Step up and save CCA

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EDITORIAL Two things became abundantly clear at the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission meeting July 26th: The Community Choice Aggregation program is off track — and General Manager Ed Harrington has no interest in making it work. The supervisors need to move aggressively to save CCA.

Since 2007, when a draft implementation plan was released, the goals of the program — which is supposed to offer a cleaner alternative to Pacific Gas & Electric Co. — have shifted fairly dramatically. No longer does the plan seek to meet PG&E's rates. It won't be aimed at the entire city to start. And the PUC is putting most of its effort into a short-term contract to buy green power from Shell Energy North America — and all-but ignoring the more important moves to build a publicly owned energy-generation infrastructure.

CCA, which allows cities to buy power in bulk and resell it to customers, is a step in the right direction. The program now before the PUC would put San Francisco in the public power business — to a degree. But as the financial projections for the program demonstrate, the real savings and the real revenue won't come until San Francisco replaces PG&E as the owner and operator of the local grid. A full-scale public power system would allow the city to both increase renewable power and cut rates — and would bring hundreds of millions into the treasury in the process (see "Mud Money," 6/26/08).

Still, CCA offers many benefits — including the chance for the city to build local renewable energy facilities. And that's where the PUC's efforts ought to be focused.

During discussion of the proposed contract July 26th, Harrington was largely negative and talked repeatedly as if he didn't think the original program could work. He kept saying that renewable power was more costly (true, today — but not after the city starts building its own facilities). He said that the goals the "advocates" (who include a majority of the Board of Supervisors) have demanded were unrealistic. And most of the commissioners seemed clueless.

That's a terrible way to launch one of the most important environmental and financial initiatives in modern San Francisco history. Marin County is already well on the way to creating a working CCA system. Other counties are moving forward. And San Francisco, the only city in the nation with a federal mandate for public power, can't get its civic act together.

The supervisors need to get involved, quickly. The Local Agency Formation Commission, which is overseeing this project, should haul Harrington in for a hearing as soon as possible. Among other things, the LAFCO members should ask why Harrington is so determined that the project won't work; why his proposal is geared to a small number of residents and businesses who would face higher rates for power; and what his plans are to create a local energy generation infrastructure that over the long run would be dramatically cheaper and greener than anything PG&E (which has been in the background here trying to undermine CCA) will be able to offer.

The problems with CCA reflect the immense challenges of putting this program in the hands of a commission a majority of whose members were appointed by a mayor who opposed public power, managed by someone who has never supported municipalization efforts. Harrington and the SFPUC appear to be setting CCA up to fail. The supervisors need to step in before that happens — and every candidate for mayor needs to be pushed to publicly support CCA and make this an important campaign issue. And they need to promise that they'll appoint people with real public power credentials who will replace Harrington and shake up the next PUC.

Comments

Thanks for the sharp critique of the SFPUC's plan, to essentially abjectly fail to properly compete with PG&E, by not planning for any substantial community owned citywide renewables, or efficiency installations.

For those new to this issue. San Francisco's CCA is called CleanPowerSF.

For more information on how the program will work see:

http://our-city.org/campaigns/CleanPowerSF.html

and

http://our-city.org/resources/cca_energy_factsheet.pdf

Posted by Eric Brooks on Aug. 03, 2011 @ 2:43 pm

It's good to see that the SFBG is beginning to catch on to the subversion of Community Choice Aggregation (CCA). But to say that, "Marin County is already well on the way to creating a working CCA system," is, to put it kindly, misleading.

Marin County, to its credit, did become "California’s first operational community choice aggregation," but it's important to understand that Marin Clean Energy (MCE), despite its highly successful "green marketing campaign," has not generated one kilowatt of renewable power locally, nor has it "broken away" from PG&E, nor has it created any local green jobs. MCE's recently announced partnership with EnXco, a wholly owned subsidiary of nuclear power giant EDF belies its green spin, as does its contract with Shell Energy North America, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Royal Dutch Shell, with an even worse reputation for poor "corporate citizenship" than PG&E, and one of the worst environmental polluters and human rights abusing corporations on the planet.

It is not well understood either that Marin County residents are still dependent on PG&E for transmission, distribution, billing and line maintenance, or that Marin Energy Authority (MEA), the "purchasing arm" of MCE, procures every kilowatt of its "green energy" from non-local suppliers. Thus, MEA is is hardly a model example of "community choice" or even "clean energy policy." The energy mix MEA is purchasing from Shell (and more recently, G2 Energy) may be RPS-eligible, and it may even qualify for Renewable Energy Credits (RECs), under state and federal law, but it offers very little (real) green energy. Other communities considering forming CCAs should watch very carefully to make certain that their officials do not subvert the concept of CCA, as our officials did here in Marin.

Sadly, at least so far, Marin Clean Energy is proving to be far better at greenwashing than actually generating green energy.

As the editor of an energy newspaper that views energy from both a progressive and human rights perspective, I can assure other journalists and the public that there is a very important story tucked between the lines of MCE's greenwashing campaign. MCE should serve as a warning, not a model, for other communities hoping to create CCAs that offer (genuine) clean, locally generated energy.

