CleanPowerSF: Coercion Allegations Taint PUC Vote

The Board of Supervisors' adoption last week of the long-planned CleanPowerSF program was a major milestone for those who've toiled to break San Francisco of its addiction to PG&E. Advocates of the pricey renewable energy program spoke of a new, green era.

Behind the scenes, however, things were black-and-blue.

Multiple Public Utilities Commission-funded nonprofits complained to the mayor's office, alleging PUC officials had told them that public questioning of the CleanPowerSF program would be unwise — if they valued their PUC funding.

Mayor Ed Lee's office last week confirmed it received the calls, and contacted the PUC with some pertinent questions. Mayoral spokeswoman Christine Falvey says the PUC denied that its employees had coerced any nonprofits into silence.

That flies in the face of several firsthand accounts reported to SF Weekly. A worker at a PUC-funded nonprofit tells us that an irritated PUC official interpreted questions about the controversial CleanPowerSF program as tantamount to mutiny — and a direct shot at outgoing PUC Director Ed Harrington. Then PUC grant-making was mentioned.

“I questioned why would funding come up at all in this situation,” recalls the nonprofit worker. “It was a very tense situation. I know how much they've got invested in the plan. I could have potentially derailed a lot of those efforts.”

That didn't happen. Harrington, the elder statesman of city government, aggressively pushed through the plan, only days ahead of his retirement. He did so despite Lee's very public reticence about CleanPowerSF. Or perhaps because of it.

Denizens of City Hall have portrayed Harrington's shepherding of CleanPowerSF as a parting shot at Lee, who beat him out for mayor in the political cage-match precipitated by the departure of Gavin Newsom. Asked about allegations of behind-the-scenes arm-twisting, Harrington says, “That's not how we do business. That'd be surprising to me.”

Harrington may have sailed into the solar-powered sunset, but San Francisco will work through the complexities of CleanPowerSF for years. Immediately after the Board of Supervisors adopted the program via a veto-proof 8-3 majority, the supes feted the outgoing Harrington with a public commendation. It was quite the crowning glory for Harrington — and a rather literal display of “public power.”

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