CleanPowerSF supporters make push to maintain program despite budget challenges 

click to enlarge Hetch Hetchy
  • Dan Schreiber/S.F. Examiner file photo
  • The cost of CleanPowerSF is likely to be affected by the overhaul of the Mountain Tunnel conduit from the Hetch Hetchy Reservoir, which is expected to hit $650 million.
Supporters of the proposed renewable-energy alternative to PG&E are pushing San Francisco utility officials to give the program another chance despite their recently announced outlook of significant budget deficits.

After rejecting proposed maximum power rates for CleanPowerSF in August, the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission announced a dire financial outlook, further darkening the program’s future.

Harlan Kelly, head of the SFPUC, even recently directed staff to stop working on the community-choice aggregation program.

But Monday, he made one concession during the commission’s joint meeting with the Local Agency Formation Commission, which includes program supporters like supervisors London Breed and John Avalos. Kelly said he would allow one of his staff members to help with the commission’s request for proposals for a consultant to try and address concerns raised about the rejected proposed rates. The process would address issues such as job creation and competitive power rates to PG&E. The consultant’s work is seen by supporters as a key step in keeping CleanPowerSF alive.

One of the biggest new costs facing the SFPUC is the Mountain Tunnel underground conduit through which most of the water from Hetch Hetchy Reservoir flows as well as some power. Initially, the agency projected the need of $100 million to reline the tunnel, but that has now ballooned to as much as $650 million for a complete overhaul.

Breed said the new cost “disturbs me” given its potential to impact CleanPowerSF.

“This kind of concern probably should have been discovered and addressed many years ago,” Breed said.

Kelly noted that in 2002, the agency identified $4.6 billion in infrastructure needs near fault lines and other infrastructure needs are coming into focus.

Another concern is ongoing negotiations with PG&E over the rates it charges the SFPUC to transmit electricity. A distribution agreement expires July 15. The City currently pays the utility company $16 million, but that could increase by millions of dollars.

Avalos said he thinks the agency should explore how CleanPowerSF could not be a hindrance on the agency’s budget forecast. But SFPUC officials were resistant to the suggestion, saying instead they are focused on the existing operation.

Breed is among those working to find solutions to maintain the clean-power program.

“If we continue to work together we can get to the point where we can provide clean power and we can do it in a cost effective way,” Breed said. “We owe it to future generations to go this route.”

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