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Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Public Power: Board of Supervisors Approves CleanPowerSF

Posted By on Tue, Sep 18, 2012 at 4:30 PM


After decades of wrangling, a controversial $19.5 million contract with Shell was moments ago approved by the Board of Supervisors to inaugurate the city's "CleanPowerSF" program.

The final vote was 8-3, with only Supervisors Carmen Chu, Sean Eslbernd, and Mark Farrell dissenting. That, incidentally, is a veto-proof majority -- in case Mayor Ed Lee gives the program "a little more thought" and concludes he doesn't like it.

See also:
Coercion Allegations Made in Battle Over Shell Public Power Contract
Public Power: Report Says It'd Cost Millions, Lose City Jobs
The City's Master Plan for Cleaner Energy Is Fraught With Risk

Today's vote took place after unsuccessful attempts by Supervisors Chu and Farrell to, in essence, mandate an "opt-in" to the program prior to the opting-out period for those unwilling to pay higher energy rates for energy described as "100 percent renewable." Those amendments failed, as did a motion to push the vote to next week while tweaking the language.

An August analysis by the controller's office warned that CleanPowerSF would require a significant spike in consumer's electric bills, could cost the city millions if too few residents opt to participate in the program, and could result in a net loss of jobs. The program would also require city departments to pay more for power -- and, thus, less for whatever it is city departments do.

The term "100 percent renewable energy" is also more malleable than many might think. As we wrote last month:

"Bundled power" is the closest thing to what most people would consider

"renewable energy." It could be derived from wind or solar sources --

but could also hail from burning the methane spewing from landfills,

sewage treatment plants, or feedlots.

"Firmed and shaped renewable resources" are, essentially, renewable power sources accentuated with potentially non-renewables in order to meet supply and demand.


Energy Credits (RECs) work a bit like carbon offsets. If a California

utility provider purchases the power generated by, say, a wind farm in

West Texas or solar installation in Florida, it wouldn't be practical to

ship that energy all the way back here. So, instead, providers buy the

power as a credit, which counts toward the amount of renewable energy

the state mandates California providers must generate. That means San

Franciscans paying a premium for "100 percent renewable energy" could

actually still be using coal- or gas-generated electricity in lieu of

the renewable stuff that will never get within thousands of miles from

here, but Shell is being credited for.

If the mayor vetoes today's vote -- and if the eight supervisors stick together in the event that occurs -- CleanPowerSF still has to pass muster with the Public Utility Commission's Rate Fairness Board. And if you've never before heard of this obscure body, you'll likely hear plenty soon.

Following today's vote, the Board of Supervisors feted PUC Director Ed Harrington, who retires from a lengthy city career this week. Aggressively pushing through CleanPowerSF was his driving passion in the waning days of his term, and the supes certainly allowed him to spike the ball after one last touchdown.

"Public power" has more than one meaning, when you think about it.

Follow us on Twitter at @TheSnitchSF and @SFWeekly

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About The Author

Joe Eskenazi

Joe Eskenazi

Joe Eskenazi was born in San Francisco, raised in the Bay Area, and attended U.C. Berkeley. He never left. "Your humble narrator" was a staff writer and columnist for SF Weekly from 2007 to 2015. He resides in the Excelsior with his wife, 4.3 miles from his birthplace and 5,474 from hers.


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