PG&E union mounts attack on Clean Power SF


The union that represents PG&E workers -- and has opposed every single public-power initiative in modern San Francisco history -- just launched an attack on Clean Power SF. And the union's business representative is having a hard time explaining exactly why he's working with PG&E to try to undermine this modest step toward public power.

Hunter Stern, with IBEW Local 1245, sent a press release out Sept. 11 announcing the start of a campaign to convince the supervisors not to approve the Clean Power SF plan. The line of attack: Shell Energy, which got the contract to supply sustainable energy to customers in the city, in competition with PG&E. The pitch:

San Francisco city government is considering a proposal to partner with Shell Energy of North America to inaugurate SF’s so-called “clean power” program. If the Board of Supervisors approves the proposal, San Francisco would pay millions to Shell, one of the most notorious environmental violators in business today.

Shell's a pretty bad company. So is PG&E. So is just about everyone in the energy business. Not justifying Shell's behavior, just noting: If you want a contractor to deliver electricty to San Francisco, you aren't going to get a cool independent small business. You aren't even going to get Google. These folks are evil, all of them.

Oh, and by the way: Shell Energy also sells power to PG&E (pdf). Stern's boss has a contract similar to what the city is going to get. So the PG&E power we all pay for today is in part Shell power. And as Sup. David Campos points out, it wasn't as if the city chose Shell over some better competitors: There was no other company out there anywhere in the world that responded to the city's bid process and offered to work with Clean Power SF.

The key point here is that Clean Power SF is going to use Shell as a bridge -- the private outfit will deliver power generated at renewable facililities to the city's power operation, which will resell it to customers ... for a while. The goal is to use the revenue stream from the sales of power to back bonds that will allow the city to build its own renewable energy system. Five, maybe ten years down the road, San Francisco will have solar generators on city property (including large swaths of Public Utilities Commission property in the East Bay), wind generators, maybe at some point tidal generators, and will be able to sell cheap, clean, local power to customers. Shell will be gone.

Let's face it: this is a step on the path to creating a city-owned and city-run power system -- that is, a step to eliminating PG&E as a player in San Francisco's energy future. Public power will be cheaper and cleaner -- and it's going to take a while to get there. Which is why we need to start now.

PG&E knows this, too, and is fighting to block Clean Power SF, which comes before the board's Budget and Finance Committee Sept. 12. Now IBEW is allied, as usual, with the giant company.

The Stern press release talks about how Clean Power SF will be expensive:

The average home can expect to see a rate increase of 77% over their current PG&E electricity generation rates. That comes out to an increase of over $200 per year.  The higher cost of power would eat up more and more of the City budget, forcing service reductions and costing San Francisco vitally needed jobs. Our local economy would take a multi-million dollar hit.

Actually, not true: The only people who will pay for Clean Power SF are the ones who want it. The idea is that a significant number of San Franciscans will be willing to pay a little more -- maybe $10 a month -- to help save the planet. The ones who want to stick with PG&E wil have every opportunity to do so. The city budget isn't taking a hit -- municipal services already use the city's Hetch Hetchy hydropower. This doesn't cost the city money or jobs.

It will, of course, hurt PG&E.

I called Hunter Stern to talk about all of this, and we had a long conversation. He was polite and answered all of my questions. Sort of.

He insisted that IBEW isn't against community choice aggregation, that he's only worried about the city budget and the impacts on ratepayers. And Shell. So we started going around in circles, like this:

Me: So you don't oppose Clean Power SF?

Stern: We are not opposed to community choice aggregation. Just to this contract with Shell.

Me: I'm told Shell is the only contractor willing to fulfill this role.

Stern: That's what I'm told, too.

Me: So if you support CCA, what should the city do?

Stern: Find somebody else.

Me: The city has made it clear there IS nobody else.

Stern: We should put this on hold and wait around until there is.

Me: Why is IBEW unhappy with Shell?

Stern: This is contracting out.

Me: Is Shell Energy a nonunion company?

Stern: They don't generate power, they just buy and sell, so they don't really have any employees who could be in IBEW.

