Successful launch of CleanPowerSF called into question 

click to enlarge Proposed rates for CleanPowerSF, a community choice aggregation program, have been estimated at 20 to 30 percent higher than those offered by PG&E.
  • Proposed rates for CleanPowerSF, a community choice aggregation program, have been estimated at 20 to 30 percent higher than those offered by PG&E.

Doubts are being raised about the likelihood of the success of San Francisco’s ambitious CleanPowerSF just months before its planned launch.

The worry is that the rates customers of the public power program would have to pay are too high compared to those offered by PG&E. And some advocates are disappointed that the proposed 100 percent renewable energy program does not include a more aggressive expansion of local renewable energy projects, which would create jobs and bring down rates.

Concerns over the program’s chances were aired last week at a San Francisco Public Utilities Commission meeting.

The five-member group is on the verge of launching the community choice aggregation program, which has been in the works since 2005 and has faced opposition from PG&E. In the coming weeks, the commission is scheduled to vote on a threshold for rates and then finalize a five-year contract with Shell Energy North America to purchase the program’s energy.

In September, the Board of Supervisors voted 8-3 to allocate $19.5 million for the program’s implementation.

Commissioner Ann Moller Caen questioned whether there was even customer demand for the program, adding that the last survey was conducted when rates were anticipated to meet or beat those of PG&E.

“I personally do not want to entertain another meeting without the proper customer survey,” Caen said last week. “Why are we putting our heads in the ground and pretending like, ‘Well, of course we have customers’? I challenge that.”

CleanPowerSF is a community choice aggregation program that must, by state law, contain an opt-out option for those automatically enrolled. San Francisco may be the first city to attempt to launch such an endeavor with rates higher than the competing energy provider.

“There are now over a thousand municipalities in the United States under CCA service,” said Paul Fenn, founder and president of Local Power Inc., a consultant hired by the SFPUC. “There has not to my knowledge been a program in which the program commenced with a rate increase.”

Fenn issued a report showing how The City could lower the proposed rates by more aggressively building local renewable energy projects and by incorporating energy generated by the SFPUC-run Hetch Hetchy hydroelectric power system.

Longtime advocates of such efforts are expressing doubts over the program’s chances. Addressing the commission, Arthur Feinstein, chairman of the Bay Area chapter of the Sierra Club, said the proposed rates, which are 20 to 30 percent higher than PG&E’s, must be lowered.

“People will opt out despite our liberal population,” Feinstein said, adding that it will become “another dead instance of trying to get past PG&E and trying to get green power into San Francisco.”

Commissioner Anson Moran said the SFPUC needs to listen to Local Power personnel who have said the proposed rates “will guarantee failure of the program” and attempt to bring them down in the coming weeks.  

jsabatini@sfexaminer.com

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