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SF to expand CleanPowerSF energy load amid strong customer demand

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CleanPowerSF, which provides power with a 35 percent renewable mix from sources such as solar panels, is planning to expand service.(Emma Chiang/Special to S.F. Examiner file photo)
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San Francisco plans to expand its renewable energy supply after more customers than expected chose the new power service over PG&E.

After being entangled in politics and the energy monopoly’s opposition for more than a decade, CleanPowerSF began serving its first customers 14 weeks ago.

City officials say the program has the lowest opt-out rate of any other community choice aggregation formed in the state. Longtime staunch supporters who long argued there was a demand for the program say it is the single most important effort The City can undertake to combat climate change.

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To date, there are 7,400 customers enrolled in CleanPowerSF, of which 400 are residential properites.

The first auto-enrollments were in May. The next ones are expected in the fall for those in Districts 5 and 8, with notice to go out this month pending the expected approval of a contract with a renewable energy project.

The opt-out rate is so low that The City faced a choice of either scaling back the planned phase one enrollment plan this fall or increasing the program’s megawatts. Initially, the plan was to auto-enroll customers in May for 30 megawatts and then in the fall for 20 megawatts.

But if the agency stuck with that plan, it would exceed 50 megawatts. So last week, the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission was asked to approve increasing the megawatts from 50 to 75. The commission unanimously approved the increase and enrollment will proceed as initially planned.

The agency had projected a 20 percent opt-out rate. But as of Tuesday that opt-out rate was 1.8 percent, according to Barbara Hale, assistant general manager of the SFPUC’s power enterprise.

“There’s been a lot of interest in the program launching. Now that we are actually underway, we are seeing customers stay committed to it,” Hale told members of the Board of Supervisors during a Friday public meeting.

Customers are auto-enrolled to receive energy with a 35 percent renewable energy mix, greater than the 29 percent offered by PG&E. For a fee, customers can opt to receive 100 percent renewable energy under CleanPowerSF.

Customers can also voluntarily enroll. Hale said that as the program enters the second enrollment period, 633 power customers had voluntarily signed up to join the program by the Aug. 1 deadline.

Some program supporters didn’t want the agency to cap the megawatts at 75, but instead have the staff move as expeditiously as possible to expand it citywide — similar to planned rollouts of other such efforts.

Silicon Valley, for example, plans to launch a program in April 2017 and phase it in by October 2017.

Instead, agency officials said a “growth plan” on how to roll out the program citywide will be presented to the commission by the end of the year.

Harlan Kelly, general manager of the SFPUC, defended the pace of the roll out.

“If we go out to purchase power, and it’s so expensive, we have to take a pause,” Kelly told the commission last week. “We have to be measured, instead of just trying to roll it out just to roll it out. We made a promise that we will try to make this affordable.”

Hale said that on Sept. 13 the
commission will discuss how Go Solar, a solar installation incentive program, may be integrated into the program.

Currently, the renewable energy portfolio is derived from agency contracts with wind farms. Also being used is hydropower from Hetch Hetchy and natural gas.

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