PG&E union turns to to attack renewable energy program


As the issue of climate change heats up again on the national stage, a local program seeking to provide San Franciscans with the option to purchase 100 percent renewable energy has come under attack by a group intertwined with California’s largest utility company.

An online petition posted to targets San Francisco’s CleanPowerSF initiative and urges petitioners to call for it to be halted. The group behind the petition and a second one posted on Facebook is the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) 1245, a union representing Pacific Gas & Electric Co. employees.

PG&E annually pumps more than 2 million metric tons of CO2 into the atmosphere. The majority of its electricity is derived from nuclear and natural gas power plants. If CleanPowerSF manages to attract San Francisco customers who would prefer to power their homes with green energy, PG&E stands to lose. 

Customers who decide to break with PG&E and go with CleanPowerSF can make a climate-friendly switch to juice derived totally from renewable energy sources – but things aren’t that simple. Originally envisioned as a program that would offer electricity generated by local green power sources operated by San Francisco residents, the scope of the project changed when the SFPUC decided it would be too unrealistic to achieve this goal at the outset. Instead, the power agency opted to contract with Shell Energy North America to administer the program and procure the renewable power, leaving local power generation on the back burner.

Shell’s awful environmental track record has given IBEW Local 1245, PG&E’s “people behind the power,” plenty of ammunition to take aim at CleanPowerSF. Using a Shell icon dripping with oil as the petition logo, the misleading PR campaign apparently hinges on getting casual Internet surfers to associate a green power program with an oil spill. That and a higher power bill, of course. 

Titled “Stop San Francisco Shell Shock,” the petition claims CleanPowerSF is “projected to DOUBLE electricity generation rates in San Francisco.” Sounds scary, but again – things aren’t that simple.

This statement misses two key points, according to SFPUC spokesperson Charles Sheehan. No. 1: “It’s a program that people can opt out of,” meaning anyone who feels like paying the same rates under PG&E is free to do so, and won’t face any rate increase other than that imposed by PG&E.

No. 2: “We haven’t set rates.” Sheehan went on to explain that SFPUC commissioners will set rates only after a Rate Fairness Board and other sources have submitted recommendations. The rates will then be forwarded onto the Board of Supes, who will have 30 days to decide whether to reject or allow them.

Taking a broad view, here’s a parting thought from renowned environmentalist Bill McKibben, who went to the Vermont Statehouse today to address lawmakers about climate change. “Globally, loss-related floods have more than tripled since 1980, and windstorm natural catastrophes more than doubled, with particularly heavy losses from Atlantic hurricanes. This rise cannot be explained without global warming.”


How much more is not clear yet. I will certainly decline and stay with PG&E to save money but, insiduously, I will have tot ake action to opt out.

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Posted by oral sex on Feb. 06, 2013 @ 7:35 pm

sustainable. While you'd probably argue that their nuclear power should not be classified that way, it is reasonable to argue that nuclear is sustainable.

Posted by anon on Jan. 30, 2013 @ 3:02 pm

One of these days, not sure when it will be, but I'm sure one of these days the Bay Guardian will finally accept the fact that Shell is just about as much of an enemy to the environment as Pacific Gas and Electric.

Posted by Guest on Jan. 30, 2013 @ 7:50 pm

If it was revealed that PG&E's competitor was getting their resources from *HELL*, then I would gladly start buying from the Devil just to undercut PG&E.

Yeah, Shell's evil, but at least they don't muck around with our local politics. That said, I hope we can eventually do better.

Posted by Greg on Jan. 30, 2013 @ 11:02 pm

willing to pay for the same product? To a different private corporation? How much more will the average consumer be willing to pay? I think that CleanPowerSF is doomed. It's like Obamacare for public utilities.

I've said it before (and others will write that it's not politically feasible), but if we want public power, push for it. A hybrid politically expedient but more expensive option will likely fail and set back efforts for a publically-owned utility.

Shell may not muck around much in local politics yet, but they will when they have a greater financial interest here.

Posted by Eddie on Jan. 30, 2013 @ 11:27 pm

The voters always rejected it. It's just not a big deal for the average voter, who just wants the lights to come on when he throws the switch.

Even Brugmann gave up in the end. Some battles you cannot win.

