The mountainsides around the Hetch Hetchy Reservoir are still smoldering, as is the plan for CleanPowerSF, a municipal power program that would have eventually built out clean, locally produced energy. The money that was set aside for the program may go instead to emergency repair work in the aftermath of the Rim Fire near Yosemite National Park and Hetch Hetchy Reservoir, which is a vital part of The City's water system and a big producer of power for city agencies.
Repair and restoration work is essential in the wake of the Rim Fire -- namely making sure that the barren hillsides above the Hetch Hetchy Reservoir remain intact during the winter and spring rains to keep debris out of The City's drinking water source. But one idea being floated now by the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission is for the money that had been set aside for CleanPowerSF to be spent instead on such fixes.
Although it is important to secure our water supply in the short term, over the long term the Rim shows why locally produced power is important for San Francisco. As things currently stand, San Francisco imports the vast majority of its energy. Muni and city buildings receive their power directly from the Hetch Hetchy system, and when the fire was burning, the transmission system had to be powered down as a precaution. The San Francisco Public Utilities Commission was forced to go out and purchase power from other suppliers at a cost of $900,000.
The Rim Fire lays bare the fragility of the nation's power grid, which has been called vulnerable to threats that range from natural disasters to terrorist attacks. City-owned power lines run through heavily forested areas, as do many of the major transmission lines into and out of California.
One way to better protect communities' power from such threats is to generate more locally. Doing so with large power plants makes no sense in San Francisco, nor would it be an environmentally sound solution. But CleanPowerSF would eventually create clean energy production that would have been at least a step in the right direction, even if it would not generated all of the power needed in The City.
The City's Public Utilities Commission overstepped its bounds in shelving CleanPowerSF when it should have been setting rates for the program. Now, the appointed body seems prepared to drive a stake through the heart of the program. Because once the money that was set aside for the program is spent elsewhere, it would be even more difficult, if not impossible, for elected officials to revive any program -- even if a deal was negotiated about the rates and type of energy sold.
There is no doubt that there is urgent work to be done restoring the Hetch Hetchy Reservoir, since widespread runoff into its waters could become very costly to ratepayers at some point. But using this excuse to steal the funding for CleanPowerSF is a dirty trick that should be rethought.