Don’t give the tides to PG&E

Pub date June 27, 2006
SectionEditorialSectionNews & Opinion

EDITORIAL It’s been three years since former supervisor Matt Gonzalez suggested that the city build a tidal energy plant, but the mayor is finally catching on. Gavin Newsom told the Chronicle editorial board last week that a new study shows San Francisco could generate a phenomenal amount of electricity from Ocean Beach waves and the tides under the Golden Gate Bridge. If it can be done without disturbing marine life, it’s a great idea — as long as the power stays in public hands.
The legal and philosophical case is simple: Nobody owns the tides, the wind, or the waves. The energy contained in these renewable resources is and should always be in the public domain. Economically it’s clear: Once the power plant is built, the energy would be free — and could be a tremendous boon to the city’s treasury and to local business.
Politically the issue is even stronger: San Francisco is the only city in the nation with a congressional mandate to operate a public–power system, and any new energy resources the city taps should be used to help extract residents and businesses from under the expensive private–power monopoly of Pacific Gas and Electric Company. So why is the mayor even considering other options?
According to the Chronicle’s Phil Matier and Andrew Ross, the mayor’s staff is looking at the possibility of allowing PG&E (or “a little-known Florida firm, operating as Golden Gate Energy, that has already landed a federal license to bring the ocean technology to the bay”) to build and operate the plant. That would be a near perfect repeat of the Hetch Hetchy scandal, the deal that kept public power generated from public water at a publicly built dam in a public national park (Yosemite) under the private control of PG&E.
The Board of Supervisors needs to weigh in on this quickly with a resolution stating that no private company can develop, control, or profit from energy generated through wind, tides, waves, or any other renewable resource in or around the city of San Francisco. And if Newsom tries to treat the Golden Gate tides the way his predecessors treated Tuolumne River water, it will be the worst moment of his political career. SFBG