Posted by Guest on Jan. 31, 2013 @ 8:08 am

I'll pick anyone but PiG&E, but it's not a winning option in the end. Public power did win in 2001. We were cheated out of our victory. But whatever. Let's take a page out of the right's playbook and try again and again. We've hit the 50% mark or close to it in every election, and PG&E has done a lot of things to piss people off since the last time we tried -smart meters, rising electricity rates, spending $50 million of ratepayer money on a failed statewide anti-public power initiative, and blowing up San Bruno. There's plenty of material there for a new political campaign.

Posted by Greg on Jan. 31, 2013 @ 8:41 am

It lost in 2001 by less than the other times but even you have to accept that clearly most voters really weren't bothered.

This hatred against PG&E is illogical since most utility and energy companies are run in the same way. It smacks more of a personal vendetta by the obsessional bruce Brugmann, but even he has given up on it now.

Posted by Guest on Jan. 31, 2013 @ 9:43 am

If you look nationally, this just isn't true. California is one of the only states in the country where utilities are the only provider for electricity. Usually you can buy electricity from private companies instead of the utility over the same lines, but CA prevents it in all cases except for "community choice aggregation" (public power) programs.

There are a lot of similar community choice aggregation programs in the New England area, and I believe Illinois and Ohio too. They've been quite successful.

Posted by Guest on Jan. 31, 2013 @ 10:11 am

than there is for them to run the phones or the airlines or food stores.

Governments work best when they focus on their core activities rather than try and do everything. Most of us would settle for betetr public safety, fixing the streets and running muni on time.

Posted by Guest on Jan. 31, 2013 @ 1:27 pm

If you want to see mind blowing bureaucracy, try working at PG&E.

Posted by Guest on Jan. 31, 2013 @ 2:44 pm

always be more demanding than taxpayers who are kept in the dark.

Nobody wants the same guys who run muni controlling whether your lights come on.

Posted by Guest on Jan. 31, 2013 @ 3:02 pm

Their profits are guaranteed by the PUC.

Posted by Eddie on Jan. 31, 2013 @ 3:29 pm
Posted by Guest on Jan. 31, 2013 @ 3:43 pm

Shareholders get a guaranteed rate of return with PG&E via the PUC. If PG&E underperforms, they get to raise rates to cover the difference so that shareholders get their dividends. Look it up.

Posted by Guest on Jan. 31, 2013 @ 3:59 pm

penny? That's fascinating. What will it be at close of business tomorrow? Should be easy for you to say, right?

Posted by anon on Jan. 31, 2013 @ 4:15 pm

I don't think you understand what the term dividends means. It is a portion of corporate profits paid to stockholders. It's independent of actual stock share price.

Posted by Guest on Feb. 13, 2013 @ 10:07 am

That's odd because I keep reading about this metric called "yield" which directly relates the two.

Posted by anon on Feb. 13, 2013 @ 10:16 am

Take A Good Look At is more than successful, and many others as well. There are even Profits putting money back into the Local Budgets.... PG&E Spends Our Money on Generous Donations to hide their deceitful practices....
We are Little Red Riding Hood !!!

Posted by Guest on Feb. 01, 2013 @ 1:02 pm

Or spends it on political campaigns to keep you with PG&E. They even have a portion of their budget put aside to campaign against people like SMUD moving into their area. It's kind of amazing that they can take your money and use it to campaign against yourself.

Posted by Guest on Feb. 13, 2013 @ 10:09 am

Yes, a new campaign to get rid of PG&E! But this is not the deal. At the very least we should demand that the terms be that the customer must opt-in to change provider -- none of this opt-out stuff. We've seen how well that worked for the consumer with PG&E's "smart" meters! Big dysfunctional rigamarole to try to opt out: (Good luck, suckers.!)

Posted by Aunt Tom on Apr. 13, 2013 @ 7:27 pm

it's not "the same product."

though green electrons and dirty electrons can both be put to use in the same way, the different methods by which they were delivered to the consumer mean that they are not "equal." here's your word for the day: externalities. look it up. elevate the discussion.

Posted by Guest on Jan. 31, 2013 @ 2:08 pm

tell me what form of power was used to generate it.

Posted by Guest on Jan. 31, 2013 @ 2:24 pm

But to the average customer, the product is virtually the same, electricity for his or her house.

