Why SF needs Prop. H

Pub date September 10, 2008
WriterSusan Leal
SectionNews & OpinionSectionOpinion

OPINION San Franciscans don’t need the Clean Energy Act for political reasons. We need the Clean Energy Act — Proposition H on the November ballot — because we should have a say in how our electrical needs are met. We need it because San Franciscans should be able to demand more clean, renewable energy. We need it to have input on how our electrical rate money is spent. We need it to get a dollar’s worth of service for a dollar’s worth of rates.

The current electric power provider in San Francisco has a monopoly. That provider, Pacific Gas and Electric Co., is not responsive to San Franciscans. And San Franciscans have little influence over PG&E. Here are some examples.

San Franciscans have wanted more undergrounding of power lines. There’s a good reason for that — overhead power lines are a potential public hazard. Besides, they are just plain ugly. PG&E says it doesn’t have the money to continue undergrounding power lines. There is evidence to the contrary — but undergrounding is just not a priority for PG&E.

San Franciscans have made it clear that they support clean, renewable energy. Yet PG&E, according to its own records, has a power portfolio that uses 68 percent combined fossil fuel and nuclear energy. And, as the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission (SFPUC) has moved forward to prepare to put clean and green power into new developments at Hunters Point, it has been met with resistance by PG&E.

San Franciscans have invested billions of dollars over the years building and maintaining the Hetch Hetchy power system. The SFPUC produces power in the high Sierra and transmits that power 140 miles to the Bay Area. PG&E charges a significant markup to transmit that power the last 25 miles to San Francisco. The result is that PG&E is charging as much for the last 25 miles as the SFPUC charges for the first 140 miles. And in 2015, PG&E is prepared to raise these transmission rates even higher. We are definitely not getting a dollar’s worth of service for a dollar’s worth of rates.

Opponents of the Clean Energy Act are raising the specter of freewheeling issuance of billions of dollars of revenue bonds without any public accountability. Their claim couldn’t be further from the truth: the reality is that revenue bonds cannot be issued unless they are approved by the mayor, the supervisors, and the city controller. Also, the financial rating agencies must review any potential bond issuance and rate its viability. If the proposal isn’t viable, the bonds won’t get sold.

Besides, the SFPUC, like many other municipal utilities, already issues revenue bonds for its water and wastewater systems — and remains financially sound. It proudly provides San Franciscans with a dollar’s worth of service for a dollar’s worth of rates by providing some of the best drinking water in the country and maintaining the highest environmental standards with its wastewater systems.

San Franciscans need the Clean Energy Act because it will bring about more accountability and less waste of ratepayer dollars. We need the Clean Energy Act because it makes economic and environmental sense.

Susan Leal

Susan Leal is a former general manager of the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission.