CleanPowerSF cost projections mount 

click to enlarge The City would commit $6 million to solar incentives as part of the CleanPowerSF program. - SF EXAMINER FILE PHOTO
  • SF Examiner file photo
  • The City would commit $6 million to solar incentives as part of the CleanPowerSF program.

A battle over the long-awaited proposal for The City to let residents power their homes with 100 percent renewable energy awaits the Board of Supervisors in September when it returns from its legislative recess. But the findings of a new report by the City Controller’s Office may make the program a hard sell.

CleanPowerSF would operate under a state law that allows local governments to buy and redistribute electricity. Supporters tout the proposal as the best way for The City to meet its aggressive environmental goals, but opponents denounce the idea as a failure in the making. Such programs also are fiercely opposed by PG&E, which currently monopolizes San Francisco’s energy market.

According to the controller’s report, the program’s higher electricity costs and reliance on an out-of-town contractor would cost The City 95 jobs and deliver an $8 million hit to the local economy. And the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission would likely have to stop subsidizing energy costs for city departments.

For the program to break even, customers’ energy bills will have to increase by 23 percent, the report said. For the typical user, whose average bill is about $40 per month, that’s about a $9 monthly increase.

Under the program, PG&E customers would be automatically enrolled into CleanPowerSF and would have to opt out if they wanted to remain with PG&E. A 4½-year contract with Shell Energy, which would provide the program’s energy, requires The City to commit a refundable $13.5 million. And the SFPUC would spend an additional $6 million for solar incentives under the GoSolar program, energy efficiency programs and a study for the building of local renewable energy-generating projects.

Program advocates such as Green Party member Eric Brooks acknowledge that the report makes it a tough sell. But he says that is exactly why they are pushing to launch an aggressive build-out of local renewable energy resources early on.

“The build-out and Shell contract need to roll out together,” Brooks said. That would result in a positive economic outlook with the creation of thousands of jobs, he said.

Barbara Hale, the commission’s assistant general manager for power, said such a build-out — which could include solar, wind, tidal power and energy efficiency projects — is part of the plan, but only once the program is up and running, which is expected toward the end of the initial contract.

SFPUC General Manager Ed Harrington is postponing his planned retirement to see the program through its encounter with the Board of Supervisors.

“At the mayor’s request — mayor’s staff request, anyway — I have said that I would be happy to stay to the middle of September to have that final decision, hopefully,” Harrington said recently.

Mayor Ed Lee has not taken a position on the proposal, his spokeswoman Christine Falvey said. As for Harrington, Falvey said that “his final date and when he leaves is his decision.”

If approved, the agency plans to roll out a first phase of the program as early as spring 2013 by signing up between 50,000 and 90,000 households.

jsabatini@sfexaminer.com

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