CleanPowerSF rate setting fails to pass muster, leaving program in peril 

click to enlarge Supervisor John Avalos, left, has criticized San Francisco Public Utilities Commission members, including Art Torres, right, for failing to approve rates for CleanPowerSF, which was approved by the Board of Supervisors in September. - MIKE KOOZMIN/2012 S.F. EXAMINER FILE PHOTO
  • Mike Koozmin/2012 S.F. Examiner file photo
  • Supervisor John Avalos, left, has criticized San Francisco Public Utilities Commission members, including Art Torres, right, for failing to approve rates for CleanPowerSF, which was approved by the Board of Supervisors in September.

The chances of San Francisco's clean energy program ever launching took a hit Tuesday when a city commission failed to approve the proposed rates.

For more than nine years, city officials have worked on creating a community choice aggregation program, under which cleaner energy than that offered by PG&E would be purchased by The City and supplied to customers. But every time the program has neared approval, it has faced significant setbacks.

Tuesday was no different, except that it was the closest the effort has come to being a reality.

Now the fate of CleanPowerSF is once again in doubt.

"I don't know what happens from here," said Francesca Vietor, a San Francisco Public Utilities Commissioner who, along with Commissioner Anson Moran, was on the losing side of a 3-2 vote against setting maximum rates. "I believe in the program. It's the fastest way to reduce greenhouse gas emissions."

Commissioners Art Torres, Vince Courtney and Ann Moller Caen voted against the rate of 11.5 cents per kilowatt hour, which is slightly higher than PG&E's approximate 9 cents. Objections ranged from the lack of a robust plan for jobs and renewable energy projects to a failure to have a "green" enough energy portfolio. The commission had postponed taking a vote on the rates since March.

Caen also shot down the entire effort.

"Our mission statement says 'water first,'" Caen said. "I don't know that it's really wise to go into this."

The program faces mighty foes: Mayor Ed Lee; the San Francisco Labor Council, which has sided with International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 1245, which represents PG&E utility workers; and leaders of large San Francisco businesses.

One advocate said the commission vote was all about the politics of the Mayor's Office. Torres, who chairs the five-member body, shot back with, "The mayor has not spoken to me once on this issue. I'm smart enough to do my own due diligence and make my own mind up."

Prior to Tuesday's vote, CleanPowerSF advocate Supervisor John Avalos had issued a statement suggesting the commission had a duty to set the rates in accordance with the Board of Supervisors' program approval in September.

"We cannot afford further political gamesmanship to cause additional delay in an attempt to kill this program," he said.

Even with Tuesday's setback, advocates vowed to keep fighting.

"We need to work harder to combat the corporate power that is holding onto our elected officials," said Jess Dervin-Ackerman of the Sierra Club's San Francisco Bay chapter.

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