Stop the presses: CleanPowerSF 8, PG&E 3

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Sometimes, the good guys (and gals) win.

And so, after the Guardian started the public power movement in 1969  with the pioneering Joe Neilands expose of the PG&E/Raker Act scandal, after three  initiative campaigns to kick PG&E put of City Hall and enforce the public power mandates of the federal Raker Act and bring our own Hetch Hetchy public power to our own people, after hundreds of people worked for years inside and outside City Hall for public power and clean energy,  the San Francisco Board of Supervisors voted 8-3 Tuesday  to formally launch a CleanPowerSF project that would for the first time challenge the decades-old power monopoly of the Pacific Gas & Electric Company.

It was a historic moment. And it was a historic veto proof vote that Ed Lee, the PG&E- friendly mayor, and his ally and mentor, former mayor Willie Brown, the unregistered $200,000 a year PG&E lobbyist, will have difficulty snuffing out this time around.

The CleanPowerSF 8 were Sups. David Campos, who sponsored the legislation, Scott Weiner, who cast the deciding swing vote, David Chiu, Eric Mar, Christina Olague, Jane Kim, Malia Cohen, and John Avalos, all of whom made helpful remarks during the debate. They also voted down an attempt by the PG&E bloc to continue the vote for a week and voted against crippling amendments.

The PG&E 3 were Sups.Mark Farrell and Carmen Chiu, who tried to dilute the legislation with the crippling amendments, and Sean Elsbernd, who was strangely silent during the debate. 

I use the phrase CleanPowerSF  8 and PG&E 3 to dramatize the crucial political point and toss in a bit of Guardian history on the story.  For years, as clean energy/public power proposals were routinely voted down as a result of PG&E political muscle and power lobbying, the Guardian would use variations of the phrase. PG&E l0, San Francisco l or whatever was the PG&E margin of victory. The phrase was accurate, pin-pointed the good and bad guys and gals, lifted our spirits, and sent the message that the battle was far from over.

The hero of the afternoon was Ed Harrington, the general manager of the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission who delayed his retirement to complete the project. He got a standing ovation after his testimony backing up his legislation and deft handling of  all questions.  As Campos said, Harrington’s legislation  was as “good as you are going to get.”  No one seriously questioned his plan, figures,  marketing strategy, or key argument that his plan was fiscally and environmentally sound.

PG&E was never mentioned during the discussion and it was difficult to determine its lobbying strategy. After the vote, I asked Eric Brooks, the crafty clean power leader at the meeting,  what happened to PG&E and  its strategy. He said that PG&E, after the San Bruno disaster and other notable mishaps, was not the monopoly power it once was and that perhaps the company had decided it would rather face the slower pace of  CleanPowerSF rather than another clean energy initiative it would have a good chance of losing 

Thanks and congratulations to the CleanPowerSF 8, David Campos, Scott Weiner, John Avalos, David Chiu, Eric Mar, Chritina Olague, Jane Kim, and Malia Cohen, who voted themselves into San Francisco history.  Five of them will face the electorate and PG&E in the November election (Campos, Avalos,  Chiu, Mar, and Olague.) and they acted and spoke as if voting for CleanPowerSF would be a significant advantage to their campaigns in their districts. And thanks and congratulatons to former Sup. Ross Mirkarimi, who carried the public power flag as the unpaid campaign manager during the first two unsuccessful public power campaigns and then carried the CCA plan inside City Hall during his seven years as supervisor.  When he was voted in as sheriff last November, he handed the CCA baton to Campos who pushed the proposal through with style and solid argument that the issue was choice and providing necessary competition to PG&E's monopoly.

The vote to start public power in San Francisco comes none too soon. The tear-down-tne-Hetch Hetchy dam forces have put the nice-sounding Proposition F to study draining the Hetch Hetch reservoir.on the fall ballot. This is the first step toward tearing down the dam.  The problem for the city is that it could ultimately lose the dam, if it isn't moving to public power, because the Raker Act mandates that San Francisco have a municipal  system to distribute public power to its residents and businesses because the act allowed San Francisco to dam Hetch Hetchy Valley in Yosemite National Park. The Guardian's position is that the dam is in place and  should only be torn down after the city has real public power and is able to find and afford an adequate new source for the city's water and power supply. And that, let me emphasize,  will be a massive undertaking involving billions of dollars and incredible political challenges.   .

Much more to come in this saga that never ends,  b3

Here is Guardian City Editor  Steve Jones’ account of the vote: : http://www.sfbg.com/politics/2012/09/18/historic-veto-proof-vote-launche...

