Program seeks clean, cheap power

A scaled-back effort to cut electricity bills and provide greener power by wooing a new company into San Francisco to compete with Pacific Gas & Electric Corp. took a jolt forward Thursday.

New laws were adopted seven years ago by California to foster competition in the power sector, by allowing municipalities to open up privately owned utility grids to new, would-be power providers.

On Tuesday, the Board of Supervisors is scheduled to lock in the precise details of a proposed program, dubbed CleanPowerSF, which is significantly less ambitious than earlier proposals with regards to price competitiveness and environmental goals.

The program specifics were included in a request for a proposals document — to be issued in an attempt to woo a competitor to challenge PG&E — which was approved Thursday by the board’s Government Audit and Oversight Committee.

If the document is approved Tuesday, San Francisco will become one of the first municipalities to formally solicit bids from prospective new power providers under California’s so-called Community Choice Aggregation laws.

Supervisor Ross Mirkarimi, a Green Party lawmaker who has been closely involved with years-long efforts to usher the program forward, praised Thursday’s vote as a landmark occasion.

“This is a critical turning point in the long history of berthing the Community Choice Aggregation process,” Mirkarimi said.

CleanPowerSF’s goals were tempered after earlier proposals by San Francisco and Marin proved overly ambitious.

Royal Dutch Shell and the nonprofit Northern California Power Agency have already expressed interest in running CleanPowerSF, which is eventually expected to create revenues of $350 million per year. Officials, however, had hoped more prospective participants would register interest.

In order to attract more potential power providers to bid, bidders will no longer have to prove they can meet or beat PG&E’s rates, and minimum environmental standards were stripped from the bid documents.

Instead of being required to provide minimum levels of renewable energy, prospective new power providers will be ranked against each other in the selection process based on prices and their ability to meet clean energy goals.

Some of the energy to be sold under the program is required to come from wind farms, solar panels and from energy-efficiency programs.
Bidders are now “strongly encouraged” to ensure that half of the power comes from renewable sources by 2017.

Bids are due by the end of the year, and a new power provider could begin selling electricity next year, according to San Francisco Public Utilities Commission Project Manager Michael Campbell.

Powerful plans

CleanPowerSF aims for The City to bring in additional power companies to compete with PG&E, in effect providing increased competition to drive down electricity prices for consumers, as well as encouraging more environmentally friendly practices.

360 megawatts Electricity to be sold by new power provider
350 megawatts Maximum power produced at Potrero Power Plant
950 megawatts Maximum electricity used by San Francisco at peak times
51 percent Renewable energy that new electricity provider is strongly encouraged to sell
31 megawatts Solar power that new provider is strongly encouraged to sell
150 megawatts Wind power that new provider is strongly encouraged to sell
$350 million Forecast annual revenues for new provider

Sources: San Francisco Public Utilities Commission, Pacific Gas & Electric Corp., San Francisco Planning Department

jupton@sfexaminer.com

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