In Marin, the local press (Pacific Sun and Marin Independent Journal) never provided any critical analysis of MCE's plan, instead serving as its mouthpiece, rather than doing real journalism. Had the local press been willing to dig a little deeper, they might have served the critical function of protecting the community from being "greenwashed." My hope, at this point, is that someone in our business (with a bigger staff than SolarTimes) is concerned enough about serving the public interest (what we used to call "Public Service Journalism") to dig in and do the kind of investigative work that our little paper simply hasn't the resources to do. Fortunately, the movement for (real) "energy democracy" is growing, and SolarTimes is building alliances with communities that have had similar experiences to Marin's. I have a regular column in the local West Marin newspaper (West Marin Citizen), so a handful of people here in West Marin may also be starting to catch on.

I recently interviewed the Al Weinrub, author of the groundbreaking new publication, "Community Power -- Decentralized Renewable Energy in California" on my program, "Political Analysis," which airs weekly on the Progressive Radio Network (www.progressiveradionetwork.co...). To learn more about this issue and the meaning of (real) "energy democracy, people can listen at http://www.progressiveradionet....

Sandy LeonVest
Editor/Publisher
SolarTimes (www.solartimes.org)

Posted by Sandy LeonVest on Sep. 07, 2011 @ 11:21 am

I'm glad to see that SFBG is taking a closer look at (the subversion of) Community Choice Aggregation (CCA) in California. But to say that, "Marin County is already well on the way to creating a working CCA system," is simply wrong -- unless one is willing to accept the oxymoronic concept of "corporatee-controlled community choice."

Marin County, to its credit, did become "California’s first operational community choice aggregation," but it's important to understand that Marin Clean Energy (MCE), despite its highly successful "green marketing campaign," has not generated one kilowatt of renewable power locally, nor has it "broken away" from PG&E, nor has it created any local green jobs. MCE's recently announced partnership with EnXco, a wholly owned subsidiary of nuclear power giant EDF belies its green spin, as does its contract with Shell Energy North America, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Royal Dutch Shell, with an even worse reputation for poor "corporate citizenship" than PG&E, and one of the worst environmental polluters and human rights abusing corporations on the planet.

San Francisco has now joined Marin in supporting a corporatized version of "community choice," by signing a contract with Shell Energy North America for its “clean energy.” And, partly thanks to the encouragement of MCE, other communities are now considering signing on to the corporate CCA model.

Linda Hamilton of Shell Energy North America recently told reporters that Shell is “optimistic about the business that could flow from Community Choice Aggregation in California.” The same Ms. Hamilton, according to Renewable Energy World, “played a key role in getting Marin Energy Authority … on line.”

As it stands now, Marin and San Francisco's CCAs are serving as green cover for one of the most diabolical public relations schemes to ever be conceived in corporate board rooms. Keep in mind that, while companies like Shell and EnXco exploit California’s CCA to parade their “green ventures” in front of an unsuspecting public, a closer look at these companies’ portfolios reveals only a miniscule fraction of their unholy profits being invested in renewable energy. Indeed, the vast majority of their earnings go toward health and environment-destroying technologies, such as hydraulic fracturing, mountaintop removal of coal, off and onshore oil drilling and, of course, the Mother of All Environmental Travesties, nuclear power.

It is not well understood either that Marin County residents are still dependent on PG&E for transmission, distribution, billing and line maintenance, or that Marin Energy Authority (MEA), the "purchasing arm" of MCE, procures every kilowatt of its "green energy" from non-local suppliers. Thus, MEA is is hardly a model example of "community choice" or even "clean energy policy." The energy mix MEA is purchasing from Shell (and more recently, G2 Energy) may be RPS-eligible, and it may even qualify for Renewable Energy Credits (RECs), under state and federal law, but it offers very little (real) green energy. Other communities considering forming CCAs should watch very carefully to make certain that their officials do not subvert the concept of CCA, as our officials did here in Marin.

Sadly, at least so far, Marin Clean Energy is proving to be far better at greenwashing than actually generating green energy.

As the editor of an energy newspaper that views energy from both a progressive and human rights perspective, I can assure other journalists and the public that there is a very important story tucked between the lines of MCE's greenwashing campaign. MCE should serve as a warning, not a model, for other communities hoping to create CCAs that offer (genuine) clean, locally generated energy. In Marin, the local press (Pacific Sun and Marin Independent Journal) never provided any critical analysis of MCE's plan, instead serving as its mouthpiece, rather than doing real journalism. Had the local press been willing to dig a little deeper, they might have served the critical function of protecting the community from being "greenwashed." My hope, at this point, is that someone in our business (with a bigger staff than SolarTimes) is concerned enough about serving the public interest (what we used to call "Public Service Journalism") to dig in and do the kind of investigative work that our little paper simply hasn't the resources to do. Fortunately, the movement for (real) "energy democracy" is growing, and SolarTimes is building alliances with communities that have had similar experiences to Marin's. I have a regular column in the local West Marin newspaper (West Marin Citizen), so a handful of people here in West Marin may also be starting to catch on.

