Historic, veto-proof vote launches CleanPowerSF

Sup. David Campos addresses a CleanPowerSF rally before it was approved by the Board of Supervisors.
Steven T. Jones

The San Francisco Board of Supervisors today cast an historic vote that was more than a decade in the making, approving the CleanPowerSF program – which challenges PG&E’s monopoly by offering 100 percent renewable energy directly to city residents – on an 8-3 vote that would be enough to override an implied veto threat by Mayor Ed Lee.

The outcome was far from certain throughout the two-hour hearing as conservative Sups. Mark Farrell and Carmen Chu led efforts to undermine the program, which was the final work product of retiring San Francisco Public Utilities Commission Executive Director Ed Harrington, who previously served as the city’s controller for 17 years.

The pair of supervisors offered a series of amendments challenging the state requirement that city residents must proactively opt-out of such community choice aggregation (CCA) programs if they want to remain with PG&E, offering convoluted language that would have required people to opt-in to the program before its launch, and requiring that the $13 million in reserve funds from the SFPUC be covered entirely by CleanPowerSF customers, which could increase its rates.

“It looks like the amendments would be harmful to the success of the program,” Sup. Eric Mar observed, prompting Farrell and Chu to flash broad conspiratorial smiles at one another.

Sup. Scott Wiener, who was undecided and considered a key swing vote in reaching a veto-proof majority, said he also had concerns about the opt-out requirement and wanted to better understand how the amendments would work and whether they were legal. “For me, I’m not interested in putting any poison pills in here,” he said.

Wiener posed questions about the amendments to Farrell and to Harrington, who said it was possible for the SFPUC to have CleanPowerSF customers repay the initial allocation of reserve funds over time but that he wasn’t sure how the opt-in change would work without sabotaging the program.

“It harms the ability to have an intelligent conversation with people,” Harrington said, noting that rates are based on the number of customers in the program, so it would be nearly impossible to survey everyone’s potential interest without being able to tell them how their bills would be affected.

As it is, the SFPUC has already done extensive surveys of which neighborhoods and demographics are likely to be interested in taking part in CleanPowerSF, initially paying about $10 more per month for 100 percent renewable energy (PG&E’s portfolio includes less than 30 percent renewable). “We’ve done extensive surveys already,” Harrington said. Based on that research, the city is initially rolling out the program to less than a third of city residents, who will be repeatedly notified about how to opt-out, anticipating about 90,000 customers remain in the initial program. 

The program has been repeatedly tweaked over the last eight years that it’s been in development, during which time Marin County launched a successful version of the CCA concept that was developed in San Francisco by legislators Tom Ammiano, Carole Migden, and Mark Leno.

“I feel pretty comfortable trusting Ed Harrington on whether the numbers add up,” said the measure’s chief sponsor, Sup. David Campos, arguing against the Farrell/Chu amendments, later adding, “With Ed Harrington leading this charge, this is as good as it gets. If you don’t like CCA under Ed Harrington, you’re not going to like CCA.”

Farrell claimed to support CCA in concept, but he strenuously objected to the opt-out requirements that Migden included in the enabling state legislation, which she had argued was the only way to make CCAs viable against PG&E’s proven willingness to spend tens of millions of dollars to sabotage would-be competitors.

“It’s the wrong way to legislate, the opt-out. It smells of coercion,” Farrell said. Campos countered that, “The best thing we can give the consumers in San Francisco is a choice, a meaningful choice.”

Wiener ultimately made a motion to delay the item by a week, something Mayor Lee yesterday told the Chronicle he wanted, in order to further study the opt-out issue, telling Farrell that his amendment “feels a little seat of the pants to me.”

Campos and other progressive supervisors who were supporting CleanPowerSF argued against the continuance, noting that it has been years in development and sitting in board committees since January, while the Farrell/Chu amendments weren’t offered until this meeting had already begun.    

“This is not going to change because we wait a week to make a decision,” Campos said. “The terms of this deal are not going to change.”

