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GREEN CITY The San Francisco Clean Energy Act isn't the only charter amendment on the November ballot, but it's already shaping up to be the political lightning rod of this fall's election.
Pacific Gas & Electric Co. sent out mailers opposing the measure even before the Board of Supervisors voted 7-4 on July 22 to place it on the Nov. 4 ballot. Mayor Gavin Newsom also announced his opposition to the act moments after Assemblymember Mark Leno, former San Francisco Public Utilities Commission General Manager Susan Leal, and a cadre of progressive supervisors announced their support for it on the steps of City Hall.
Authored by Sups. Ross Mirkarimi and Aaron Peskin, the Clean Energy Act requires San Francisco to fulfill 51 percent of its electricity needs through renewable sources by 2017. That requirement rises to 75 percent by 2030, and to 100 percent, "or the greatest amount technologically feasible or practicable," by 2040.
The SF Clean Energy Act also mandates that a feasibility study be undertaken to look at the best way to provide clean, green energy, which could lead to PG&E losing its stranglehold on energy if the study finds public power to be the best option.
Explaining the importance of mandating a feasibility study, Mirkarimi said, "Otherwise PG&E has a monopoly here until the planet dies."
Supporters say it is important for San Francisco to set up a model that others can follow. "As goes San Francisco, so goes the state of California, and so goes the nation," Peskin said at the July 22 rally, just before the Board voted to place the act on the ballot. "This is a time when people can change the destiny of the planet."
Moments after that rally ended, Mayor Newsom took a minute to explain his opposition.
"We have other things we should be focusing on," Newsom told reporters at a press conference at the War Memorial Building to announce housing bonds for veterans. "Let's call it what it is. It's a power takeover of PG&E," he said.
But the elected officials and myriad organizations who showed up at City Hall to support the Clean Energy Act say that public vs. private power is not the main issue.
"The public power considerations have been drafted in a thoughtful and reasonable way," Leno told the crowd. "It would involve study after study after study, and testimony from experts."
Leno noted that 42 million Americans have public power, and if San Francisco did turn to public power, it would be embracing something as American as mom and apple pie. "Unlike their private power company counterparts, public power systems serve only one constituency: their customers," Leno said.
Sup. Gerardo Sandoval opined that government is better able to assume renewable energy risks. "The private industry is not going to take that risk," Sandoval said. "It's always going to take the cheap way out, which is fossil fuels.
Others warned the audience not to be swayed by PG&E's anti–Clean Energy campaign, which Newsom's chief political consultant Eric Jaye is working on.
"This is not some crazy takeover scheme," Leal said. "It's about protecting the environment and the rights of San Franciscans and their rate payers."
The Clean Energy Act has been endorsed by the Sierra Club, San Francisco Tomorrow, ACORN, the San Francisco Green Party, the League of Young Voters, Green Action for Health and Environmental Justice, the San Francisco Green Party, and the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights.
Mark Sanchez, president of the San Francisco Board of Education and a supervisorial candidate in District 9, described showing "An Inconvenient Truth" to the eighth-grade science class he teaches. "What can I say to my kids — we don't have the policies in place to mitigate the damage they see?"
The Sierra Club's John Rizzo noted, "This act insures that San Francisco is at the center of this economy. Not in Japan, China, or Germany. It will be here."
Aliza Wasserman of the League of Young Voters stated that "PG&E is not investing $1 in renewable energy beyond state mandates, and they lobby against measures to raise those mandates."