And some Guardian background on the PG&E/Raker Act Scandal in my advance story: http://www.sfbg.com/bruce/2012/09/17/historic-pgeclean-energy-vote-today

Comments

If the above analysis is true: "PG&E, after the San Bruno disaster and other notable mishaps, was not the power it once was and that perhaps the company had decided it would rather face the slower pace of community choice aggregation rather than another clean energy initiative it would have a good chance of losing." then push now for the true goal--public ownership of the utility.

Instead, under CleanPowerSF, unregulated Shell Energy will buy "green" power (probably from PG&E) and sell it at a profit to CleanPowerSF ratepayers. A policy that requires a socialist solution (public power) instead gets a neo-liberal treatment.

If CleanPowerSF fails because Shell skims too much profit, rates are higher than expected, opt-outs higher than expected, PG&E undercuts it with their own green power option etc., then the city will be left holding the bag, and the movement for public power will be set back once again.

Just as Obamacare has entrenched the insurance companies stranglehold on "healthcare" and set back socialized medicine, I fear that CleanPowerSF will make public power less rather than more likely. I hope that I am wrong.

Posted by Eddie on Sep. 19, 2012 @ 6:26 am

The key is that it doesn't matter if Shell gets all of the revenue from its small start up role.

It isn't money from the 20-30 megawatt Shell deal (out of the City's 850 megawatt peak daily use) that will fund the local installation of city owned clean power facilities.

The Shell deal simply ensures that there are long term customers for the program and this gives us the ability to get banks to create revenue bonds based (not on Shell energy purchase incomes) but on the long term nonprofit and very large revenues and savings that will come from the solar, wind, efficiency and cogeneration facilities that we will build locally over the remainder of this decade.

The small Shell contract just primes the pump for this larger installation project based on self funded construction bonds.

As to PG&E out-competing us. Give me a break. PG&E just got its ass kicked 8-3 because it is, pardon the pun, out of gas.

A decrepit old for profit corporation selfishly focused on profit for stockholders, will never be able to out-compete a community owned nonprofit clean power program. The numbers don't add up for them.

And once the CleanPowerSF program has built hundreds of megawatts of municipally owned renewable energy generation projects, churning out essentially free profits for decades after installation costs are paid off, then the city will have a much more powerful position of financial, logistical and political leverage from which to launch a full public power program.

This is the beginning of the end for PG&E.

Posted by Eric Brooks on Sep. 19, 2012 @ 7:51 am

Eric, I admire your optimism. Underestimate PG&E at your own peril. If PG&E is so "decrepit," push for public power now. I fear that this public/private CleanPowerSF partnership will fail because it asks consumers to pay more for the same product. PG&E will exploit this weakness. Affluent Marin County is very different from economically diverse San Francisco.

I remember the promise of a free citywide WiFi network to compete with the cable and phone companies. I'm still paying AT&T for DSL. I suspect that without an honest public power initatitive, PG&E will prevail.

Posted by Eddie on Sep. 19, 2012 @ 9:36 am

Optimism has nothing to do with this.

The grassroots coalition that has been fighting for CleanPowerSF for the past decade, is not done with our work by a long shot, and has no intention of letting the program engage a weak start up plan. The next step in our campaign is to aggressively work with the SFPUC staff to make certain that the premium cost to early customers comes -way- down. Far below the proposed $9 to $18, so that when CleanPowerSF rolls out, it will be popular enough to blow PG&E out of the water.

Customers coming in later in the program roll out, after large scale renewables and efficiency installations are underway and ensuring larger revenues, will likely be able to get on board at the same or lower prices than PG&E.

Posted by Eric Brooks on Sep. 20, 2012 @ 11:38 am

going away. It wasn't sold on the idea of SF having only a public power system and, in fact, as I'm sure you know, the voters have always rejected public power.

Many support this initiative only because it increases choice. It's doesn't indicate there is any support for reducing choice.

You're mistaken to see this as a trojan house for a government takeover via the back door. The people and voters aren't signing onto that now any more than when it's been put to the ballot.

Posted by Guest on Sep. 19, 2012 @ 8:08 am

The point is that PG&E is so far into meltdown that it can no longer compete. Other private companies that are focused on clean energy might do so, and more power to them to try.

On public power itself, the only reason those initiatives lost was that PG&E was then in its prime, and spent tens of millions of dollars on crack ad teams attacking the measures with avalanches of deceptive ads and mailers.

After its dismal campaign loss on its 50 million dollar attempted monopoly entrenchment power grab Prop 16, as well as the San Bruno explosion, and the losses in Marin and San Francisco on Community Choice, PG&E has nowhere near the gravitas it once had to prevail in a public vote.

This is why it wisely put up less of a fight against CleanPowerSF this round, a program which gives it a little more time to readjust to its new reality before the inevitable, and to either liquidate to a Wall Street buyer, or get into another line of work; before California's local communities rightfully take over our own power systems.