The motion for a continuance failed on a 4-7 vote, with Wiener joined by Farrell, Chu, and Sup. Sean Elsbernd (who offered no comments throughout the hearing).

Then, as the vote on the Farrell/Chu opt-in amendment came up for vote, Wiener said, “I don’t feel comfortable voting for amendments that I don’t know what they’ll do,” and it failed on a 3-8 vote.

Sup. Malia Cohen had earlier indicated a willingness to support the other Farrell/Chu amendment: saddling CleanPowerSF customers with paying the SFPUC back for reserve fund costs – which Harrington indicated could be dragged out over many years to minimize the impact on rates, and which might not be necessary at all if the initial program exceeds expectations.

That amendment was then approved on an 8-3 vote, with Sups. Jane Kim, Christina Olague, and John Avalos opposed. Another set of amendments that would keep low-income city residents out of the initial rollout and take other steps to reduce their rates if they opted in – which was developed by Kim, Cohen, and Sup. Eric Mar – was unanimously approved by the board.

Then it was time for the big vote on creating the CleanPowerSF program, approving the contract with Shell Energy Northern California to administer it, and authorizing the initial $19.5 million expenditure. Would there be eight votes to override a veto by Mayor Lee, who has been under pressure by PG&E and their downtown allies to kill the program?

“To be perfectly candid, I struggled mightily with this contract,” Wiener said, reiterating his concern about its opt-in requirement, noting that the measure wasn’t perfect, even though it was significantly improved from earlier versions. It sounded as if he were about to vote against it.

“What we have the opportunity to do is move forward with clean power,” Wiener said, noting that even Marin County supervisors who initially opposed its CCA have come around to supporting it. “This is something I believe we should try.”

And with that, the board voted 8-3 to launch the program in mid-2013, with Chu, Farrell, and Elsbernd opposed.

Campos said he was “pleasantly surprised” by the vote, while key supporters say they are cautiously hopeful it will stand up during next week's final supervisorial approval on second reading and in a veto override vote, if that becomes necessary. Campos said he was thankful for the work of Harrington, who got a standing ovation after the vote as the board recognized him for his long service to the city.

Earlier in the meeting, Harrington told supervisors that while the program isn’t perfect, and it contains some risks that he considers reasonable, there is no other way the city has identified to meet ambitious greenhouse gas reduction goals it has set for itself over the last decade. It is city policy to reduce emissions by 25 percent below 1990 levels by 2017 and 80 percent below those levels by 2050.

“This program before you has the only chance of reaching those goals. There’s nothing else,” Harrington said. He also said “it’s an incredibly efficient way to spend money,” noting that the city has spent $90 million on solar and other renewable energy projects that power fewer than 7,000 homes, whereas this $19.5 million will power 90,000 households, possibly without ever tapping into that $13 million reserve fund set aside to cover any losses by Shell, which will buy renewable energy, a role the city hopes to eliminate as it develops its own projects.

Harrington said the ultimate goal of CleanPowerSF is to develop a large enough customer base that the city could use revenue bonds to finance a wide variety of renewable energy projects – many using solar arrays along city-owned property connected to its water system stretching all the way to Hetch Hetchy Valley – that would pay for themselves.

“The real issue is can you build a facility that will have this rate structure support it?” Harrington said.

That’s the real power and potential of CleanPowerSF – finally taking action to address global warming, which will have a huge impact on San Francisco and future generations – as supporters noted in a rally outside City Hall before the meeting. Sen. Mark Leno said that he doesn’t usually weigh in on proposals before the board, but that, “This is an exceptional time and this is an exceptional vote. This is the time that we need to address our inconvenient truth.”


As Bruce wisely stated earlier, Sheriff Mirkarimi has been punished enough due to his defiance of the wishes of PG&E. The continual torture of the infinitely elegant Eliana and the wise and powerful Ross must end, and today's vote shows the error in Lyin' Ed Lee's campaign to tear apart and ultimately destroy this beautiful family. This affirmation of democracy shows the lie inherent in the persecution of the Mirkarimi family. We demand an end to this extended farce, that Ross be immediately allowed to resume his office without further penalty and both full back-pay and reparations for Ross and his beautiful family. Thanks.

