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CleanPowerSF initiates first wave of automatic enrollment

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CleanPowerSF, San Francisco’s renewable energy program, is expected to begin in May, though notices of automatic enrollment will be distributed this month. (Mike Koozmin/2014 S.F. Examiner)

For more than a decade, the effort by San Francisco to launch a community choice aggregation renewable energy program was stymied by political gamesmanship.

But city leaders have come together at last around CleanPowerSF as evidenced by the notices sent out this month to the first batch of customers San Francisco will automatically sign up.

Service is expected to begin in May. The first wave of automatic enrollment is for thousands of businesses in Districts 5, 8 and 10.

“The good news is this thing is real and it’s happening and nothing is going to stop it now,” said Eric Brooks, an organizer for Our City, an activist group, who has tirelessly argued for the program to become a reality.

The energy monopoly PG&E, the union representing PG&E employees, International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 1245 and Mayor Ed Lee have all contributed to slowing down the program’s launch.

The mayor switched his opposition to support the effort in January 2015. The setbacks meant San Francisco’s image as a leader on environmental issues suffered as Marin County became the first to launch a community choice aggregation in 2010, followed by Sonoma County in 2014.

Other locations, like San Diego County, are studying programs of their own. Marin offers customers a choice between 50 percent renewable energy and 100 percent, while Sonoma County offers a choice between 33 percent and 100.

San Francisco’s program will offer power that has a renewable energy mix of 35 percent with rates lower than PG&E’s renewable energy mix of 27 percent. PG&E’s prices could, however, fluctuate throughout the year. CleanPowerSF customers can choose to pay about $6 more a month for a 100 percent renewable energy blend.

Under CleanPowerSF, The City purchases and sells power using PG&E’s infrastructure and billing system.

Through recently negotiated contracts, The City will purchase wind power energy from Iberdrola’s Shiloh I Wind Power Project in Solano County and wind and solar within the state from the Calpine Corporation.

While Brooks has celebrated the program’s launching, he is critical of the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission’s “conservative” approach to build out of local renewable projects tied to the program.

Brooks said the agency intends to wait until 2020 to get serious about the build out and lacks a broad vision, instead “they want to do this little-bit-at-a-time stuff” in contrast to envisioning a “virtual power plant.”

Sydney, Australia, for example, has a renewable energy master plan showing how 100 percent of its electricity could come from renewable energy sources, from solar, wind and waste, by 2030.

Brooks said he would like to see customers enrolled at a faster rate to create the revenue stream to start financing local projects sooner than later. He noted there were other methods The City could use to finance renewable projects as well.

Charles Sheehan, SFPUC spokesman, said that while the timeline for automatically enrolling the entire customer base was previously targeted for 2020 it remains a topic of discussion as does the local-build plan.

“We’re going to work with the advocates to be aggressive with local build out,” Sheehan said. He said initial renewable energy projects are concentrated on solar installations and feed-in tariffs with renewable energy facilities. “We will be developing further plans to scale our local-build out program as we grow the size of our CleanPowerSF customer base,” Sheehan said.

Sheehan said they project an enrollment of 55,000 customers this year. The second phase of enrollment begins in August for mostly residents living in Districts 5 and 8.

“While we prepare for this fall enrollment, we’re also looking ahead to our enrollment plans for 2017 and 2018 and plan to release a timeline and targeting strategy later this year,” Sheehan said.

Customers who wish to remain with PG&E must opt out. The SFPUC has projected a 20 percent opt-out rate. “San Francisco is a green conscious community,” Sheehan said. “People want greener energy.”