Board to decide fate of city’s long-debated clean-energy program

Getty Images File PhotoWinds of change: CleanPowerSF would provide clean-sourced energy to San Francisco customers under a 2002 state law that allows communities to form entities to purchase electricity.

The Board of Supervisors on Tuesday is expected to decide the fate of San Francisco’s long-debated public-power program, but whether the program can overcome the mayor’s concerns and PG&E’s opposition is far from clear.

For the past eight years, the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission has worked on a program to compete with PG&E by offering customers 100 percent renewable energy for an extra fee.

Under a 2002 state law, municipalities can form such programs to purchase electricity. Only Marin County has done so, and now San Francisco wants to follow suit. So supervisors are set to vote on the $19.5 million CleanPowerSF program, which includes $13 million that would be placed in reserve.

It is the latest political battle at City Hall in which progressives are backing a program opposed or questioned by moderates. It would take six votes to approve and eight votes to override a veto from Mayor Ed Lee.

 “The mayor continues to have concerns about the risks, costs and benefits of entering into a contract with Shell, and he hopes the discussions at the board address his concerns,” Lee spokeswoman Christine Falvey said Wednesday.

But SFPUC head Ed Harrington, who has postponed his retirement to see the vote through the board, framed the proposal in a positive light during Wednesday’s meeting of the Board of Supervisors Budget and Finance Committee.

“This is the single biggest program that is even on the horizon within the city and county of San Francisco to make any difference toward any of the goals that you have set as board members in terms of having a change in greenhouse gas emissions and climate change,” Harrington said. “This program can make a dramatic change.”

The committee voted 2-1 to send the proposal to the full board with a recommendation for its approval.

Supervisors John Avalos and Jane Kim backed it, while Supervisor Carmen Chu opposed it.  Chu said she opposed it because it automatically enrolls city residents as participants unless they opt out and because it does not put the onus on ratepayers to pay back the program’s reserve funds.

Under state law, such programs automatically sign up customers who then must opt out to stay with their current utility provider.

The City would enter into a five-year contract with Shell Energy, which would provide the program’s
energy. The hope is to use the program’s revenue stream to ultimately fund the construction of renewable energy projects such as wind or solar.

The initial phase is expected to roll out to 90,000 customers. For the average energy user expected to remain with the program, their bills are expected to increase by about $9 a month.

jsabatini@sfexaminer.com

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