Me: So what if they city can use this revenue to build its own renewables, with union labor?

Stern: We aren't opposed to the city building its own renewables.

Me: But the idea here is to use the revenue stream from Clean Power SF to raise money for local renewables.

Stern: You don't need revenue to build local renewables. Just creativity.

Me: But the city has a huge budget problem now. There's no money to build local generation unless you have a revenue stream to bond against.

Stern: There are creative ways to do it.

Me: So you support CCA. You support building local renewables.Clean Power SF is a CCA program to build local renewables. Shell is the only company that answered the city's call for bids for this project. You don't have any labor issues with Shell. I don't understand where you're coming from.

Stern: I don't disagree with your checklist.

Me: So why are you against this project?

Stern: We don't think this is good for the city or for the ratepayers.

Me: But the ratepayers don't have to be a part of it if they don't want to.

Stern: I think the way the city is approaching that is a good strategy.

Round and round and round. It was making my head hurt. I wish I'd put it on tape so you could all listen.

I passed the press release along to Tyrone Jue at the SFPUC. He had a pretty clear response:

This attack is not surprising. IBEW is one of the largest unions at PG&E. They historically side with PG&E on all their issues. The fact is CleanPowerSF will not cost IBEW workers jobs. Ironically, the local renewable build out phase will be creating even more green union jobs. This happens while we weaning ourselves off dirty fossil fuel sources.San Franciscans want the choice to embrace a clean energy future. While PG&E shareholders stand to lose with CleanPowerSF, the consumer and environment stand to win.

He added:

Our ‘little creativity’ involves reinvesting revenue into aggressive energy efficiency and local renewable generation projects.  We’re simply not motivated to maximize profit at the expense of our customers or the environment.   Our common sense goal is to reinvest revenue into real projects that will reduce San Francisco’s carbon footprint, create local jobs, and build a sustainable energy future that is better for the environment and our customers.

Ugh. This is going to be a battle royal. I hope there are six votes on the board for Clean Power SF, which is imperfect but important. And then Mayor Lee will have to decide whether to side with his highly respected SFPUC general manager, Ed Harrington, who wants to make this happen, and PG&E, which doesn't.

Oh, by the way: PG&E pays Willie Brown about $250,000 a year as a "legal retainer." And I hear the mayor takes his phone calls.


I love how these things are worded.

"Participation in CleanPowerSF is easy and completely voluntary. Do nothing and you will receive cleaner energy; it’s that simple. Energy customers who wish to remain with PG&E may opt-out of CleanPowerSF at any time after they have been offered the program."

Posted by matlock on Sep. 11, 2012 @ 10:56 pm

If I were a PG&E worker, i'd be terrified of any more government interference or control. I don't blame them at all.

Oh, and according to the insert in my latest power bill, 60% of PG&E power comes from clean or renewable forms. Sounds pretty green to me.

Posted by Guest on Sep. 12, 2012 @ 4:10 am

If you look at their power mix label you you will notice this interesting little reality in regard to PG&E's 'clean' energy claims.

Posted by Eric Brooks on Sep. 12, 2012 @ 8:01 am

I'm not glowing any strange colors. Nuclear is clean. But much of PG&E's power is green anyway (not that I am a mindless kneejerk eco-hippy, anyway).

Posted by Guest on Sep. 12, 2012 @ 8:33 am

Perhaps you'd like to bathe in the Fukushima cooling tanks?

Posted by marcos on Sep. 12, 2012 @ 8:58 am

If I don't know, that can't hurt me can it? I don't need no stinking badges!

Posted by lillipublicans on Sep. 12, 2012 @ 9:36 am

I bet you didn't even know that.

Posted by Guest on Sep. 12, 2012 @ 9:48 am

That probably makes it safer than any other form of energy production.

Posted by Guest on Sep. 12, 2012 @ 9:41 am

Yeah, the fissionable materials spontaneously present themselves at the reactor site and spontaneously extinguish themselves after depletion.

