Examiner editorial: Shameless pressure to halt public power vote 

"Shameless” seems to be the appropriate word to describe the increasingly strident tactics of the Board of Supervisors leftward bloc and other committed backers of The City’s proposed public power program. They are pressuring the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission’s executive director, Ed Harrington, to sign off quickly on a deal establishing their pick, the little-known Power Choice company, as The City’s exclusive community choice aggregation vendor that would compete for PG&E customers.

Harrington and Mayor Gavin Newsom are being accused of stalling to prevent a contract from being finalized before the June 8 election, when voters get to decide on PG&E-backed Proposition 16, which would require two-thirds ballot approval before a local jurisdiction could spend public money to enter the electricity business.

In other words, all the self-righteous indignation being hurled at Harrington and the SFPUC is meant to block the San Francisco public from voting directly on an energy-supplier proposal not terribly different from one voters rejected in 2008 by a whopping 22 percent. Shameless indeed.

To lean harder on the SFPUC, four supervisors recently tried to hold up a $382 million payment toward the long-needed $4.6 billion renovation of the aging Hetch Hetchy water system that supplies 2.5 million Bay Area residents. That delay was defeated 6-4, but now the budget committee wants to delay approval of the SFPUC five-year financial plan.

Rushing into a yearly $400 million deal with an unproven company that was formed in 2009 specifically to bid on California community choice aggregation contracts is about the worst thing San Francisco could do.

City Hall should not make contractual commitments without having a fully transparent and satisfactory understanding of these very basic points, which are still unknown: How much would San Franciscans have to pay on their monthly energy bills; how much sustainable and clean “green power” would be guaranteed; and how much would taxpayers be on the hook for if the deal fails?

PG&E might not be the warmest and fuzziest corporation, and it’s obviously throwing millions of dollars into Prop. 16 for its own advantage. But at least it has a 160-year record of delivering energy to customers.

In contrast, Power Choice has no track record as a company and, as far as we know, seems to be headquartered at a house in the South Bay. Also, PG&E is hemmed in by many decades of state and local regulations restricting its ability to increase rates and also mandating higher levels of clean energy. Community choice aggregation providers actually operate under looser oversight.

So if The City’s public power deal will be so great for San Franciscans, why are its backers so eager to block voters from having final approval?

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Staff Report

Staff Report

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