danger, and the city is stalling with the dig permits.

If there is an explosion, you'll blame PG&E but it was really the city's fault.

Posted by Anonymous on Sep. 15, 2012 @ 8:23 am

looking program. Of course, you'll run into this kind of trollery both here and from the Chronicle/PG&E editorial staff, but please continue your great efforts.

Its not like people don't know who blows up neighborhoods; uses junk parts to fix gas lines, loses records about where such incompetent work has been done, conducts manifestly illogical and unsafe "testing" of gas pipes, then stonewalls when the bereaved families from victims of their work come to collect.

As for who can run a safer public works system, we've got the City and County of San Francisco's municipal water system on one hand, and PG&E's spontaneous combustion and tree electrocution-and-executive bonus program on the other to help us understand the relative safety concerns involved.

Posted by lillipublican on Sep. 15, 2012 @ 9:45 am

..the fact that PG&E's electricity transformers routinely explode, maiming and even killing people, and triggering fires and power outages.

And of course the editorial about gas lines that 'Anonymous' refers to is total bs and was specifically written as a hit piece so that people like himself can raise exactly the argument he raises in order to cynically misdirect people from this groundbreaking CleanPowerSF legislation.

Posted by Eric Brooks on Sep. 15, 2012 @ 10:37 am

Anonymous, I suggest you look up what PG&E is doing in Hinkley, California as well. Gas is just the beginning with PG&E's deadly criminal malfeasance.


Posted by Eric Brooks on Sep. 15, 2012 @ 10:43 am

It seems that there is some state law around this idiocy.


The explanation given here is pretty amazing, A "the bible says it i believe it that settles it" type of argument. The hatred of PGE down at the Guardian offices is pretty obsessive.

Posted by matlock on Sep. 15, 2012 @ 3:11 am

Clean Power SF is another half baked reformist non-solution. Want public power? Municipalize PG&E. Instead, rate payers have to pay inflated rates to a for-profit energy trader for the privilege of "green" power. I support public power, but I'm going to opt out. I'm not paying $10 extra per month to Shell Energy on a normal PG&E bill of about $35. If you support the environment, use fewer resources. Walk, avoid driving, become vegetarian.

Remember the last attempts to hurt PG&E with so-called community choice? Green Mountain Energy in the mid-90's. Where are they now? Nowhere, and that's where Clean Power SF will be in five years.

Clean Power SF is Obamacare for public utilities. A well intentioned misguided effort that will set back the effort for public ownership of utilities. Will the liberals ever learn?

Posted by Eddie on Sep. 13, 2012 @ 8:18 am

power in SF. It's been to the polls countless tiems and always loses. So much so, that we haven't even tried for ten years or so. It's a non-starter because it is too expensive and the city doesn't have the money to buy out PG&E. Not even close.

Posted by Anonymous on Sep. 14, 2012 @ 4:19 am

I guess I don't understand: the plan has a path to dropping Shell within 10 years, by which point enough revenue will be made to a dedicated fund for the city to run the power entirely independently.

I do walk and use fewer resources. PG&E already has us in the top 1% of energy efficient homes in the state. That doesn't mean we shouldn't have a path to energy independence.

This plan, while not 100% perfect, provides a financial means to get us to a place where we are not reliant on Shell or PG&E for our own power needs, where the city will be able to fund solar and wind installations on private residences and businesses, and still allows residents to opt out if they so choose.

There are plenty of cities around the world that run their own power utilities to great success (primarily Europe, but increasingly American cities as well). I don't see how SF building their own public utility could set back the greater effort for public ownership: to the contrary. (Also: Green Mountain Energy is a bit of a red herring: you still had a bill from PG&E, with a credit due, that you then transferred and used to offset the cost of a secondary bill that you received. It was a ridiculous system, and failed to pass the basic checks of integration and had no future plan of how to fix this problem in the future.)

Posted by Rickbynight on Sep. 15, 2012 @ 4:07 pm

Once the initial start up contract with Shell expires in 5 years, there will be no need for its services any longer, because the City will have built out extensive assets and power revenues of its own.

Posted by Eric Brooks on Sep. 15, 2012 @ 4:32 pm

And Shell can be every bit as bad as PG&E

Posted by Anonymous on Sep. 13, 2012 @ 4:15 pm

I suppose if Lee wants to become known as the Mayor who killed clean energy and over 4,000 jobs, that's his prerogative.

Posted by Eric Brooks on Sep. 13, 2012 @ 4:50 pm

It might mean more jobs for Shell and less for PG&E. But then Shell will just hire the guys that PG&E fire.

