San Francisco is charging ahead with automatic enrollment of electricity ratepayers in the CleanPowerSF program and is poised to spend $1.4 million on marketing and outreach.
Those efforts come amid several concerns. While customers may unwittingly end up in a program they can’t afford, the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission also might face an anti-CleanPowerSF effort by PG&E, which maintains a power monopoly in San Francisco. And the program launch is dependent upon 90,000 customers being enrolled.
On Wednesday, the Board of Supervisors Budget and Finance Committee is scheduled to vote on the $1.4 million contract with communications firm Davis and Associates. Beginning in March, the campaign could include spending $774,000 on advertising alone. Other funds would go to phone banks, opt-out mailings, polling and educational services. The money would come from revenue previously generated by Hetch Hetchy Water and Power System electricity sales.
SFPUC spokesman Tyrone Jue said it “is important that we do our due diligence to ensure people make an informed decision.”
“CleanPowerSF is clearly for people that want more renewable energy, public transparency and local jobs,” Jue said. “If they don’t believe in these values, they are free to stick with PG&E.”
CleanPowerSF — designed to offer 100 percent renewable energy under California’s community choice aggregation law — was approved by the Board of Supervisors in September. Current supervisors Carmen Chu and Mark Farrell, along with termed-out Supervisor Sean Elsbernd and Mayor Ed Lee, opposed the program. They voiced concerns about customers being forced into something they can’t afford. The law mandates that such programs contain an opt-out clause.
The SFPUC will implement CleanPowerSF in two phases, with the first phase guaranteeing an average electricity load of 30 megawatts — about 90,000 ratepayers, or 24 percent of San Francisco’s 375,000 residential customers — according to a report by budget analyst Harvey Rose.
To achieve that number, half of the residential ratepayers will be automatically enrolled at random. They will then have 120 days to opt out with no fee penalty. Those notices could be sent out beginning in August, with actual enrollment in CleanPowerSF beginning in October.
However, if the customer base target is not met, the agency could encourage commercial or nonselected residential customers to enroll voluntarily, or automatically enroll more residential ratepayers, the report said.
Supervisor David Campos, a champion of CleanPowerSF, called the spending a “good thing” and said projections show the first phase will meet the 90,000-customer mark.
Since 2005, $3.5 million has been spent on developing CleanPowerSF. It has faced opposition from PG&E, which launched a failed statewide proposition to make such programs nearly impossible to establish. Also, the original goal of meeting or beating PG&E’s rates is not possible. A December draft proposal showed rates will cost between $11.54 and $94.10 more than the comparable energy from PG&E.
The agency is in the process of finalizing a five-year contract with Shell Energy North America to purchase the energy. The Board of Supervisors previously approved $19.5 million for implementation of the program.