Race to start SF power provider begins 

City officials are scrambling to help a new power provider establish itself in San Francisco before June, when California voters could make such an endeavor more challenging.

Proposition 16, if it passes June 8, would change laws that were crafted after California’s energy crisis of 2000-01 in an effort to introduce more competition to local power grids.

The community choice aggregation laws allow municipalities to open up privately owned power lines to new electricity providers, which can purchase, generate and sell electricity to residents, businesses and other customers using existing utility company-owned infrastructure.

If approved, Prop. 16 would require municipalities to secure two-thirds voter approval before spending public funds to help launch a community choice aggregation program. No such voter approval currently is required.

Programs that sell only renewable energy would not be affected.

The proposition is backed by PG&E, which stands to lose power sales monopolies in San Francisco and other Northern California cities if community choice aggregation programs are established.

Marin and The City are on the verge of establishing such programs.

“Under current law,” PG&E spokesman Andrew Souvall said, “our customers are not always guaranteed a vote when their local government wants to spend public money to enter the electricity business.”

The company advised shareholders that it will spend up to 9 cents a share on a campaign to help pass the proposition. That works out to as much as $34 million. Opponents are operating separately, and an estimate of their potential spending wasn’t available.

The proposition is opposed by scores of environmental and consumer activists and elected officials, some of whom will debate PG&E officials about it during a forum at 1 p.m. today at the California Public Utilities Commission’s San Francisco headquarters.

Supervisor Ross Mirkarimi, a scheduled panel member who has overseen San Francisco’s efforts to establish a community choice aggregation program named CleanPowerSF that would be run by a diverse team of large companies, said he’s “as optimistic as one can be” that it will be up and running before June 8.

If the state measure passes, it would not affect programs that have started providing power to customers, according to Paul Fenn, a Prop. 16 opponent who helped craft community choice aggregation laws and is a consultant for the programs.

jupton@sfexaminer.com


Proposition 16


The Taxpayers Right to Vote Act needs more than 50 percent of the vote in June to become law.


  • If it’s approved: Municipalities will need to secure two-thirds support from voters before spending public funds to help found a new power provider.
  • If it’s not approved: Municipalities will be able to spend public funds to help found a new power provider without the need for a ballot measure.
  • Supporters: PG&E, California Chamber of Commerce, San Francisco Chamber of Commerce, Building Owners and Managers Association of San Francisco
  • Opponents: The Utility Reform Network, Sierra Club California, Local Clean Energy Alliance, California Association of Realtors

— John Upton

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A daily newspaper covering San Francisco, San Mateo County and serving Alameda, Marin and Santa Clara counties.
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