Posted by Eric Brooks on Sep. 19, 2012 @ 8:27 am

It's not an argument per se for government control nor for consumers having no choice.

Posted by Guest on Sep. 19, 2012 @ 11:57 am

If other companies can do better, then it's up to them to step up to the plate and do so. That's what creating competition is all about.

However those companies will likely take the simpler and more productive route of bidding on CleanPowerSF projects and services.

Posted by Eric Brooks on Sep. 20, 2012 @ 11:44 am

...listing...listing... rail is going under... oh my!

Posted by lillipublicans on Sep. 19, 2012 @ 8:16 am

convicted of a violent crime and lost his job?

My position on this has always been clear and consistemt. I support choice in power. Any free-market capitalist would.

I do not support public power along with the majority of SF voters who have always rejected it.

I support your right to choose a power supplier that is "green" and your choice to pay more because that makes you feel good. I don't support you trying to take choice away from me and others.

That's the difference between our positions. I want to add choice; you want to take it away.

Posted by Guest on Sep. 19, 2012 @ 8:34 am

Just heard Supervisor Sean Elsbernd say at the Chamber of Commerce lunch hour that he's not losing any sleep over this and that his family will probably not opt out of CCA.

Posted by Guest on Sep. 19, 2012 @ 12:29 pm

Are they still collecting tolls on the bridges. Have the costs to users gone up any?

This is the camel's nose under the tent.

Posted by Guest on Sep. 19, 2012 @ 2:09 pm

Yeah, why should anyone have to pay for maintenance on a capital system?

Posted by marcos on Sep. 19, 2012 @ 6:07 pm

Back in the day, enforce the Raker Act meant bring public generated power back to the people.

What has happened? We the citizens of San Francisco can't dictate that zero emission power from Hetch Hetchy (best water in the West) can't be the backbone of CleanPowerSF?

Start with the Hetch Hetchy power, add the SF roof top power, cover the stadium parking lots with collectors and exactly how much more do we need to buy?

Posted by SFreptile on Apr. 11, 2013 @ 4:46 pm

It was passed in the same way that LS stole Mono Lake. It was wrong then and it is wrong now. Tear down that dam.

Posted by anon on Apr. 11, 2013 @ 5:59 pm

That'll happen.

Posted by Lucretia Snapples on Apr. 11, 2013 @ 6:09 pm

Anon is suddenly an environmentalist!

Posted by Hortencia on Apr. 11, 2013 @ 6:26 pm

my biggest irritation abt cleanpower is the forced entry into it voted by the supes...secondly they are lying abt how expensive it will be and everyone knows it. the cleanpower people have become nazis...

Posted by Guestwill on Apr. 13, 2013 @ 7:40 am

UNLESS THEY HAVE FIGURED OUT HOW TO GET ELECTRICITY FROM HYDROGEN REACTORS, 'GREEN' ENERGY ONLY RELATES TO COST. NUCLEAR POWER IS BY FAR THE CLEANEST ENERGY SOURCE. SOLAR,WIND AND OTHER TRENDY SOLUTIONS ARE COST EXORBITANT AND RELY ON WEALTHY CUSTOMERS BUYING A CONSCIENCE AND HAVING THE POOR EITHER SHUTTING OFF THEIR LIVES OR GETTING ON THE GOVERNMENT SUBSIDIZED BANDWAGON(PAID FOR BY THE REST OF US). WE ARE DESTROYING OUR COUNTRY WITH ENVIRONMENTAL LAWS WE CAN'T AFFORD WHILE INCREASING DAILY OUR IMPORTATION OF GOODS FROM THE WORLD'S WORST POLLUTERS IN THE NAME OF 'GREEN'. CA IS DEFINITELY BECOMING THE DUMBEST PLACE IN THE U.S. IF NOT THE WORLD.
JUST FOR A REALITY CHECK: FEDERAL EPA LAWS FORBID ME CONVERTING MY CAR TO COMPRESSED NATURAL GAS WHICH IS CHEAPER AND MORE ENVIRO-FRIENDLY THAN GAS AND PRODUCES MUCH LESS POLLUTANTS. IN ANY OTHER COUNTRY IT COSTS $1500 +/- BUT HERE IN THE 'SMARTEST, 'GREEN'' AREA CALLED CALIFORNIA OR THE US IT COSTS UPWARDS OF $10,000 TO BE DONE AT AN EPA 'APPROVED' SHOP. NOT WORTH DUMPING THAT KIND OF MONEY INTO A $1500 CAR SO I AM STUCK WITH $4.00 A GALLON GAS AND THE POLLUTION. KEEP TELLING ME HOW SMART YOU ARE!!

Posted by GuestJIMA on Apr. 29, 2013 @ 5:23 pm