Posted by JCCourt on Sep. 18, 2012 @ 10:45 pm

So Eliana is "infinitely elegant"? Is she a fractal?

Posted by Ebro on Sep. 19, 2012 @ 7:46 am

Take it elsewhere. People just repeat the same shit over and over, no matter whose side they're on (Mirkarimi case). You'd think you'd all get tired of listening to yourselves talk. I know I am.

Posted by Guest on Sep. 22, 2012 @ 1:29 pm

but have you ever taken a moment and stopped to think about how relatively free this forum is from internet trolls -- when compared to SFGate?

Posted by lillipublicans on Sep. 18, 2012 @ 11:53 pm

Now you say it's not a problem.

On SFGate, YOU are a troll.

Posted by Guest on Sep. 19, 2012 @ 3:38 pm

You must be sh*tting us. Are we looking at the same site??

Posted by Guest on Sep. 22, 2012 @ 1:18 pm

The Examiner the other day said it was opt out because of state law, now it seems here that Campos could have written it as an opt in program.

So glad that progressives know how we all should be living our lives, yet get irate when it is done to them. No real difference between them and any other group of true believers.

Posted by matlock on Sep. 19, 2012 @ 12:34 am

"... the SFPUC has already done extensive surveys of which neighborhoods and demographics are likely to be interested in taking part in CleanPowerSF... Based on that research, the city is initially rolling out the program to less than a third of city residents, who will be repeatedly notified about how to opt-out, anticipating about 90,000 customers remain in the initial program."

Amusing to consider, matlock, that you may be stewing in the juices of your own impotence if, as seems likely, you live in a enclave of like-minded tools.

*reposted to correct my mistaken use of "conclave" for "enclave."

Posted by lillipublicans on Sep. 19, 2012 @ 6:49 am

He truly believes that there's no difference at all between the left and the right. He makes that point here in every single post, each and every day. And never deviates from that message. A real Moonie, that one.

Posted by Guest on Sep. 22, 2012 @ 1:32 pm

"... the SFPUC has already done extensive surveys of which neighborhoods and demographics are likely to be interested in taking part in CleanPowerSF... Based on that research, the city is initially rolling out the program to less than a third of city residents, who will be repeatedly notified about how to opt-out, anticipating about 90,000 customers remain in the initial program."

Amusing to consider, matlock, that you may be stewing in the juices of your own impotence if, as seems likely, you live in a conclave of like-minded tools.

Posted by lillipublicans on Sep. 19, 2012 @ 5:46 am

more to have Shell's clean power than than PG&E's clean power, the opt-outs will be massive.

And as you say, it will only be rolled out in the affluent, groovy area's of SF. The blue-collar working-class types that SFBG claims to stand for won't get a look-in.

This is a non-issue. PG&E will still be everywhere.

Posted by Guest on Sep. 19, 2012 @ 7:30 am

I think not. People want clean power but because of the monopoly that PG&E has placed on the local energy business you probably didn't even know PG&E offers renewables to residents. Yes they have a solar program, but what if you are not a homeowner or you've bought into a nice new condo and the HOA says no - than you are out of luck. But the real business of it is that they offer an energy cocktail of renewables, nuclear, coal, fossil and large component of something called "unspecified resources". Dirty power is cheaper and they will make more money from selling it throughout all of their territories. If you recall the 2008 election, they paid millions to groups to go against the momentum and support of a CCA program. In fact they spent about $40 million in the local election. Why is that? Why don't they want us to have clean energy when it's something that will help our environment now and generations to come. They don't want this because it comes down to their lost revenues, not because they care about the great people of the city. It's because if San Francisco does it, it will unravel a host of city's that will implement this action across California. Also keep in mind that in May, PG&E said that they are going to increase customer rates for those in tier 1 (that's most of us residential customers throughout San Francisco) by year end. So you are going to pay more for your energy anyway why not have a choice.

