Political stalemate impedes green power program
PG&E has long been highly influential at San Francisco City Hall. It has funded many political campaigns and curried favor with powerful figures (former San Francisco Mayor Willie Brown, known to be a frequent dining companion of the mayor, has been richly rewarded for his consulting services, for instance). Mayor Ed Lee opposes the program, and holds the authority to appoint commissioners to the SFPUC.
CLASH OF CITY BODIES
The City Charter gives the SFPUC the responsibility of establishing fair and sufficient rates for the city's utility operations. But Avalos charged that "any further delay will essentially show that we are in a constitutional crisis caused by a city department failing to carry out a policy approved by a veto-proof supermajority of the Board of Supervisors."
The supervisor added that if the rate failed to win approval at the hearing, he would call upon the City Attorney to explore legal options "to resolve this type of stalemate—including the possibility of drafting a Charter Amendment. CleanPowerSF is too important and the threat of climate change is too significant to allow this program to die on the vine. It is time for leadership."
Pollock said on Aug. 15 that Avalos was still awaiting a response from City Attorney Dennis Herrera's office.
Meanwhile, activists who've attended countless meetings with SFPUC staff to move the program forward expressed frustration in the aftermath of the vote. "Things are in this holding pattern, and the dissenting commissioners did not provide a way forward," noted Jed Holtzman, an advocate with climate group 350 Bay Area. "They just kind of said, 'no.'"
The weekend before the hearing, mailers paid for by International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 1245, a union representing PG&E employees, blanketed Noe Valley residences with fliers. Depicting seashells besmirched with oil, the mailers seized on the involvement of Shell Energy North America, an oil giant with a contract pending with the SFPUC to administer power purchases for the first four and a half years of the program.
Shell's involvement presents something of a challenge for advocates, who have long advocated for a program that would be run entirely by the SFPUC with a centerpiece of renewable power generation facilities that could double as a source of local job creation.
The initial program phase looked quite different: Shell would purchase green power on the open market, making CleanPowerSF significantly more expensive than PG&E. To address that concern and lower rates, SFPUC staff recently allowed the use of Renewable Energy Credits (RECs), more affordable units accounting for green power produced somewhere in California as opposed to electricity coming straight over the power lines.
Despite the drawbacks of a more watered down start to the program and the involvement of a notorious fossil fuel company, progressives and major environmental organizations strongly advocated for moving forward with the Shell contract to give the SFPUC a shot at positioning itself financially to float revenue bonds for build-outs of a local green energy infrastructure.
"The plan is to completely replace this with the build-out," noted John Rizzo, who sits on the executive committee of the San Francisco Bay Chapter of the Sierra Club.
BUILDING LOCAL PROJECTS
A 134-page report prepared by Local Power Inc. described in careful detail how the city could use wind, solar, geothermal, energy efficiency, and other measures for a viable program. While SFPUC representatives have indicated that some of those recommendations will still be implemented, the agency is no longer working with Local Power.
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