Power Play: San Francisco's Plan for Clean, Local Energy Lacks One Detail: Everything.

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A platoon of union workers in loud, matching outfits is nearly as regular a City Hall sight as bridal parties in loud, matching outfits. And, on a recent Monday, members of the Laborers' Local No. 261 gathered outside Room 250; resplendent in traffic-cone-orange T-shirts, their muted Spanish conversations echoed through the halls of power. They were just part of an odd consortium of environmentalists and organizers. This disparate group was united in its concern that the city's ingeniously titled CleanPowerSF program — San Francisco's latest and most promising attempt to wean itself away from Pacific Gas & Electric — is in danger of shorting itself out.

This was not a message lost on Supervisor David Campos, one of CleanPowerSF's most ardent backers. "At times, I do wonder who's doing more to kill this program: PG&E or [CleanPowerSF] advocates," he grumbles. "The ironic thing about politics is sometimes there's a strange confluence of two extremes at some point meeting each other."

Al Weinrub, seen here with Bay Localize interns Michelle Woo (left) and Tatiana Chaterji, likens the PUC’s approach to CleanPowerSF to opening up a business and then devising a business plan.
Corrine Van Hook
Al Weinrub, seen here with Bay Localize interns Michelle Woo (left) and Tatiana Chaterji, likens the PUC’s approach to CleanPowerSF to opening up a business and then devising a business plan.
Supervisor David Campos worries a marriage of convenience has formed between those willing to destroy CleanPowerSF to save it and those happy to merely destroy it.
Mike Koozmin
Supervisor David Campos worries a marriage of convenience has formed between those willing to destroy CleanPowerSF to save it and those happy to merely destroy it.

Possibly. Or, perhaps the ironic thing is that a program intended to fulfill the ur-San Francisco desires of environmentalists to establish clean, local energy, union workers to build it, and PG&E-hating politicos to unhorse the monopolistic utility has come under attack from those same parties for potentially doing none of this. A program envisioned as doing everything for everybody may do nothing for nobody.

Success for CleanPowerSF would differentiate it from previous efforts: Generations of San Franciscans have seen innovative energy alternatives trumped by an utter inability to make it happen. PG&E — anointed by Mayor Ed Lee "a great company that gets it" — has powered the city from the first Gilded Age to the current one. Serial failed efforts to alter the status quo at the ballot box were mounted by a rotating cast of progressive politicians backed by the element of the city's left flank for whom public power is both the raison d'être and a cure-all.

CleanPowerSF — which didn't require the costly and futile frontal assault of yet another electoral campaign — has been in the city's pipeline since the mid-1990s. And, like the America's Cup, it's a study in grand promises leading to diminished expectations. For years, it was touted as a pillar of the city's lofty goal of achieving 100 per cent renewable energy by 2020 while meeting or beating PG&E's rates — all while providing a cleaner product to a vastly smaller market and competing against a politically juiced company with a century of experience in the field.

That vision of the program has largely evaporated. In September, the Board of Supervisors, via a crucial mayoral veto-proof majority, greenlit a five-year contract with Shell — one of the world's largest energy companies. When the Shell deal is finalized, the city will begin purchasing 20 to 30 megawatts of "100 per cent renewable" power. That's only around 5 per cent of San Francisco's average residential usage, but it does move the city's Public Utilities Commission into the residential electric game.

Far from meeting or beating the status quo, CleanPowerSF customers should anticipate paying roughly double the PG&E rate for electricity generation, based on tentative PUC numbers. Monthly bills are expected to be augmented by between $10 to $83, depending on customers' usage; PUC officials now liken the "premium product" to organic groceries. Those objecting to organic prices must proactively opt out.

Coherent explanations of how to advance from this initial stage to the proposed "local build-out" — transforming San Francisco into the Ecotopia pined for by labor and environmentalists alike — have evaporated as well. Accordingly, as Campos indicated, some of the advocates who lobbied most fervently for CleanPowerSF leading up to the September vote are now the program's bitterest detractors — and complain that they served as a political smokescreen.


"There is no reason to do this if not for the build-out," says Al Weinrub, author of Community Power: Decentralized Renewable Energy in California. "The PUC has a concept of build-out that allows them to sign a contract with Shell before we know what the fuck we're doing. Who starts up a business, opens up the doors, then says 'Let's figure out our business plan?'"

Howard Ash makes a similar (though less profane) point. Confronted at a mid-March meeting by some of the very same union men, environmentalists, and organizers who'd later draw Campos' ire, the Rate Fairness Board member shook his head.

Nobody, Ash wryly observed, was speaking favorably anymore about CleanPowerSF — except for the city officials tasked to run it. Ash asked Public Utilities Commission staffers for a plan — a spreadsheet, anything — charting how the PUC would transition from merely contracting with Shell to achieving a local build-out which would supply the city with vast quantities of renewable power, energy independence, and jobs, jobs, jobs: the basis on which elected officials were sold on this program and the city continues to sell it to prospective customers.