Posted by Guest Citified on Sep. 22, 2012 @ 10:13 am

but not if you stick with PG&E. Rate hikes coming to pay for these smart meters.

Posted by Guest on Sep. 22, 2012 @ 1:11 pm

The cost of solar panels has fallen 75%
over the past 20 years.
The cost of oil, gas, coal & nukes
must go up every year, because....?

What is the cost to clean up Fukushima?

Fukushima has destroyed fishing along the West Coast.

Fukushima will melt down again about Xmas.
It will be 10X worse than 3-11-11.
We have a slim chance to save the world
if we all put 100 solar panels on our property.

Posted by Paul Kangas on Sep. 06, 2013 @ 8:18 pm

You need to trick people people into going along with your schemes and you whine about "impotence?"

Posted by matlock on Sep. 20, 2012 @ 6:04 pm

It's gotten support from across the aisle. Are you saying Weiner, et al, got bamboozled? How's that? I only worry about your impotence, Matlock. You've got to be the most comical (read ineffectual) troll anywhere online.

Posted by Guest on Sep. 22, 2012 @ 1:24 pm

They should be forced to roll it out in the districts of the Supervisors that voted for the measure.

Posted by Guest on Sep. 19, 2012 @ 10:40 am

Paying more than you have to for energy because you think it's source is more noble is decidedly a thing that only yuppies and one-percenters can do.

Posted by Guest on Sep. 19, 2012 @ 11:55 am

The legislation passed on Tuesday directs the SFPUC to make CleanPowerSF lower cost for low income residents and to make sure that low income customers get a preference for access to energy and money saving renewable energy and efficiency installations.

Posted by Eric Brooks on Sep. 20, 2012 @ 7:58 am

All appliances will turn backwards!

Electric stoves will have to made to serve for refrigeration and people will need to use their refrigerator to cook meals!

Washing machines will dry cloths and dryers will wash them, with *no* provision to add fabric softener!

Light bulbs will only come on when you turn *off* the switch, thereby making efforts to save power by turning lights off backfire horribly!

Posted by lillipublicans on Sep. 20, 2012 @ 9:25 am

That's correct. PG&E already offers low income customers low cost energy thanks to the California Public Utilities Commission so CleanPowerSF will continue to mirror that policy.

Posted by Guest Citified on Sep. 22, 2012 @ 10:16 am

"It appears that Pacific Gas & Electric Company, which portrays itself as a "green" utility, is involved in a project that promises to not only ratchet up the rapid growth of fracking, but also threatens to raise the price of natural gas in the United States, possibly even doubling or tripling it. Such a price hike would lead to higher utility bills for Bay Area homeowners and renters, while driving up the cost of doing business in California and throughout the country.

"The proposed natural gas scheme involves sending fracked gas from Wyoming and Colorado, via a pipeline that PG&E is a partner in, to Oregon for export to Asia. Currently, there's high demand for inexpensive fossil fuel, particularly in China and Japan. The natural gas terminal in Coos Bay, Oregon, which is co-owned by PG&E, coupled with another potential one on the Oregon Coast, plus one in British Columbia and two on the Gulf Coast, promise to greatly expand US natural gas exports. Environmentalists and industry analysts alike say such a development would have two major impacts: It would drive up demand for fracked natural gas and likely fuel the spread of fracking throughout the nation; and it would likely raise the price of natural gas sold in the United States."


Posted by Guest on Sep. 22, 2012 @ 1:38 pm
Posted by Eric Brooks on Sep. 22, 2012 @ 1:59 pm

The only way we can stop Fracking is
by install 100 solar panels on every home.

The residents of San Bruno do not want gas pipelines.
PG&E should be required to put solar panels
on every home in San Bruno,
as part of the $2.5 billion dollar fine.

Make San Bruno the first 100% solar powered city
in California.
Safety first.

Posted by Paul Kangas on Sep. 06, 2013 @ 8:25 pm