SF’s Green Energy Program in Limbo

August 15, 2013 Updated: August 15, 2013

SAN FRANCISCO—After nine years of planning and months of wrangling, San Francisco’s renewable energy program CleanPowerSF is stuck in limbo.

At Tuesday’s meeting of the Public Utilities Commission (SFPUC), commissioners could not agree on a rate customers will pay once the program has been launched. Three out of five commissioners, including President Art Torres, voted against the proposed “not-to-exceed” rates, putting the program on hold.

Approval of the rates is the condition for finalizing a contract with Shell Energy North America for $19.5 million, to deliver renewable energy from California to the city for 4.5 years. The limited purchase is designed to create a customer base for renewable energy while buying time to build an infrastructure for local energy production for the long term.

At a rally in front of City Hall before the commission meeting, several environmental organizations lined up to show their support for the program, stressing how San Francisco’s community choice energy aggregation plan could send a wider signal.

“This is something that is really going to drive change. … The example of San Francisco will cause a lot of other cities to follow,” said William Reilly, chairman emeritus of the World Wildlife Fund.

At the moment, near-monopolist PG&E provides 83 percent of energy, with currently 20 percent from renewable sources.

“San Franciscans deserve a choice where they get their energy,” said Michelle Myers, director of the SF Bay Chapter of the Sierra Club, which has long been a supporter of the program.

Sticking points for the commissioners who voted against the rates were the role energy-certificates play in the contract, and the impact on union jobs. Local electrician’s unions, like International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, have run campaigns against CleanPowerSF.

Some proponents of the program saw in the rejection the work of back-room deals.

“It is clear that these appointed officials have caved to political pressure from opponents of the program, especially those working to protect PG&E’s monopoly on energy in San Francisco. We believe there is a place in San Francisco’s energy market for both CleanPowerSF and PG&E’s green tariff program,” said Jess Dervin-Ackerman from the Sierra Club.