Dirty war over clean power - Page 2

City program attacked by PG&E allies — and enviros

Large-scale solar arrays like this one are expensive.

That has some clean-energy advocates furious — and they've threatened to withdraw their support for the program.

"Ever since Harlan Kelly took over, the PUC staff has been less supportive of a robust build-out," Eric Brooks, who works with Our City has been a longtime supporter of CleanPowerSF, told us. "We're not saying the city should stop moving forward with the Shell deal, but the city has to continue the planning work for the build-out. It can't be a piecemeal thing."

The SFPUC hired a Marin-based outfit called Local Power, led by longtime clean-energy advocate Paul Fenn, to do some preliminary work on how a build-out could proceed. Fenn's conclusion: The city could create 1,500 to 3,000 jobs and build enough renewable energy to power much of the city, over a seven-year period — at a cost of about $1 billion.

That's a huge tab — and almost certainly more ambitious than this SFPUC and Board of Supervisors could accept.

Fenn told us that his economic analysis, presented to the SFPUC's Rate Fairness Board Feb. 18, indicates that the city's cash flow from CleanPowerSF with a renewable build-out would more than cover the payments on the bonds. But he also agreed that he's suggesting the best possible alternative — and he expects the city would go for a much smaller piece.

"The Board of Supervisors hasn't made the decision to spend that kind of money," he said.

Fenn's contract expired April 1, and the SFPUC hasn't renewed it. Instead, another consultant will review Local Power's work, Campos said.

Part of the political challenge is that Local Power has proposed that much of the build-out include what's known as "distributed generation" — small-scale solar, wind, and cogen projects on private houses and buildings.

Those installations would be "behind the meter" — that is, they would allow households and businesses to generate their own power without buying it through PG&E's distribution system.

The build-out proposals that the SFPUC staff have discussed are primarily larger solar arrays, some on land the city owns in the East Bay.

"That's the most expensive way to do this, and it allows PG&E to still control the transmission and distribution," Brooks said.

[TK-SFPUC comment Monday.]

Meanwhile, PG&E is preparing to roll out its own competing "green energy" plan — while IBEW ramps up it assault on CleanPowerSF.

The IBEW campaign includes robo-calls, mailers, and advertising, all aimed at convincing customers to opt out of the city program.

And now, with advocates from the Sierra Club to Our City criticizing the program on the left, and IBEW trying to undermine it before it gets going, there's a real chance that a plan more than 10 years in the making could be in trouble.

That concerns Campos. "All I'm hearing from the advocates is negative," he said. "I want more build-out, too, but unless we move forward with the program, we won't be able to do that."

In fact, he said, "you could wind up killing it and have nothing to show for it at all."

That, of course, would be PG&E's preferred alternative.


There is little doubt about that.

Maybe it wouldn't matter except that we will have to "contract out" rather than "contract in" to it.

With PG&E now 60% sustainable energy, it seems this gimmick that Shell Oil sold to the city might be moot and DOA.

Posted by Guest on Apr. 03, 2013 @ 9:45 am

system you admit will be more expensive?

Just so you can say there is competition to PG&E?

I'd like to see the city start to do a good job with the businesses it already finds itself in, like Muni, before trusting the city with a risky speculation like this which will dilute and distract city management from it's core services.

Fix the streets right, and then and only then talk to me about diversifying the enterprise.

Posted by anon on Apr. 03, 2013 @ 9:51 am

@anon: The $1 billion local installation project will save hundreds of millions of dollars, because once the solar, wind, and efficiency are built and paid off, they will bring in huge revenues and savings from facilities which produce essentially free energy, and discounts, because they dramatically decrease the necessity to pay for fuel to run traditional generators.

Posted by Eric Brooks on Apr. 03, 2013 @ 2:41 pm

I do not want my tax dollars going to speculative ventures.

I want my city to stick to it's core services.

The voters have always rejected city-run power.

And in fact I want to see Hetch-Hetchy torn downj - it's an environmental abortion.

Posted by anon on Apr. 03, 2013 @ 2:52 pm

it is not the place of local government to risk tax payer money on an investment that may or may not pay off. Plus wind power currently is not cost effective. Fuel for traditional generators is cheap, you need to look at taxing fuel for its real cost to the enviroment to make alternatives cost effective.

Posted by Chris Pratt on Apr. 03, 2013 @ 4:09 pm

But I do not think that more taxes on anything is the solution either.

Did any jurisdiction ever tax itself into prosperity?

Well, actually, a few tax havens like Andorra did but they did that by only taxing foreigners!

Posted by Guest on Apr. 03, 2013 @ 4:27 pm

This is a deal with Shell Oil, and while the power they provide may be renewable, it is FAR from clean or green. Shell has been clear about the fact that they are not planning to invest in wind or solar, and will rely on biomass. You can burn and regrow forests, which makes them renewable, but biomass releases four times as much CO2 as natural gas. Plain and simple: it's not cleaner. Before we ask people to pay significantly more, let's come up with a program that makes sense.

Posted by Timer on Apr. 03, 2013 @ 10:22 pm

If we wait to make it perfect, we'll be waiting forever, which is what PG&E wants. I just want a choice to not pump more money into the coffers of PG&E. Shell's pretty awful too, but they haven't rigged elections here, or blown up any neighborhoods, so until we come up with something better, I'll take it.

Posted by Greg on Apr. 03, 2013 @ 11:12 pm

the coty has to run it. The voters have repeatedly told us that they want PG&E running power, and not the same people that (don't) fix the street and run Muni.

So we could do what they have done in various European nations and let several utilities bid for domestic supply and compete with each other. You can choose the greenest, if you want, or the cheapest.

Personally, with PG&E now at 60% sustainable, I'm happy to stay with them. The fact that they will be much cheaper than this uneasy marriage of city bureaucrats and big oil just makes the case even stronger.

Posted by Guest on Apr. 04, 2013 @ 9:51 am

In reference to Marin's CCA (Marin Clean Energy), Tim Redmond writes that "a similar system is working well in Marin County." We'll, yes. It is "working well" -- at least if it doesn't bother residents that Marin is building NO local renewables. And it should be noted that MCE's grotesquely over-hyped PPA with San Rafael Airport for slightly less than one megawatt of solar power would likely never have happened without relentless pressure from a small handful of activists and the ongoing critical analysis of ONE local newspaper, SolarTimes (www.solartimes.org). MCE is "working well if no one minds that behind closed doors and in direct breach of its solemn promises, Marin Energy Authority (Marin Clean Energy's Joint Powers Authority or "purchasing arm") quietly EXTENDED its contract with one of the world's worst polluters and human rights abusers. Right. Shell Oil. That little item never made its way into the front pages of Marin's "Independent Journal" or the Pacific Sun, the county's two primary newspapers. Both of these local papers. btw, frequently feature MCE's press releases as if they were an "objective" news source and played the San Rafael Airport PPA "story" on their front pages, as if one megawatt of purchased solar power was somehow "groundbreaking" for a CCA that initially tried to market itself as "green and local." Both newspapers receive hefty ad revenue from MCE, which likely explains why neither seem able to put down their pom-poms long enough to do their job, and protect the public interest. If the SFBG considers Marin Clean Energy. to be a CCA that is "working well," then maybe it is not the progressive little newspaper it once was. I hope that is not the case

Posted by Sandy LeonVest on Apr. 04, 2013 @ 11:28 am