Posted by marcos on Sep. 12, 2012 @ 9:45 am

which is really freaking dangerous, keeps building up with no way for us to safely store it, remaining dangerous for 20 times longer than all of recorded human history. No worries, right?

Posted by lillipublicans on Sep. 12, 2012 @ 9:58 am

In fact, I have a decent-sized shareholding in AEP and CCJ as a sign of my faith.

Posted by Guest on Sep. 12, 2012 @ 10:13 am

IBGYBG, laissez les bon temps roulez!

Posted by marcos on Sep. 12, 2012 @ 10:20 am

This is a little-known fact in the U.S. but it's the main reason that the Germans are phasing out nuclear power...and even pro-nuke French are giving it a second think.

Posted by Guest on Sep. 23, 2012 @ 2:11 pm

If it's a documented fact, where are the documents?

Posted by Guest on Sep. 23, 2012 @ 2:56 pm

Dr. Gould conclusively proved that both men and women who live within 100 miles of a nuclear power plant have a significantly higher risk of developing breast or prostate cancer. That's "The Enemy Within: The High Cost of Living Near Nuclear Reactors". Pick up a copy and educate yourself.

Posted by Guest on Sep. 23, 2012 @ 3:35 pm

Read an old book, "We Almost Lost Detroit by John G. Fuller
Terrifying, not humor. The real deal and a City that size, in my lifetime
He also wrote "The Ghost Of Flight 401", it was made into a TV movie starring Ernest Borgnine. Excellent..

Posted by Guest on Nov. 15, 2012 @ 6:15 pm


Anyway, PGE "sounds pretty green to me."

There, job done.

But seriously, people should opt out if they want - it's their choice, right? What's wrong with that?

Posted by PGE shill on Sep. 12, 2012 @ 7:05 am

I doubt that would be the case if power was run by the same people who run muni.

Posted by Guest on Sep. 12, 2012 @ 8:34 am

Every time I get on a bus that doesn't explode, I wonder what it would be like if PG&E ran MUNI

Posted by AlanSF on Feb. 16, 2013 @ 1:15 pm

The "City family" in charge of power supply?

It might work in the beginning, but all profits will eventually be sucked into the "city family" pension fund in order to cover its huge underfunded liability.

Posted by Guest on Sep. 12, 2012 @ 10:14 am

never once suggested running it "at cost" to reduce power bills for consumers. Rather they saw it as a source of revenue for their pet projects.

So instead of the profit going to shareholders, i.e. us, it would instead go to faceless city bureaucrats.

That's part of why public power has always lost at the ballot. Every single time. Even in liberal SF. The people aren't stupid.

Posted by Guest on Sep. 12, 2012 @ 11:14 am

but what you just described scares the shit out of me. Putting people like Ed Reiskin and the fools who run MUNI in control of our power supply is lunacy.

Just go solar - the city should be enabling every home to go solar though tax incentives and by allowing them to tack the install cost onto property tax bills - if they did that 99% of people would go solar within 5 years.

Posted by Troll II on Sep. 12, 2012 @ 3:30 pm

I'd focus more on departments in San Francisco that are more closely related to utilities: SFPUC and SF Environment, both of which have shown themselves to be much more competent than Muni.

Honestly, PG&E and Muni give each other a good run for their money in terms of incompetency. Leaving PG&E behind sounds like a good idea to me--and many cities around the country have seen great success with city energy--including cities that have incompetent transit agencies... (Santa Clara, Ashland, OR, etc.)

The city's plan gives a path off Shell, and includes a revenue stream to do exactly what you're advocating: solar and wind on private residences and businesses throughout the city, funded by this new revenue.

Posted by Guest on Sep. 15, 2012 @ 3:41 pm

Jeez, folks, look at facts. Cities all over the US run power systems, do it well and generally do if for less cost. Muni is a nightmare that loses money; selling power is a money-maker. (Like the Airport, for example. Public operation. Makes money. Runs much better than Muni.)