He was told it doesn't exist.

After decades as a gleam in the eye of public-power advocates and years as the city's official energy policy, CleanPowerSF lacks a plan to achieve the build-out that justifies its existence — and without which the real promise of jobs and unambiguously clean energy won't come. Instead, warns Ash, the PUC's current approach is "a trap." High proposed initial rates could spur an exodus of customers from CleanPowerSF, but lowering them undercuts the revenue stream with which to fund a build-out. "I don't see how you get out of that box," Ash says. "I'm not sure the commission thought about how to get out of this trap."

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11 comments
paul8kangas
paul8kangas

Clean Power SF lacks: local source of solar power from SF homes,

It lacks any way to pay homeowners $0.54 kwh for feeding solar onto the grid.  It will not created a million solar jobs.   The FiT in Germany created 500,000 solar jobs in Germany.  Not in France.  CPSF lacks 100% clean solar energy.  It gives $$ millions to Shell Oil.  Giving money to the oily 1%.  What a joke.    It lack support from most  Green activists.   It is designed to fail.  Whomever created this green scam belongs in prison with Barry Maddoff.  

paul8kangas
paul8kangas

Joe Eskenazi, thank you for that great article  on SF fake green energy.

Four years ago I wrote a leaflet against CCA & Clean Power SF , saying  “It is designed to fail.”   I spoke before the Board of Supervisors against it.    

It is obviously just a shell game designed to “sound” green, but to not shift California towards 100% solar.   

CCA  won’t create the millions of solar jobs we need.    

What I proposed instead, 4 years ago, was a solar feed in tariff, (FiT) that would require PG&E to buy solar from anyone who feeds it onto the grid, at $0.54 kwh.   

This would create a million solar jobs.

The FiT  could earn home owners $1,000. a month income, depending on the number of solar panels they put up.   

This will give homes free solar energy for 50 year.  

Plus, when the grid goes down,  during a quake, those homes with 20+ solar panels will still have power.     

Was the Green Party involved in developing the CleanPowerSF scam? 

jbsf481
jbsf481

"Shell Oil Company is a 50/50 partner with the Saudi Arabian government-owned oil company Saudi Aramco in Motiva Enterprises, a refining and marketing joint venture which owns and operates three oil refineries on the Gulf Coast of the United States."  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shell_Oil_Company  So the rates that are double PG&E's will make profits for the Saudi monarchy and a BIG OIL company. With all the civil rights violations there I can imagine some in SF might find this objectionable

SFPUC_Rules
SFPUC_Rules

SFPUC's Juliet Ellis gets busted for contracting corruption, now this story shows the agency's energy policy incompetence.  The SFPUC is chock full of all kinds of turds!

brookse32
brookse32 topcommenter

The SF Department Of Environment Is Ready And Able To Build Out The Large Scale Clean Energy In San Francisco, That The SFPUC Is Refusing To Pursue

Really good article until the last page, when you leave off the most important part of the story Joe.

Paul Fenn presented an plan to the Environment Commission in which he detailed that instead of the reluctant and inexperienced SFPUC, that the Department of Environment itself has a far better trained and experienced staff to pursue the work of overseeing the large scale local clean energy build-out promoted by community advocates, and should take on that very role in the next year. (This is because the Department of Environment already oversees scores of megawatts of local energy efficiency installations in San Francisco and could easily expand that role.)

Fenn concluded his report by outlining the ambitious task that he was proposing for Environment staff, of guiding the hiring of hundreds of local workers to install hundreds of megawatts of renewable energy and efficiency facilities in the city over the next ten years.

At the end of Fenn's presentation, commissioner Heather Stephenson then turned to Department of Environment Deputy Director David Assmann and asked him 1) did he think the Department could take on that task successfully, and 2) did the Department have the desire to take on such build-out work?

And the Deputy Director emphatically answered "Yes" to both questions.

So there is clearly now a city department with the will, the drive, and the expertise, to build a legitimate large scale local clean energy program in San Francisco.

All that remains is for the Board of Supervisors to bypass the SFPUC staff which has its head stuck in 20th century energy planning, commission Fenn and his team to complete the build-out plan for the Department of Environment to implement, and then pass the bond funding needed to build it.

Let's get to work!

Eric Brooks, Sustainability Chair, SF Green Party

brookse32
brookse32 topcommenter

Hi Paul and all. Neither the SF Green Party, nor any other clean energy advocate supports CleanPowerSF in its current form, and we are demanding that hundreds of megawatts of local renewables and efficiency (and the thousands of local union jobs that installing these will generate) must be the foundation of the program before it goes forward.

It is also important for you to understand that any clean energy program which (as you are suggesting) would only be based on solar feed-in-tariffs, would not be strong enough, nor would it build clean energy fast enough, to effectively counter the climate crisis.