I am well aware of the concept of externalities from general knowledge and because I have a degree in Economics.

All electrons are the same by the way. The environmental effects of the different types of their generation differs. In addition to having a degree in Economics, I am also an electrician.

I strongly support a carbon tax to capture the externalities of electicity generation.

I hope that elevated the discussion enough for your liking.

Posted by Eddie on Jan. 31, 2013 @ 2:26 pm

On April 24th, 2012, PG&E submitted a proposal to state regulators for a new clean energy program that would give its electric customers an opportunity to support 100% renewable energy for an average of a few dollars a month.

As bad as PG&E is, they are based in California, headquartered in San Francisco, and employ many of our neighbors and friends.

And Dutch Shell Oil Company.....

Posted by Richmondman on Jan. 31, 2013 @ 6:06 am

Not only are PG&E Employees your neighbors, they are Mayors and Voting Councilmen......etc.
Why do you suppose??

Posted by Guest on Feb. 01, 2013 @ 1:04 pm

Not Only are PG&E Employees your neighbors,....they are Mayors...Voting Council members........etc.
Why do you suppose so ??

Posted by Guest on Feb. 01, 2013 @ 1:07 pm

The big mislead here is about Shell, which has been hyped only because it's such a stigmatizing brand. The branch of Shell working this contract is just a wholesaler of electricity - PG&E buys a lot from them too. They're not making the electricity itself, they're reselling renewable energy to the city, under some pretty strict requirements for what and how. This is a temporary contract to put demand on the renewable energy market by utilizing more renewable energy until they can independently sign contracts to build new renewable energy projects.

And since it came up, PG&E gets about 20% of its power from renewable energy. It claims about 60% is carbon-free, which includes nuclear and hydro which have other impacts. It's one of the cleaner utilities in the country, but on the other side of things, it has fought environmental requirements set by the state and failed to meet these goals for many years.

What CleanPowerSF is proposing would definitely be cleaner and would promote renewable energy development. It would also give the city a lot more choice about where to get their energy sources from. But because what they're doing is so green - aiming for 100% in-state renewable energy - it will definitely cost more, unlike Marin's program which is actually cheaper than PG&E.

Posted by Guest on Jan. 31, 2013 @ 9:47 am

And who knows where Shell will get their power from in the end?

Posted by Guest on Jan. 31, 2013 @ 1:29 pm

Debate it however you want, but nuclear is certainly not renewable. Large hydro is currently not considered renewable, while small hydro is. PG&E is in no way 60% renewable. Percentage of renewable is also a really crappy way of measuring environmental impact, as it ignores the differences between gas/coal/nuclear/hydro.

It's pretty easy to see where "Shell got their power from", as it has to be reported to the California Public Utilities Commission in renewable portfolio updates. Shell's responsible for a number of the PG&E energy sources listed in their filings as well.

Posted by Guest on Jan. 31, 2013 @ 2:39 pm

sense that they are infinite and eternal.

If Shell lied to you, you would never know.

Posted by Guest on Jan. 31, 2013 @ 2:59 pm

when it needs a limited resource, uranium, for fuel? Witness the French war in Africa to protect its access to that resource.

Posted by Eddie on Jan. 31, 2013 @ 3:28 pm
Posted by Guest on Jan. 31, 2013 @ 3:43 pm

develops fusion electrical generation, get back to me.

The closest we have. One word: solar.

Posted by Eddie on Jan. 31, 2013 @ 4:08 pm

And we have enough nuclear fuel for millenia.

Posted by anon on Jan. 31, 2013 @ 4:17 pm

When do you change from Guest to anon? Different computers? After one of you statements is proven wrong? When the market is up? When it is down?

Posted by Eddie on Jan. 31, 2013 @ 4:31 pm

We are a long way from solar-pwered cars.

Posted by anon on Jan. 31, 2013 @ 4:41 pm

working out for you?

Short-sighted commenter.

Posted by Eddie on Jan. 31, 2013 @ 6:48 pm

It'll work once we get the flux capacitor.

Posted by Guest on Feb. 13, 2013 @ 10:10 am

Actually, the newest CleanPowerSF plan developed for the program by Local Power (the original creators of the Community Choice energy model which CleanPowerSF is based on) would:

1) Minimize to the greatest extent possible, Shell's role in the program.

