LAFCo should launch CleanPowerSF

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OPINION Last month, the Mayor's Office and San Francisco Public Utilities Commission (SFPUC) — largely at the mayor's behest — refused to launch CleanPowerSF, a program which is absolutely crucial to leading the country and the world to reverse the climate crisis (see "Power struggle," Sept. 18).

The Board of Supervisors must now use its state-granted authority to activate San Francisco's Local Agency Formation Commission (LAFCO) to launch CleanPowerSF, regardless of SFPUC.

CleanPowerSF plans currently waiting to be implemented would create 1,500 jobs a year for the next 10 years, and install over 400 megawatts of local clean electricity projects. By 2024, 50 percent of our electricity would be generated by such local clean installations.

The newest proposed rates for CleanPowerSF are now fully competitive with PG&E, and the SFPUC's staff (before the mayor intervened) was making unprecedented progress on the local clean energy installation plans. So at the SFPUC's Aug. 13 hearing on CleanPowerSF rate-setting, community and environmental advocates stood unanimously to urge that the program be launched.

For the mayor and SFPUC of what is supposed to be one of the most environmental cities on Earth to completely ignore those community advocates, and throw a monkey wrench into the launching of CleanPowerSF, is simply beyond the pale.

Thankfully, in its wisdom, when the 2002 California Legislature passed the Community Choice law that made CleanPowerSF possible, it put city councils and county boards legally in charge of such programs (not mayors).

So is not up to the Mayor's Office whether or not CleanPowerSF is launched. It is instead the job of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors. And in a resounding 9-2 vote on Sept. 17, the Board of Supervisors raked the SFPUC (and by extension, the mayor) over the coals for not initiating CleanPowerSF. The vote was in favor of Sup. London Breed's resolution demanding that the SFPUC obey the will of the board and launch CleanPowerSF immediately.

That's a great first step, but the board now needs to go beyond resolutions and take decisive action through LAFCo, its most powerful tool for moving CleanPowerSF. LAFCo is independent of city government, is funded and tasked to oversee new enterprise programs like CleanPowerSF, and four of its five members are elected supervisors.

 

This independent supermajority can check mayoral overreach, and the LAFCo's current board commissioners are John Avalos, David Campos, Eric Mar, and London Breed, all advocates of CleanPowerSF.

LAFCo was specifically given the budget and authority to act on CleanPowerSF when SFPUC fails to do so, and has already done this successfully in the past. When CleanPowerSF was first created in 2004, SFPUC refused to draft an implementation plan. In response, LAFCo stepped in with its own implementation plan and SFPUC, not wanting to lose influence, got back to work.

In 2011, SFPUC tried to sidetrack CleanPowerSF into only purchasing (but not building) clean power, refusing to fund planning work to establish a local installation and green jobs program. LAFCO stepped in to fund that work itself, and again SFPUC came back to the fold and hired Community Choice experts Local Power to do the work.

Now, yet again, SFPUC is refusing to do its job. Six months ago, it abruptly halted work on the local buildout and green jobs plan, and last month SFPUC put the whole program on hold by not setting rates.

LAFCo must now use its authority and leverage to both remove the rate-setting road block, and get the CleanPowerSF local buildout planning back on track. Eric Brooks is the sustainability chair of the San Francisco Green Party.

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