Non issue either way.

Posted by Anonymous on Sep. 13, 2012 @ 5:02 pm

You misunderstand.

The very small (20 to 30 megawatt) Shell start up of this program doesn't create the jobs and isn't meant to. That's not what the Shell component is for, and is not where the 4,000 jobs that Lee would be killing if he vetoed, will come from.

I am referring to jobs created by installing local clean energy and efficiency facilities; jobs that are financially leveraged by the revenues from the Shell start up in the first five years of the program.

To see the report on the jobs I am talking about, go to:

Posted by Eric Brooks on Sep. 13, 2012 @ 5:37 pm

economic jobs, as far as I am concerned.

Any municipality can raise taxes and/or borrow, and then use the money to create "make work" jobs. Maybe with FDR's New Deal that was just about justified but I don't see the value here.

All energy companies are becoming greener one way or the other. That doesn't have to necessitate quasi-nationalization of the form that SFBG is thrilled by.

Posted by Anonymous on Sep. 13, 2012 @ 5:53 pm

You're kidding right? A Green New Deal (on the scale of FDR's programs for the Works Progress Administration and World War II) is precisely what San Francisco needs amidst the current global economic and environmental crises.

And the beauty of CleanPowerSF is that its large local installation phase pays for itself without taxes or raised rates. This is because once the up front cost of solar, wind, co-generation and efficiency are paid off, they bring in essentially free revenue and savings for decades that pay for the jobs.

CleanPowerSF is truly a beautiful and vital solution to our current problems.

Posted by Eric Brooks on Sep. 13, 2012 @ 6:18 pm

We should be cutting public spending, not increasing it.

And this Green Power thingy will be significantly more expensive than PG&E, which is already 60% clean/renewable itself.

No deal, new or otherwise.

Posted by Anonymous on Sep. 14, 2012 @ 4:20 am

Our economy clearly needs a New Deal style boom created through government spending, and I already noted above that PG&E's claim of serving 60% 'clean' energy is completely bogus because it includes nuclear power.

Posted by Eric Brooks on Sep. 14, 2012 @ 4:12 pm

I don't follow your claim that CleanPowerSF pays for itself without "raised rates" when ratepayers who do not opt out will be paying $5 to $60 more per month to a for-profit energy trader than those who stay with PG&E, a for-profit regulated utility.

As I stated above, this model is like Obamacare, forcing consumers to buy an overpriced product. Single Payer (Medicare for All) can fix our healthcare system. Public ownership of utilities is a desirable goal, but charging consumers more for the same product while Shell Energy skims off the top will set back efforts to municipalize PG&E.

Posted by Eddie on Sep. 14, 2012 @ 8:03 am

I was referring to the much larger second phase of the program to install hundreds of megawatts of local renewables and efficiency. That larger build-out easily pays for itself.

However the program has to first build a customer base on which to justify the revenue bonding to do the big build-out. This is because the banks that would float those bonds need to see that there will be customers who will be able to buy the energy and pay back those revenue bonds.

The reason that rates for customers choosing to join in the program start will be a higher in the first couple of years, is that until the actual local renewables are installed sufficiently to guarantee a larger long term income stream, we will need to buy that starting 20 to 30 megawatts of clean power on the market at for-profit prices, where it is a lot more expensive.

As the local renewables and efficiency are built and their nonprofit revenues flow into the program, customer rates will come down and will eventually match or beat PG&E rates within about five years (possibly sooner).

So what we are asking a smaller pool of customers to do at the start of the program, is to chip in some extra at first (just as they would do for an electric hybrid car) in order to gain big environmental and economic benefits in the near future.

Posted by Eric Brooks on Sep. 14, 2012 @ 8:50 am

If green power is really cheaper, then i'll buy it.

But from what you say, I should wait a few years to make sure that happens.

Posted by Anonymous on Sep. 14, 2012 @ 12:55 pm

If you don't want to pay more that's fine. Sit tight and eventually the price will come down.

However, I would note that part of the roll out next year may be an offer of clean energy shares. In other words you could buy in as part owner of the actual installed renewables from the beginning, and get part of the energy and savings from those shares over time. You would pay more at the start, but also get a bigger dividend a few years later if you bought into these 'renewable shares' as a part owner of the city system.

So be on the look-out next year to see if such shares will be part of the start up, and if they are, it would be wise to jump on that investment.

Posted by Eric Brooks on Sep. 14, 2012 @ 2:46 pm

So if enough customers agree to pay inflated prices to Shell Energy, vulture capitalist bond issuers may agree to finance locally-based renewable facilities. But what if they don't agree.