Palo Alto runs its own electrical system -- and the lights don't go out. Same for Santa Clara. Same for Sacramento. In fact, during the last round of major PG&E blackouts, public-power cities still had lights, while SF didn't. (That's right -- under PG&E, you threw the switch and the lights DIDN'T go on. But they worked fine in the places where the dreaded public employees were running things.)

PG&E not only runs a nuke, it's on an active earthquake fault, and is not built to withstand the maximum possible quake. The Hosgri Fault goes, and Fukashima will look like a garden party.

Posted by tim on Sep. 13, 2012 @ 1:22 pm

Actually it's the SFPUC (not MUNI) that will provide the power to residents and businesses in an opt out process. They are the same agency that provides your drinking water, sewer system clean up and treatment as well as energy to all of the city and county run buildings. That's why when there was a black out and many brown outs the city still had power.

The energy business is dirty, but PG&E is dirtier. Their power and money are a monopoly and in essence the reason they don't want any more players in town. Marin Clean Energy is the only other green energy Community Choice Aggregate program in California and they gave them pure h-e -double L hockey sticks. It's really about greed and fear. If SF does it, imagine all of the other cities that would follow throughout PG&E's territories.

Posted by Guest Citified on Sep. 18, 2012 @ 4:38 pm

Doesn't Shell kill people in Nigeria?

Posted by Guest on Sep. 24, 2012 @ 7:03 pm

PG&E will say absolutely anything to kill public power. They have less credibility on public power than they do on pipeline safety.

As it happens, we can know the actual effect of public power by looking at the hundreds of cities across America that operate their own power system.

IBEW has a right to oppose the measure, but they ought to be ashamed of themselves for mouthing PG&E's outrageous lies instead of speaking for themselves. Just one more example of the labor movement doing everything it can to alienate their natural allies and suck up to their proven enemies.

Posted by AlanSF on Feb. 16, 2013 @ 1:21 pm

Evidently that means nothing to you.

Posted by Guest on Feb. 16, 2013 @ 3:44 pm

Hi, thanks for sharing.

Posted by dog trainer on Apr. 11, 2013 @ 5:24 am

Why cant a Voting, Tax paying Homeowner, be allowed to participate in the Ca. State mandate of 33% Renewable Energy by 2020, with out third party leasing ? or using our Desert Eco-Systems ?

In California alone, third-party solar installations account for two-thirds of the residential PV market, which exceeded non-residential for the first time.

"Examples of how they have been “slowing the process” are:

(1) Renewable portfolio standards (RPS) which create de facto caps on the deployment of renewable energies. (The Germans don’t have any RPSs. Their FIT program is open ended, the more capacity, the merrier!)

(2) Net-metering caps. Most states only allow a small percentage of one to two percent of peak load to be net-metered. Net-metering, therefore, will certainly “hold back the clean energy tide.”.

(3) The third party leasing rent-to-own outfits like Sungevity, but more importantly, Solarcity, which just went public with an IPO, fight tooth and nail to protect scarce capacity carveouts (from the state RPSs) so as to bolster their chosen business models as the expense of all others. The same goes for the utility-scale folks. The in-fighting, due in part to the small de facto caps of the RPSs, have significantly slowed the deployment of renewables in the U.S.

(4) Most importantly is how we connect distributed renewable energies to the grid in the U.S., the most salient difference between the American net-metering program and the German feed-in tariff is that net-metering is *retail* energy whereas the FIT is *wholesale* energy. Thus, net-metering does little more than offset onsite loads and in the process it shifts the rate burdens of lost customers onto other ratepayers. Those rate burdens also include all of the utility’s overhead as well since compensation is at the retail rate. A FIT, on the other hand, as wholesale energy feeds the energy directly into the electric grid, and because it is must take wholesale energy it must be used first, and in many cases it will off set more expensive energies found on the grid, such as peaker plant power, spinning reserves and so forth saving rate payers money." Bob Tregilus.

Third party leasing is fine on the surface and is making a contribution in reducing our fossil fuel consumption, but third party leasers, the Big Boy solar companies that build in the Fragile Desert Eco-Systems, and the Utilities all fight over Renewable Portfolio Standards Pie allowance.

