Key CleanPowerSF facts matter more than myriad details

Pub date June 5, 2013
SectionPolitics Blog

It’s great to see our colleagues down the hall at the Examiner and SF Weekly covering the evolving details of CleanPowerSF, San Francisco’s plan for offering renewable energy options to city residents. And we’re all sure to see another barrage of confusing and arcane details being blasted in all directions by Pacific Gas & Electric and its union as they try to derail the program and maintain their monopoly.

These details do matter, but not nearly as much as a couple of important central facts that are too often overlooked or are given short shrift. One, this is the city’s only plan for meeting its greenhouse gas reduction goals, the one proposal out there to actually build renewable energy capacity. There is no other plan, as a recent city study (that’s been buried, but which we unearthed and publicized) shows. We can build all the green buildings we want and fill the roadways with electric vehicles, but if we’re still using PG&E’s fossil fuels to power them, that doesn’t take us very far.  

Two, meeting our greenhouse gas reduction goals requires people to just sign up for CleanPowerSF, even if the plan isn’t perfect, because that customer base is what allows the city to issue revenue bonds to build these projects going forward. The more people there are in the program, the more clean power projects we can build for them, the less greenhouse gases we emit, period.

As the Examiner reported in its cover story today, the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission has found a way to drastically lower the cost of CleanPowerSF so that its monthly bills will now be on average about $6.50 more than PG&E’s. That relies on using some renewable energy credits, such as those created in the state’s cap-and-trade program, instead of purely the juice directly from renewable energy projects.

That change is now being criticized by some of the same people who criticized the plan for being too expensive, but it’s either one or the other, folks, because renewable energy simply costs more to purchase than the energy that PG&E buys from coal plants or generates at its taxpayer-subsidzed nuclear power plant.

But again, the point that the article gets to in its bottom half is what’s important here: you gotta get people to sign up for the program, then the city will be able to bond against that customer base and build its very own renewable energy projects, which the public will control throughout their lifetimes.

The alternative is abandoning our climate protection goals, or trusting that PG&E is going to benevolently act against its financial interests after scuttling CleanPowerSF and invest a bunch of money in renewable energy projects without jacking up our bills even higher than what the city is proposing — all evidence, history, and common sense to the contrary.

And that means believing that a company that spent a whopping $50 million unsuccessfully campaigning for an audacious ruse, when it should have been using that money on promised system repairs that would have prevented the deaths of eight people — a tragedy that regulators have blamed entirely on PG&E negligence — is going to selflessly act in the public interest.

So, yes, let’s all cover the details of CleanPowerSF, which has an important hearing next month, and make sure this program is as good as it can be. But let’s also not be distracted from the crucial central point: this is about empowering San Francisco to take care of its people and the planet.