Green Mountain Energy tried to move into this market with a premium priced "green" energy mix in the late 90's. They failed. The only reason CleanPowerSF might succeed is the opt out provision whereby consumers have to affirmatively act to avoid being ripped off by Shell Energy (who I am sure are not a "green" company.)

I support renewable energy sources. But I don't want to pay more for electricity to a lesser evil for-profit in exchange for an uncertain hope of local renewable sources.

If we want public power, municipalize PG&E. If we want local wind, solar, geothermal energy sources and they are such a good economic deal, then the city should use tax revenue or float bonds to build them and then use the future profits to lower electricity rates to San Francisco residents. If we are opposed to dirty sources or energy, then push for a carbon tax to capture the externalities of pollution.

Inserting Shell Energy into the system is what economists call a deadweight loss. I don't support a scheme where some consumers have to pay more than others for the same product.

Posted by Eddie on Sep. 14, 2012 @ 9:44 am

Yes. I think we tried that, and due to a huge prevalence of PG&E campaign dollars and PG&E internet flacks, it was narrowly defeated.

This, on the other hand, is an incremental measure, obviously without any drawback if you don't want to participate in it, and for that reason it can't be portrayed as being costly or negative for anyone who doesn't like it.

Isn't that why you are now advocating a municipal takeover?

Posted by lillipublicans on Sep. 14, 2012 @ 10:14 am

People were just scared of handing power to the same folks who mess up Muni every day.

Posted by Anonymous on Sep. 14, 2012 @ 12:58 pm

... but it lost by 517 votes out of more than 125,000 cast.

Good thing we've got a better resource for such information than "Anonymous."

Posted by lillipublicans on Sep. 14, 2012 @ 1:14 pm

by much greater margins. You cherry-picked the closest race but, in the end, it was still a clear loss for having the same folks who run muni running power.

And there has been no retry since then, tellingly. I was actually at the election party that night and Bruce's face was a picture, all bright red and bloated.

A part of his lardly presence expired that night.

Posted by Anonymous on Sep. 14, 2012 @ 2:15 pm

Your points about public power are correct. It's a great idea, but it's also a hard sell to the public.

That's why we are doing CleanPowerSF instead.

CleanPowerSF allows us to directly compete with PG&E on clean energy supply, while not taking over the power system at all.

PG&E will still run and maintain the wires and distribution and handle the billing.

All CleanPowerSF does is give us competitive customer choice on the energy supply itself. And that allows us to both get a -much- higher renewable energy mix than PG&E is willing to supply, and put thousands to work building hundreds of megawatts of local renewable generation and efficiency installations.

Posted by Eric Brooks on Sep. 14, 2012 @ 2:38 pm

"green" initiative is a trojan horse for public power, i.e. a fifth column for it.

Posted by Anonymous on Sep. 14, 2012 @ 3:22 pm

CleanPowerSF simply gives us a low risk entry into the first steps toward community based energy, without having to bite off the whole enchilada in one swoop.

If the City proves through CleanPowerSF that it can compete well with PG&E to generate and deliver cleaner power at stable and decent rates, then the public will have more confidence that we can go on to start competing for transmission and distribution services as well.

This gives ratepayers the benefit of not having to take on the full risk of owning and running the entire power system all at once; and instead allows us to test the waters.

That's not a Trojan horse; it's just good market competition strategy.

Posted by Eric Brooks on Sep. 14, 2012 @ 4:03 pm

Local nonprofit municipal and customer installation of renewables and efficiency will be built with very secure revenue bonds backed by the same banks that back all other revenue bonds for the city, not by speculative venture capitalists.

Revenue bonds will be very easily obtainable (a good bet for the banks) once there is a beginning customer base for the program.

That small customer start up is just 20 to 30 megawatts. By comparison, the City's peak load is 850 megawatts. This is priming the pump for a much bigger clean energy project that will be owned and run by the City and its customers, not fossil fuel energy corporations.

Note that Green Mountain was selling energy at high prices on the -market- just as Shell does. That's not the same as actually building out local renewables.

Finally, your criticism of Shell is valid and real, and if that keeps you out of the program start up I very much respect that.

But keep in mind that PG&E itself buys energy for us from Shell.

So why don't we buy some of that energy ourselves to start a program that will get us away from -both- PG&E and Shell, instead of just throwing that money, wasted, into the pockets of PG&E stockholders...?

Posted by Eric Brooks on Sep. 14, 2012 @ 10:31 am

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