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CPUC vote could raise CleanPowerSF fees; Mayor calls for delay

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CPUC engineers perform tests on a damaged PG&E pipeline near Woodside. (Mike Koozmin/The Examiner)

A California Public Utilities Commission vote set for Thursday could force San Franciscans participating in a city clean electricity program to pay higher fees, officials said this week.

The commission is scheduled to vote on a change to a key formula that determines how much utilities like PG&E can charge customers who decide to stop buying electricity from them in favor of purchasing from a Community Choice Aggregation program, such as CleanPowerSF.

Created by state legislation in 2002, CCA programs allow cities and counties to buy or generate electricity for residents. San Francisco’s CleanPowerSF purchases energy from renewable sources for city customers.

San Francisco Mayor London Breed on Tuesday released a joint statement with the mayors of Oakland and San Jose calling for the vote to be delayed.

“We strongly believe the CPUC should delay this process to allow for a more transparent public review of these critical issues,” they wrote. “These programs…play a fundamental role in California’s aim of reaching 100 percent renewable energy by 2045. But this progress could be disrupted by a proposal under consideration by the CPUC.”

The fees are intended to help incumbent power companies offset the cost of customers leaving.

Utilities argue they have made infrastructure investments over the years with the assumption that the costs could be spread out amongst their entire customer base. If that customer base shrinks, the logic goes, the smaller number of remaining customers shouldn’t be forced to pick up the slack. Put another way, when customers leave, they should continue to pay for their share of those costs.

“CPUC is trying to be sure that everyone pays their fair share that the utilities incurred to have all those resources,” said Barbra Hale, an assistant general manager with the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission, which opposes the proposed changes. “We agree, everyone should pay their fair share. But what’s fair?”

PG&E argues the current rules effectively exempt CCA customers from paying for infrastructure improvements that went online prior to 2002.

“It’s common sense, because all customers benefit from and continue to benefit from these resources,” said Kristi Jourdan, a PG&E spokesperson. 

Hale said it was difficult to say how much more a typical residential customer could expect to pay if the changes go through. Revisions to the proposed changes to be voted on Thursday were made as recently as Friday, and were still being analyzed as of Tuesday, she said. But the fear is customers will opt out of CleanPowerSF, which currently has about 108,000 customers. 

“What we’re trying to do is keep this program, which has environmental benefit to San Francisco,” Hale said. “What the regulators are doing affects the bottom line business operations of a program like this.”

“We think our renewable goals are very much in line with what the state is trying to accomplish,” she said. “Because we’re aligned in our overall objectives, we want them to pause and see what the consequences of their decision would be.”

mtoren@sfexaminer.com

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