SF moves toward public power and a ‘local version of a green new deal’

Activists want The City to build more renewable

San Francisco’s push to transition to a public power system after PG&E announced it will file for bankruptcy is not the only big energy plan in the making.

Supporters of The City’s renewable energy program CleanPowerSF are calling for a “local version of a green new deal” that includes an aggressive build out of local renewable energy projects.

Renewable energy projects and installation of energy efficiencies were long envisioned as part of CleanPowerSF. But the effort has taken longer to materialize than some would hope and now they are worried PG&E’s troubles and the bid for a public power system could cause further delays

Those, plans, however, may come into sharper focus next year.

Barbara Hale, Assistant General Manager Power for the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission, said Friday that the work will begin in July on a capital plan for CleanPowerSF that would come before the commission in January 2020.

“This is will be the first time that we have a CleanPowerSF capital plan,” Hale told the Local Agency Formation Commission, a body that has been instrumental in launching CleanPowerSF and which includes members of the Board of Supervisors. “The capital plan will have local buildout components for CleanPowerSF.”

The latest push for building renewable energy projects comes as CleanPowerSF prepares to enroll 280,000 more power customers by April, bringing it to a total of around 365,000 accounts with an average demand of 340 to 350 megawatts. That’s nearly all the power customers in San Francisco.

Still, clean energy advocates called for The City to do more sooner.

Eric Brooks, a longtime advocate of CleanPowerSF, argued that the Board of Supervisors should take the lead in crafting a citywide and SFPUC territory-wide build-out plan “so that when 2020 rolls around we are telling the SFPUC this is what we want you to build, now show us how you are going to build it.”

“The world is waking up,” Brooks said. “The Green Party since the mid-2000s has been talking about a green new deal and now progressive Democrats like legislator Ocasio-Cortez are driving hard for a green new deal.”

As San Francisco’s city leaders pushed last week for The City to either acquire PG&E’s assets or build its own infrastructure to transition to a public power system, Supervisor Sandra Lee Fewer, who serves as chair of LAFCO, directed attention to the long discussed hope for an aggressive renewable energy build out.

“If we want to be truly independent in providing clean energy to the residents of San Francisco, we need to really think about a local version of a green new deal, and that is really about building our own resources for renewable energy on our own land, our publicly-owned land outside of San Francisco,” Fewer said during a Board of Supervisors hearing last week.

LAFCO had previously raised concerns about the status of the build-out plans after the San Francisco Examiner reported that the SFPUC would have to “slow down” renewable energy projects because of the increasing “exit fees” charged by PG&E. The increased fees will require The City to use about $20 million from the program’s reserves for the next year to keep rates at or below PG&E’s.

Hale noted that they are close to finalizing with other community choice aggregations proposed state legislation that could reduce the “exit fees.”

Under CleanPowerSF, San Francisco provides energy to customers that is cleaner than what PG&E provides, but must use PG&E’s infrastructure and pay for its use.

Agency officials said they have made some investments in renewable energy, including contracts with Geysers Geothermal in Sonoma, the Shiloh 1 wind farm in Solano County and the Golden Hills Wind Project in Alameda County.

Michael Hyams, SFPUC’s director of CleanPowerSF, noted that they have two long term contracts that will create new renewable energy sources in California, a 100 megawatt solar project, the San Pablo Raceway in Lancaster, and the redevelopment of a 47 megawatt wind project, called Voyager IV Expansion in Mojave.

Hyams said the two projects will produce enough power for more than 130,000 average San Francisco households and 600 clean energy jobs, both construction and operation.

LAFCO commissioner Cynthia Crews-Pollock pressed SFPUC officials on the status of sites previously identified as possible locations for renewable energy projects, such as a parking lot at San Francisco International Airport and Parcel E at Hunters Point, and how to make them “shovel-ready.”

As part of the capital planning, Hyams said, “We can model cases and develop a business case for any of these projects that we looked at in the past or new projects.”

Fewer expressed some frustration. “Quite frankly, when I looked at this presentation today … I thought I would see more of a physical build out plan,” Fewer said. “I am looking at what we procure but not actually an actual build out plan for the sites that we have designated.”


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