Mayor blasts CleanPowerSF as program funding could go to Rim Fire repairs 

click to enlarge Mayor Ed Lee, speaking with SFPUC chief Harlan Kelly last week at a water plant affected by the Rim Fire, says CleanPowerSF has proved too costly and isn’t green enough. - CHRIS ROBERTS/S.F. EXAMINER FILE PHOTO
  • Chris Roberts/S.F. Examiner file photo
  • Mayor Ed Lee, speaking with SFPUC chief Harlan Kelly last week at a water plant affected by the Rim Fire, says CleanPowerSF has proved too costly and isn’t green enough.

Mayor Ed Lee defended the aversion to San Francisco's renewable energy program Tuesday, saying its environmental benefits have diminished, while the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission unveiled a plan to potentially use the $19.5 million set aside for CleanPowerSF to pay for Rim Fire damage.

Lee's comments came amid a regularly scheduled question session with the Board of Supervisors, which last year approved the launch of the long-planned CleanPowerSF in an 8-3 vote only to see the SFPUC refuse to adopt power rates last month. Lee was firm in his opposition and defended the commission from criticism by board members.

Supervisor John Avalos and other backers of CleanPowerSF say the SFPUC is failing in its obligation by not setting the maximum power rates for the opt-out community choice aggregation program.

"The Public Utilities Commission did its job protecting the ratepayers," Lee said. "The environmental benefits of [CleanPowerSF] had degraded so significantly."

Lee criticized the program for a lackluster energy mix relying heavily on renewable energy certificates, and for lacking the initial goal of rates that would "meet or beat" those of PG&E. Lee also disparaged the program for lacking a job-creation plan and construction timeline for renewable energy projects.

And he questioned the wisdom behind doing business with fossil-fuel company Shell Energy North America, which would purchase the energy under a 4½-year contract with the SFPUC.

Lee's comments signaled an end to the program, but Avalos said he would keep fighting for its successful launch. However, he did admit that he does not "know how we move forward."

Meanwhile, the $19.5 million previously set aside for CleanPowerSF could go to another use. The SFPUC laid out various options Tuesday for paying for repairs around its Hetch Hetchy Reservoir, which supplies drinking water for Bay Area residents and power for San Francisco municipal operations. Infrastructure was damaged in the Rim Fire and it could cost tens of millions of dollars to repair.

It would take a vote by both the SFPUC and the Board of Supervisors to allocate the CleanPowerSF funds to pay for the fire repair work. Fire repair costs could ultimately be reimbursed through the SFPUC's insurance policy and state and federal sources, but it's unclear when.

Avalos was not happy when asked of the agency's potential use of the funds.

"It's looking like they want to use the Rim Fire as a pretext to kill the CleanPowerSF program," he said, adding that it's yet another "poor excuse."

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