With CleanPowerSF, the dirty truth is in the details

CleanPowerSF, The City’s public power program, is on track for a summer launch after a $19.5 million contract was approved last month by the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission. It has laudable intentions to help the planet by providing clean, renewable energy instead of the fossil-fuel-based energy provided by PG&E. But the devil is in the details, and CleanPowerSF does not have very clean hands.

First, it was originally sold as providing clean energy at no additional cost. But that was always a pipe dream and for the average residential customer, monthly bills will increase by $84 to $180 annually. While many San Franciscans will be happy to pay extra for clean power, CleanPowerSF is also counting on passing on those rate hikes to thousands of unsuspecting San Franciscans.

CleanPowerSF does this by enacting an “opt-out” requirement. About 230,000 residents will be automatically signed up for the rate hike — unless they take action to say they do not want it. Many people will toss the opt-out mailers into the trash without reading them, thinking they are junk mail. If this program were as wonderful as it has been touted, it should sell itself and people should be required to opt in.

The cleanliness of CleanPowerSF is also in question. It’s touted as providing 100 percent renewable energy instead of PG&E’s 16 percent. But actually it would still rely on fossil-fuel resources when intermittent renewable-energy sources are not available, such as when the wind is not blowing and cloudy days when the sun isn’t shining.

City officials are also taking a financial risk with this program. The startup costs are $19.5 million, which includes $15 million placed in an escrow account to pay Shell Energy North America if the program is terminated before the contract expires in 4½ years. It is money down the drain if this green experiment fails.

The supervisors are scheduled to approve CleanPowerSF this month. Before doing so, they should take a step back and consider whether there are less damaging, less expensive, less deceptive alternatives to providing clean energy in San Francisco.

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