2) Greatly reduce the rates to customers and make them essentially equal to current PG&E rates by using more Marin style clean energy purchasing of California compliant renewable electricity sources; and also by deploying low cost excess Hetch Hetchy hydro power into the energy mix.

3) Build hundreds of megawatts of local renewables and efficiency in the next five years, hiring about 3,000 workers per year.

In true bureaucratic style, the SF Public Utilities Commission staff is unfathomably resisting this new plan (which is clearly far better than their own Shell-only scenario) but we will eventually be able to get the new plan adopted based on simple common sense.

Posted by Eric Brooks on Jan. 31, 2013 @ 11:36 am

What is less clear is how much more expensive it will be. It will be like buying your veggies at WholeFoods - you pay more for organic but, in the end, it tastes exactly the same.

Posted by Guest on Jan. 31, 2013 @ 1:30 pm

Marin's program is giving its customers cheaper rates than PG&E right now. No reason SF couldn't do the same.

Posted by Guest on Jan. 31, 2013 @ 2:41 pm

any municipality that is charging under market for energy is simply fleecing their taxpayers and that is not "sustainable" either.

In all the time SFBG advocated public power, they NEVER intended it to be charged at cost, but rather hoped to steal the revenues and profits to fund their own pork projects

Posted by Guest on Jan. 31, 2013 @ 3:01 pm

The mistake you are making Guest is that you are assuming the CleanPowerSF program will just install renewables like solar. That's not how a good clean energy network operates.

The newly developed plan for CleanPowerSF will install solar, wind, storage, demand response, and most importantly, hundreds of megawatts of efficiency installations.

It is the efficiency installations (which bring in bill savings right away) that will make the whole system less expensive to rate payers than PG&E.

Posted by Eric Brooks on Feb. 01, 2013 @ 10:36 am

somewhere and, if borrowed, must be repaid with interest. That's starting from a higher cost basis and I will be shocked if PG&E isn't cheaper when the figures fianlly come out.

Posted by Guest on Feb. 01, 2013 @ 10:42 am

Again, you are not thinking this all the way through. First of all, PG&E also borrows to build infrastructure, and that borrowing is also paid back on customers' bills, with interest.

Most importantly, there is a key difference with CleanPowerSF. Because CleanPowerSF will build-out hundreds of megawatts of renewables and efficiency, once the up front costs of those clean energy installations are paid off, they will bring in large amounts of essentially free savings and revenues, because they don't require the added costs of purchasing fuel. Those revenues and savings will then be used to easily pay off the interest you are talking about and -still- save customers money.

The fundamental reality here is that PG&E's fossil fuel based dirty energy costs customers more, not less.

The CleanPowerSF build-out will change that, and free customers from being chained to fossil fuels.

And by the way, the numbers are already in, and they clearly show that the Local Power build-out model will save customers money.

Posted by Eric Brooks on Feb. 01, 2013 @ 4:24 pm

But at least initially, I have to believe that the "green " rates will be higher than PG&E's existing rates. After all, PG&E already have their infrastructure built out and so investment is mostly about maintenance.

So it might make sense to initially stay with PG&E and, at such point as GreenPower becomes cheaper, switch over.

And if then many do switch from PG&E, they will have lower revenues but spread across the same cost base, and so that may impact their ability to continue to be competitive.

I've certainly got nothing against competition in the power space and, in fact, would like to see competition for SFWater and SFMuni as well.

Posted by Guest on Feb. 01, 2013 @ 4:51 pm

As I said, I have looked at the model. I have seen the numbers. Because the Local Power plan incorporates inputs like energy efficiency and excess Hetch Hetchy power, it is competitive with PG&E rates in the first year as well.

Another key factor that you are not including, apparently because you are unaware of it, is that PG&E just raised its rates again, and is planning to raise them yet again by the end of the year.

We can, and will, do better than PG&E, beginning in the fall of this year when CleanPowerSF launches.

Posted by Eric Brooks on Feb. 02, 2013 @ 10:27 am

Political spin from Mr CleanpowerSF - a shill for Shell

Posted by Richmondman on Feb. 01, 2013 @ 11:09 am