CleanPowerSF, as long as it is built the way it was originally designed, will install a wide spectrum of interactive renewable energy and conservation measures including solar, wind, geothermal, cogeneration (using waste heat from generators and boilers to generate electricity), thousands of efficiency projects all over the city, electricity storage, and finally, demand response techniques to lower electrical appliance and machine drain on the system at peak demand.

It is really important to use all of these strategies together, so that when the sun isn't shining or the wind isn't blowing there will still be reliable clean electricity flowing.

In fact solar all by itself is what the SFPUC is proposing and this would be a recipe for failure, because of its very high up front cost and its not-always-on nature.

One last important note. If the current very poor SFPUC plan goes forward with no large local build-out of renewables and efficiency, the whole program will indeed be controlled by Shell corporation which will act only as an Enron style -purchaser- of 'clean' energy on the market, from distant sources - creating no real new renewables and no local jobs.

And it is precisely because we do -not- want Shell to run or play any big role in our local clean energy program that we are working diligently to make sure that the program is based instead on hundreds of megawatts of local clean energy installation, and not on a weak stand alone contract with Shell Energy North America.

Eric Brooks, Sustainability Chair, SF Green Party

brookse32
brookse32 topcommenter

Hi Paul and all. Neither the SF Green Party, nor any other clean energy advocate supports CleanPowerSF in its current form, and we are demanding that hundreds of megawatts of local renewables and efficiency (and the thousands of local union jobs that installing these will generate) must be the foundation of the program before it goes forward.

It is also important for you to understand that any clean energy program which (as you are suggesting) would only be based on solar feed-in-tariffs, would not be strong enough, nor would it build clean energy fast enough, to effectively counter the climate crisis.

CleanPowerSF, as long as it is built the way it was originally designed, will install a wide spectrum of interactive renewable energy and conservation measures including solar, wind, geothermal, cogeneration (using waste heat from generators and boilers to generate electricity), thousands of efficiency projects all over the city, electricity storage, and finally, demand response techniques to lower electrical appliance and machine drain on the system at peak demand.

It is really important to use all of these strategies together, so that when the sun isn't shining or the wind isn't blowing there will still be reliable clean electricity flowing.

In fact solar all by itself is what the SFPUC is proposing and this would be a recipe for failure, because of its very high up front cost and its not-always-on nature.

One last important note. If the current very poor SFPUC plan goes forward with no large local build-out of renewables and efficiency, the whole program will indeed be controlled by Shell corporation which will act only as an Enron style -purchaser- of 'clean' energy on the market, from distant sources - creating no real new renewables and no local jobs.

And it is precisely because we do -not- want Shell to run or play any big role in our local clean energy program that we are working diligently to make sure that the program is based instead on hundreds of megawatts of local clean energy installation, and not on a weak stand alone contract with Shell Energy North America.

Eric Brooks, Sustainability Chair, SF Green Party

paul8kangas
paul8kangas

@jbsf481  Great post.   Even a blind person can see CleanPowerSF is a scam.

paul8kangas
paul8kangas

@brookse32  What is needed is a solar feed in tariff (FiT)  requiring PG&E to pay $0.54 kwh to anyone who feeds solar onto the grid.  Nothing less will work.  CleanPowerSF is just a shell game.  

The FiT is the only policy that has shut down nukes in the world.   Germany & 69 nations have a FiT.  California is being held hostage by a lack of education.  Europe is 30 years ahead of the US.   Get FiT.  

meatsack
meatsack

@brookse32  

Oh yes, the dept of environment.

I remember playing phone tag with those geniuses  four or so years ago.  First I got a letter bemoaning the lack of  a green Campos can at work, so I e-mail the person on the letter, later in the day she called while I was out.  I-mailed her back asking what she wanted, she called again, I e-mailed back...  At last she called and blathered about the lack of a green can.  

I told her that there wasn't much room and that it was an old building and we had a problem with rodents.  She blathered her bonged out hippie nonsense at me for awhile and said she would come by and look things over during the week.  A few weeks go by so I e-mail her, then she calls me...  She never came by and seems to not understand how E-mail works, or thinks maybe as a city employee everyone has time for her shit.

 

brookse32
brookse32 topcommenter

Hi Paul.

It is important for you to understand that any clean energy program which (as you are suggesting) would only be based on solar feed-in-tariffs, would not be strong enough, nor would it build clean energy fast enough, to effectively counter the climate crisis.

CleanPowerSF, as long as it is built the way it was originally designed, will install a wide spectrum of interactive renewable energy and conservation measures including solar, wind, geothermal, cogeneration (using waste heat from generators and boilers to generate electricity), thousands of efficiency projects all over the city, electricity storage, and finally, demand response techniques to lower electrical appliance and machine drain on the system at peak demand.

It is really important to use all of these strategies together, so that when the sun isn't shining or the wind isn't blowing there will still be reliable clean electricity flowing.

In fact solar all by itself is what the SFPUC is proposing and this would be a recipe for failure, because of its very high up front cost and its not-always-on nature.

Eric Brooks, Sustainability Chair, SF Green Party

 
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