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Monday, February 14, 2011

Public Power Program Likely to Cover Fewer Customers at Outset

Posted By on Mon, Feb 14, 2011 at 2:02 PM

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Community Choice Aggregation Could be Offered to Just One-Tenth of City

We've reported in the past on the intractable problems -- both in design and execution -- of CleanPowerSF, San Francisco's ambitious plan to shift the city to a more eco-friendly power supply. The program, as initially conceived, risked foisting high electricity rates on many city residents who might not want or be able to afford greener energy in the first place.

CleanPowerSF, known as a "community choice aggregation" program, has faltered more than once in recent years. The latest development, as reported in the San Francisco Examiner and Bay Citizen last week, is that the city has failed again to find any power providers who say they can meet the program's goals. As a result, officials at the Public Utilities Commission say they will go back to the drawing board in an effort to mimic a similar initiative in Marin County that they say has been successful.

What, exactly, will that mean, and how will San Francisco's community choice aggregation program change as a result? We got some answers to those questions today from PUC spokesman Charles Sheehan. The foremost change, he said, is that CleanPowerSF will probably -- at least at first -- be dramatically scaled back, covering as little as one-tenth of the customers it had initially hoped to provide with greener power.

Sheehan said one hallmark of the Marin County program has been its "phased" approach to wooing customers -- signing up smaller groups of power customers in batches, rather than converting the entire city at once, as San Francisco had planned to do.

"The critical element is phasing in smaller customer bases," Sheehan said. "It's just easier to digest piece by piece." He said the size of an initial "phase" could be in the ballpark of 30,000 to 40,000 customers. CleanPowerSF had initially envisioned converting more than 300,000 customers at the same time.

The initial phase might also be made up primarily of residential power users who consume lots of electricity, saving other residential customers, as well as business and industrial users, for inclusion later on.

All in all, this represents a remarkably scaled-back version of the grand vision originally espoused by community choice aggregation's backers. Whether it is any more achievable remains to be seen.

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Peter Jamison

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