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Friday, June 11, 2010

After Prop. 16 Defeat, Public Power Advocates Still Can't Promise Cheaper Rates

Posted By and on Fri, Jun 11, 2010 at 7:00 AM

click to enlarge Still no price tag attached
  • Still no price tag attached
The weeks leading up to Tuesday's election saw no shortage of hand-wringing among public-power advocates. With passage of PG&E-backed Proposition 16 -- which would have required a two-thirds popular vote before municipal governments could get into the electricity business -- appearing possible, San Francisco officials were rushing to finalize the terms of their own Public Power Lite scheme, CleanPowerSF, before June 8.

As it turned out, Prop. 16 went down to defeat. But advocates of San Francisco's program say they plan to continue moving forward at a rapid clip with CleanPowerSF, which is known as a "community choice aggregation" or CCA program. (Under CCA, the government procures and sells electricity to customers across PG&E's grid.) But there's still a big question mark attached to CCA: How much will it cost? Supervisor Ross Mirkarimi, one of CleanPowerSF's major advocates, says the expense of the program for the many San Franciscans who will be enrolled is still up in the air.

"It is still a question of rates," Mirkarimi said. It seems odd that such a major component of the plan hadn't been hammered out prior to June 8, particularly in light of statements by CleanPowerSF's cheerleaders, notably the writers and editors at the San Francisco Bay Guardian, to the effect that the program had been finalized and thus would be exempt from Prop. 16's voting requirement if the initiative were to pass.

As SF Weekly and others have reported, electricity rates are likely to be higher for customers under CleanPowerSF than under PG&E. The potential price hike is aggravated by the fact that city residents will automatically be enrolled in the program, without their say-so, and then required to opt out if they want to stay with PG&E.

Mirkarimi says he expects the details to be nailed down by July, adding that he's grateful for the extra breathing room provided by Prop. 16's failure. "The defeat of Prop. 16 gives us the air cover we need to advance without looking back over our shoulder to see PG&E's grim reaper coming to take us out," he said. We'll see what sort of electricity bills we're advancing towards.

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Peter Jamison

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