Renewable energy alternative for San Francisco

CleanPowerSF—a renewable energy alternative on its way to San Francisco

Clean energy supporters in San Francisco can breathe a little easier. CleanPowerSF, the long-awaited renewable energy alternative to PG&E’s electric generation, if passed by the Board of Supervisors and the Mayor, would roll out in mid 2012 and grant all San Franciscans access to greener energy, increased consumer protections and local control, and the ability to choose between energy service suppliers.

The program allows San Franciscans to live and operate in significantly greener ways with little effort. As San Francisco’s custom-tailored Community Choice Aggregation (CCA) program, CleanPowerSF takes on the task of acquiring renewable energy so that individual households and businesses are not burdened with the costs and complexities of the alternative energy market. It also propels the City toward a more aggressive renewable energy goal: CleanPowerSF will be100 percent green at the start of the program while costs to electric bill will be slightly more costly than PG&E. Another key component of the program increased conservation and energy efficiency efforts.

San Francisco, along with Marin County, which has a CCA program (Marin Clean Energy), can be models for other local governments that seek community-based decision-making when it comes to energy generation.

How it will work

See an animated presentation about how CleanPowerSF works here: cleanpowersf.org/media/cleanpowersf-in-a-nutshell/).

CleanPowerSF will be administered by the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission (SFPUC), the City’s water, sewer, and municipal power utility. The SFPUC has a long, successful history supplying San Francisco with essential public services. The SFPUC already generates approximately 20 percent of the city’s energy needs through renewable resources such as solar power and hydropower that produce zero greenhouse gas emissions.

CleanPowerSF will have minimal impact on how customers currently receive their electricity and bills. Unlike a full public power system, PG&E will continue to own and operate the electrical grid in the city and distribute electricity to residents and businesses. San Franciscans will not have to go out of their way to be part of the municipal energy program, and PG&E will continue to send customers monthly bills. The difference is that the generation line-item component of the bill will now come from CleanPowerSF. Customers will not perceive a change in their daily electricity service but will be receiving cleaner, more renewable energy.

CleanPowerSF will not affect taxes, as the program will be self-funded: The money that customers currently pay to PG&E for energy generation will now fund CleanPowerSF and more renewable energy resources. Individuals and businesses who do not wish to be part of the program will not have to contribute any money to it.

Benefits of CleanPowerSF

Cleaner, more renewable energy. CCA programs allow cities and counties to pool their citizens’ purchasing power to buy electricity. Thus, CleanPowerSF will provide San Franciscans with tangible environmental and consumer benefits that are difficult for individual households and businesses to obtain. There will be a 100% renewable energy at start of the program far exceeds the state’s minimum renewable energy requirements—and is significantly greener than PG&E’s current energy which is generated from nuclear, coal, natural gas, and other sources. In fact, PG&E has not met state laws which require that 20% of the energy they provide come from renewable sources by this year. According to PG&E’s website PGE’s energy mix for 2010 was 24% Nuclear, 25% Natural Gas/Fossil, 18% Unspecified Sources, 17% Large Hydroelectric, 16% Eligible Renewable.

Consumer protections and choice. CleanPowerSF aims to inject an element of competition into San Francisco’s energy markets by giving consumers an alternative choice to PG&E’s energy generation—a choice where none currently exists. Increased competition can help mitigate the risks of a monopolistic market, such as high prices, limited regulation, disincentives to innovation, and ultimately lower-grade products. After years of being told by PG&E what is and is not possible, San Francisco has an opportunity to craft an environmentally-sound energy generation system that better aligns with its role as a national leader and a system that will provide for public participation in determining which technologies will be used to meet local electricity needs.

Long-term price stability and energy independence. CleanPowerSF will add a premium to your current bill based on how much electricity you use but renewable energy resources such as solar and wind never run out, which translates into long-term price stability for San Franciscans. Community investment in renewable energy generation will provide a natural hedge against increases and instabilities in future fossil fuel costs. (When blackouts rolled across California during the energy crisis of 2000 and 2001, self-governing municipal utilities fared much better than PG&E and other investor-owned utilities. Ironically, PG&E ended up filing bankruptcy, and customers are still paying off their debt.)

Local benefits from local control. With a long-term goal to build renewable energy generating facilities, CleanPowerSF will create green jobs to bolster San Francisco’s economy. As a not-for-profit public service, the program will be committed to establishing energy efficiency and education programs that go beyond minimum requirements. Local control also means that future energy decisions can be made with the people of San Francisco’s best interests in mind, rather than investor interests.

Environmental equity. Historically, low-income and minority communities have borne the brunt of pollution generated by power plants within the city. The Bayview Hunter’s Point neighborhood recently won its battle to close the Potrero Power Plant; investing in clean energy sources will help ensure that disadvantaged communities will not have to fight such battles again. More importantly, CleanPowerSF will give San Franciscans universal access to clean energy and low-income discounts will still apply.

Current status

The SFPUC is finalizing the terms of the program. In the meantime, SFPUC in conjunction with the San Francisco Local Agency Formation Commission (LAFCo), under the direction of Chair David Campos (District 9), has embarked on a citywide public education campaign so San Franciscans can fully understand CleanPowerSF and make an informed decision to stay with the program when it rolls out.  The term sheet, which provides the template for the final contract, has passed the joint LAFCO/SFPUC Commission.

For more information and updates on CleanPowerSF, or to request a presentation for your organization, email cleanpowersf@sfwater.org or call (415) 554-3289. Also, stay engaged online at http://CleanPowerSF.org, www.facebook.com/CleanPowerSF, or www.twitter.com/CleanPowerSF.

San Franciscans will see no change when they flip on a light switch or plug in their appliances. PG&E will continue to own and operate the electrical grid in the city and provide billing services for customers. However, CleanPowerSF will provide consumers with two things that PG&E’s energy generation currently lacks—long-term rate stability and a hundred percent clean energy. CleanPowerSF is the best opportunity for our City to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, invest in local renewable energy and efficiency, and make San Francisco a healthier place to live and work.

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About MiCoCo

The Mission Community Council (MiCoCo) is an organization of Mission District community organizations, faith groups, neighborhood associations, and public departments that have united to promote the well-being of San Francisco's Mission District. The Council strengthens the neighborhood by expanding the community’s skill bank and by increasing opportunities for the families, and residents, of this diverse, working class, immigrant, and Latino community.
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