CleanPowerSF back on track with anticipated job creation, mayor support 

click to enlarge After seemingly dying last year, CleanPowerSF — The City’s renewable-energy program — is back on the table after recently receiving a boost from Mayor Ed Lee. - MIKE KOOZMIN/2014 S.F. EXAMINER FILE PHOTO
  • Mike Koozmin/2014 S.F. Examiner file photo
  • After seemingly dying last year, CleanPowerSF — The City’s renewable-energy program — is back on the table after recently receiving a boost from Mayor Ed Lee.

The future of San Francisco's renewable-energy program, CleanPowerSF, suddenly appears bright, as the mayor has surprisingly announced his support after causing a political uproar in 2013 opposing it. The stage is now set for the launch of a modified program — the quicker the better, supporters say.

Today, a rally outside of City Hall will celebrate Mayor Ed Lee's position change moments before a joint meeting between the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission and the Local Agency Formation Commission, on which several members of the Board of Supervisors sit.

Supporters will ask for an aggressive timeline to approve the renewed program, with utility rates set by September — notably before the mayor's re-election in November — to at last realize the more than decade-old effort.

A community-choice aggregation program has long been part of The City's environmental strategy, but whenever it appeared close to occurring, major setbacks arose such as opposition from PG&E, the energy monopoly that would face competition from CleanPowerSF.

The program came closer than ever to launching in 2013, but the SFPUC refused to adopt energy rates and Lee blasted the effort. He faulted it for lacking a detailed job-creation plan and including a contract with Shell North America to procure the renewable energy.

But this criticism of the former proposal was addressed late last year in a report conducted for LAFCO by Knoxville, Tenn.-based engineering consultant EnerNex.

The report showed the effort would generate 9,232 construction jobs with local renewable-energy projects and 196 permanent operational jobs. Instead of entering into an agreement with a power company, the SFPUC could buy the energy itself, the report found.

Longtime CleanPowerSF supporter Eric Brooks will push today for the new program to include "behind the meter" projects, such as solar installations and other energy efficiencies on residences and businesses, which he said would boost jobs created in excess of 10,000.

It's expected the program could begin automatically enrolling both businesses and residents as early as next year, with a first-phase enrollment of up to 150,000 customers on an opt-out basis as required by state law. Customers would be enrolled in a light-green option, with rates expected to be at or lower than PG&E's. They would have a choice to opt into paying more for a 100 percent renewable-energy product. This is a model being used by Marin Clean Energy, the first community-choice aggregation in California.

On Tuesday, Supervisor John Avalos introduced legislation that enshrines the new program's framework and would give the mayor another chance to show his support by signing the law.

Amid the news, the mayor has appointed Ike Kwon, the general manager of the California Academy of Sciences, to take the vacated seat on the SFPUC left by Art Torres, one of the commissioners to vote against CleanPowerSF. Kwon is expected to signal his support of CleanPowerSF when his appointment is up for review by the board's Rules Committee on Feb. 12. But some have questioned his experience as a ratepayer or consumer advocate, criteria for the position.

Next week, the San Francisco Building Trades Council is scheduled to vote to take a position on CleanPowerSF. Some labor groups had opposed aspects of the failed plan in 2013.

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