All Three leagues have a piece of the pie, but there is 4 to 8 teams in each league that want a piece of that carve out money pie, causing huge infighting, and as of right now the homeowner is left out of the ballgame, with no chance of eating the all american pie, why? because we are not represented at the Renewable Portfolio Standard dining hall, with a chair at the pie eating table.

"The benefits of owning a renewable energy system far outweigh the benefits of a lease or a power purchase agreement (PPA). Under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, homeowners are eligible for a federal personal income tax credit up to 30% of the purchase cost of their renewable energy system, without a maximum limit.** Homeowners can utilize the incentive money in any way they choose. But homeowners that choose to lease their systems turn over their rebates and incentives to the third party lease or PPA companies associated with the solar systems installed on their homes."

"The owner of a renewable energy system is also sheltered from rising electricity costs, which have historically increased on average of 3-5% each year. This presents homeowners with opportunities to save money each month on energy and also reduces their reliance on third-party utility companies. By purchasing a renewable energy system with cash or through a loan, a homeowner can completely pay off his or her system and then independently produce clean energy.

By choosing a lease or a PPA option homeowners are essentially substituting their utility companies with third-party leasing companies. Additionally, homeowners will likely be required to purchase their systems, renew their leases, or have the systems removed from their roof and revert to paying utility rates once their leases have ended." Charlie Angione.

"There’s absolutely no such thing as a $0 down solar lease or PPA and here’s why. A requirement of both of these financing programs is that you agree upfront to give the leasing or PPA company your 30% federal tax credit which is worth thousands of dollars as well as any other financial incentives.

At $5.57 per Watt. a 6 kW solar system would yield a federal tax credit of $10,026!

With a $0 down loan instead of a lease, you’ll get to keep the 30% federal tax credit as well as all other applicable financial incentives for yourself and you’ll own your solar system instead of renting it, for a much greater return on investment.

And if you do decide to lease instead of own, good luck ever selling your home with a lease attached to it. What homebuyer will want to purchase your home and assume your remaining lease payments on a used solar system on your roof, when they can buy and own a brand new system for thousands less." Ray Boggs

The Feed in Tariff is a policy mechanism designed to accelerate investment in Renewable Energy, the California FiT allows eligible customers generators to enter into 10- 15- 20- year contracts with their utility company to sell the electricity produced by renewable energy, and guarantees that anyone who generates electricity from R E source, whether homeowner, small business, or large utility, is able to sell that electricity. It is mandated by the State to produce 33% R E by 2020.

FIT policies can be implemented to support all renewable technologies including:
Photovoltaics (PV)
Solar thermal
Fuel cells
Tidal and wave power.

California law does not allow Homeowners to oversize their Renewable Energy systems.

Allowing homeowners to oversize their Renewable Energy systems, is a true capitalistic tool, that will give us the potential democratize our energy generation and transform millions of homes and small business into energy generators, during Sandy, Solar homes where not utilized to their full potential, because there was no disconnect and or transfer switch, to turn off incoming grid and start in home Solar power. how comforting it would be, to have mandatory transfer switches on all residential and small business renewable energy installations.

The state currently produces about 71% of the electricity it consumes, while it imports 8% from the Pacific Northwest and 21% from the Southwest.

Natural gas was burned to make 45.3% of California's power generated in-state in 2011. Nuclear power from Diablo Canyon in San Luis Obispo County accounted for 9.15%, large hydropower 18.3%, renewable 16.6% and coal 1.6%.

We need a National Feed in Tariff, for Renewable Energy, with laws that level the playing field, this petition starts with homeowners in California.

Japan, Germany, and our state of Hawaii, will pay residents between 13 - 37 cents per kilowatt hour, here in California they will pay a commercial FiT in a few counties at 17 cents per kilowatt hour, No Residential FiT and they wont let us oversize our Residential Renewable Energy systems.

Campaign to allow Californian residents to sell electricity obtained by renewable energy for a fair pro-business market price. Will you read, sign, and share this petition?

Posted by Daniel Ferra on Aug. 06, 2013 @ 1:36 pm