City-run energy plan faces key vote

San Francisco could be moving toward supplying and selling electricity to its residents and businesses, despite warnings from some economists and business representatives that the job may be better left to Pacific Gas and Electric.

A Board of Supervisors committee is expected to vote today on whether to become what’s called a community choice aggregator — a city or county that provides electric utilities and offers customers a choice between the city-run system or the private supplier, which is PG&E in the Bay Area. The concept, sponsored by supervisors Ross Mirkarimi and Tom Ammiano, proposes making The City’s energy supply 51 percent renewable by 2017.

If the concept is ultimately approved, San Francisco would be allowed to submit formal plans for the new utility setup to the California Public Utilities Commission, which it must do before beginning to supply local electricity, according to Tony Winnicker, spokesman for the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission.

“The plan is extremely well developed,” Winnicker said. “Our intention is to meet or beat what customers pay to PG&E, and we believe that’s an achievable goal.”

Supporters of the San Francisco plan are banking on renewable resources, such as wind and geothermal power, as ways of saving money, according to Winnicker. Already, the SFPUC supplies 20 percent of San Francisco’s municipal energy through hydrothermal electricity generated at the Hetch Hetchy Reservoir — electricity that powers The City’s streetlights and municipal buildings.

However, a new report from the Bay Area Economic Forum cautions cities from getting into the electricity business.

“It’s going to be hard for a community choice aggregation to provide lower prices,” said Sean Randolph, CEO of the Bay Area EconomicForum. “A key element is the ability to own power generation and find places to put power plants — and nobody wants to live next door to a power plant.”

If Tbe City begins supplying electricity, it would become the default source. Customers would be given three opportunities to opt out and return to PG&E, Winnicker said.

A recent survey by the San Francisco Chamber of Commerce showed that 69 percent of businesses preferred to receive electricity from PG&E.

“Businesses feel more confident having professionals provide their utilities, rather than turning it over to a public entity,” chamber spokeswoman Carol Piasente said.

PG&E officials said they support customer choice, but added that they are willing to help The City become more reliant on green energy.

“More than 50 percent of the energy we deliver is carbon-emissions free,” PG&E spokesman Darlene Chiu said. “We question their [The City’s] ability to deliver more than 51 percent renewable energy.”

The Budget and Finance Committee meets today at 1 p.m. at City Hall.

bwinegarner@examiner.com


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