I recently interviewed the Al Weinrub, author of the groundbreaking new publication, "Community Power -- Decentralized Renewable Energy in California" on my program, "Political Analysis," which airs weekly on the Progressive Radio Network (www.progressiveradionetwork.co...). To learn more about this issue and the meaning of (real) "energy democracy, people can listen at http://www.progressiveradionet.

I’m not sure whether local environmentalists fully grasp the ramifications of allowing mega-corporate interests to dominate our local energy market or whether these groups even care about “energy democracy.” But if we’re serious about “going green,” creating local jobs and/or controlling our own energy future, we’ll need to begin by taking charge of that future. The first step is to insist on generating and owning our own renewable power.

Sandy LeonVest
Editor/Publisher
SolarTimes (www.solartimes.org)
Source: Clean Technica (http://s.tt/12TeV)

Posted by Sandy LeonVest on Sep. 07, 2011 @ 11:37 am

Now that San Francisco has joined Marin in supporting a corporatized version of "community choice," by signing a contract with Shell Energy North America for its “clean energy,” it could prove far more difficult to create something resembling real "community choice." Shell isn't interested in "energy democracy," it's interested in infiltrating the CCA market. As Linda Hamilton of Shell Energy North America recently told reporters, Shell is “optimistic about the business that could flow from Community Choice Aggregation in California.” The same Ms. Hamilton, according to Renewable Energy World, “played a key role in getting Marin Energy Authority … on line.”And, partly thanks to the encouragement of MCE, other communities are now considering signing on to the corporate CCA model.

As it stands now, Marin and San Francisco's CCAs are serving as green cover for one of the most diabolical public relations schemes to ever be conceived in corporate board rooms.

While companies like Shell and EnXco exploit California’s CCA to parade their “green ventures” in front of an unsuspecting public, a closer look at these companies’ portfolios reveals only a miniscule fraction of their unholy profits being invested in renewable energy. Indeed, the vast majority of their earnings go toward health and environment-destroying technologies, such as hydraulic fracturing, mountaintop removal of coal, off and onshore oil drilling and, of course, the Mother of All Environmental Travesties, nuclear power.

I’m not sure whether local environmentalists fully grasp the ramifications of allowing mega-corporate interests to dominate our local energy market or whether these groups even care about “energy democracy.” But if we’re serious about “going green,” creating local jobs and/or controlling our own energy future, we’ll need to begin by taking charge of that future. The first step is to insist on generating and owning our own renewable power.

Sandy LeonVest
editor-publisher
SolarTimes
www.solartimes.org

Posted by Sandy LeonVest on Sep. 07, 2011 @ 11:48 am

Hi Sandy,

Thanks for the very apt critique of the perils of where the SF Public Utilities Commission is now headed on Community Choice (CleanPowerSF).

Local organizers totally get this, and we are waging a strong campaign to stop the SFPUC from choosing that hopeless direction, and to instead base San Francisco's CleanPowerSF on a strong foundation of hundreds of megawatts of locally installed renewables and efficiency.; with the hundreds of local green jobs that this will bring to the City.

Posted by Eric Brooks on Sep. 07, 2011 @ 12:36 pm

Thanks, Eric ... I'm glad to hear that local organizers in SF have not been greenwashed into submission, as they have here in Marin. It's been disheartening to see how quickly local "environmentalists" were seduced by Marin Clean Energy (MCE)/Marin Energy Authority's (MEA) green marketing strategies. Consequently, rather than serve the traditional role of "watchdog," Marin enviros chose to cheerlead "the authority."

Privately, I have heard that some (individuals within these groups) now regret their decision to promote "the authority," rather than question it. Sadly, thus far, organizational egos have triumphed over personal integrity. It seems that, having helped create "the monster," Marin enviros would now rather defend their decision than admit their mistake.

Fortunately, only a fraction of my (radio and print) journalism is focused at the local level. My work with the Progressive Radio Network and venues such as Common Dreams allow me to reach a far wider audience.

Those interested in clean, locally-owned energy and local sustainability can also take heart that there is a larger "energy democracy" movement taking root across the country. There are a growing number of local energy activists (in places like Boulder, Colorado, where groups like the Renewable Communities Alliance are fighting Xcel's bid to monopolize the renewable market in their state) who, like yourself, understand that the concept of Community Choice Aggregation is in grave danger -- and that in California, CCA is currently being subverted by outside forces and inside politics.

I've interviewed a lot of these folks on the Progressive Radio Network (www.progressiveradionetwork.com), where I host a program called "Political Analysis." If you'd like to listen to what people like Harvey Wasserman, Al Weinrub, John Farrell, Mike Ewall and others have to say on the subject, you can check out the archived podcasts of the show at: www.progressiveradionetwork.com/political-analysis.

In fact, maybe someone over at CleanPowerSF would like to write an article for SolarTimes and/or come on the show ... ?

My email address is: solartimeseditor@gmail.com

Keep up the good fight,

Sandy LeonVest
www.solartimes.org

Posted by Sandy LeonVest on Sep. 08, 2011 @ 9:44 am