CleanPowerSF program suffers setback in more than six week delay

CleanPowerSF will be rolling out cleaner forms of power to the southeast side of San Francisco. (Connor Hunt/ Special to S.F. Examiner)

At least a six week delay in the approval process of a long embattled renewable energy program announced Friday by the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission drew sharp criticism from members of the Board of Supervisors.

The delay comes amid a history of setbacks dealing blows to the program at crucial moments when the CleanPowerSF program was gaining momentum. The more than a decade-in-the-making program has long faced opposition of some high-ranking
politicians including Mayor Ed Lee as well as PG&E, the energy monopoly which CleanPowerSF would compete against.

“I am pretty worried,” said Supervisor David Campos, of the delay. “It just seems like a shifting target here and I don’t understand it. I think we are playing into PG&E’s hands.”

Officials with the SFPUC said the delay is being driven by the desire to do a more robust risk analysis and business plan, along with the unanticipated need to receive approvals of power supply contracts from the board, since they are more than $10 million in value. Previously, the commission was expected to vote on power supply contracts and the business plan Oct. 13.

Board of Supervisors President London Breed said she was “confused” by the delay. “What is frustrating is that we are all out there telling folks who really want to see this program implemented ‘sign up now’ … and now another bureaucratic delay.”

Program supporters are wary of the delay — given the history. The signing of power supply contracts was viewed by supporters as the moment The City proved it was serious about the program’s launch at last.

But also there is another big concern. PG&E is launching a green energy program of its own next year and if it starts before CleanPowerSF there would be significant competitive disadvantage.

The promising news for the program is that the recent solicitation of power suppliers resulted in more interest than expected, including 52 bids for the renewable energy supply when SFPUC was expecting 10. A factor in the delay is also the volume of responses, SFPUC officials said.

Harlan Kelly, general manager of the SFPUC, said he was committed to launching the program and given the concerns expressed Friday would try to reduce the delay. “We want to move as quickly as possible. We have some great rates. We want to jump on them,” Kelly said. The mayor had opposed the program but earlier this year, during his reelection year, said he was now supporting it.

The CleanPowerSF program will auto-enroll power customers. They can opt out to remain with PG&E. The City’s program will offer two products, a default “Green” product that wouldn’t cost more than PG&E’s with a renewable energy content between 33 percent and 50 percent. PG&E’s is at 27 percent. For an extra charge CleanPowerSF customers can pay for the 100 percent renewable energy, called “SuperGreen.”

Tyrone Jue, a spokesman for the SFPUC, said the program would initially roll out to both residential and commercial customers in the southeast neighborhoods followed by the center of The City.

Given the announced delay, it remains unclear when the program would actually launch. Hale said the previous timeline had The City starting to serve customers on Feb. 26, after providing PG&E with a list of its customers on Jan. 26, as required under state energy regulations. But the new estimate is late April or May. “At this point we are not talking about June,” Hale said.

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