Supervisors approve CleanPowerSF despite opt-out clause worries

S.F. Examiner File PhotoOpposed: Supervisors Mark Farrell

Culminating an eight-year effort, on Tuesday San Francisco became just the second California municipality to approve a city-run program to allow energy ratepayers to purchase green power.

Despite mayoral calls for a delay and the longtime opposition of PG&E, the Board of Supervisors approved the launch of CleanPowerSF in an 8-to-3 vote. If everything goes according to plan, next spring The City will begin automatically enrolling PG&E customers into a program offering them 100 percent renewable energy at an additional cost.

Although Mayor Ed Lee had implied that he might veto the measure, the board’s eight-vote majority ensured that supporters could override any such decision. Supervisor Scott Wiener, who was seen as the uncertain eighth vote leading up to the meeting, was among the supervisors who backed the program.

After the vote, mayoral spokeswoman Christine Falvey noted that some of Lee’s issues with the program were not addressed. She said he remains concerned about power customers being “forced into a program they may not understand and can’t afford.”

The 90,000 consumers expected to remain in the program’s initial phase will see their bills increase by about $9 a month on average.

“This is truly about giving consumers in San Francisco a choice to say we want to have clean energy,” said Supervisor David Campos, who led the effort at the board level. Competition is important, he said, and thus one energy company should not monopolize San Francisco’s entire energy future.

Supervisors Mark Farrell, Carmen Chu and Sean Elsbernd opposed the proposal. Most of the debate focused on the program’s “opt-out” clause, which is a requirement of the 2002 state law allowing the formation of these Community Choice Aggregation programs.

Farrell proposed a last-minute amendment under which the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission would only sign up ratepayers who wanted to participate.

“It smells of coercion,” Farrell complained, but his proposal was defeated.

Shepherding the program toward approval was commission General Manager Ed Harrington, who delayed his retirement to see through the vote. Harrington described CleanPowerSF as the only effort in the works to address

The City’s lofty environmental goals involving reducing its carbon emissions.

Ultimately, the plan is to use the program’s revenue stream to help the construction of The City’s own renewable energy infrastructure, including wind or solar generators.

In May 2010, Marin County was the first governmental entity to launch such a program, and Wiener said its success helped him support San Francisco’s effort.

“It will be easy to opt out of the program,” Wiener said. “This is something that I believe we should try. There is a decent chance that it’s going to be extremely successful.”

The City will enter a five-year contract with Shell Energy to provide the program’s energy, and it will commit a refundable $13.5 million. The agency will spend an additional $6 million for solar incentives, energy-efficiency programs and a study of building local renewable energy-generating projects.

The SFPUC will next finalize energy rates with Shell, which are subject to board approval.

jsabatini@sfexaminer.com

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