Questions remain in San Francisco clean energy program 

click to enlarge CleanPowerSF is intended to raise funds for local green power-creation efforts, but The City must also create a service cheap enough to retain customers. - CINDY CHEW/2009 S.F. EXAMINER FILE PHOTO
  • Cindy Chew/2009 s.f. examiner file photo
  • CleanPowerSF is intended to raise funds for local green power-creation efforts, but The City must also create a service cheap enough to retain customers.

The City’s nascent plan to offer San Francisco electricity customers an alternative power option — and to charge a rate that’s competitive with PG&E while providing enough energy that’s truly green — is still looking for its “sweet spot.”

Beginning in October, 200,000 utility customers are expected to be automatically enrolled in CleanPowerSF. Under a five-year, $19.5 million contract with Shell Energy North America, the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission will buy state-certified green energy from Shell, transmit it through PG&E’s infrastructure and sell it to customers at a higher rate.

It remains to be seen what that rate will be — and exactly how much of the electricity is solar, wind or other green energy, and how much of it is “renewable energy certificates,” essentially carbon credits.

Options floated to the SFPUC on Tuesday included a proposal that was 15 percent renewable energy and 85 percent certificates. That would provide an energy cocktail that could compete with PG&E’s while providing a revenue stream, but might not be green enough.

Along with providing an alternative to PG&E that uses renewable energy, CleanPowerSF is supposed to create jobs by funding a “build-out” of San Francisco’s own green power supply.

If the power offered under CleanPowerSF is too expensive, too many customers will drop out, effectively ending the program. But if the power is too cheap, there won’t be enough revenue to sell bonds and fund the “build-out,” according to documents presented Tuesday.

“My hope is that we’ll be able to find a sweet spot somewhere, with the greenest mix possible, but also with the greatest amount of build-out,” said SFPUC member Francesa Vietor.

PG&E earlier this month also announced a “green option” of its own that would allow customers to buy renewable energy. Its rates have yet to be set but could be roughly an extra $6 on most customers’ monthly utility bills. CleanPower SF could be between $5.45 and $10.24 extra on bills.

If the CleanPowerSF rate is too high, it is feared too many customers will opt out, effectively scuttling the program. At least 90,000 customers out of the original 200,000 must stay enrolled, and they must stay enrolled for two years in order for the SFPUC to sell bonds.

The SFPUC was originally scheduled to set rates Tuesday. That decision has been pushed back to May 14 and might be delayed further, agency President Art Torres said.

About The Author

Chris Roberts

Chris Roberts

Chris Roberts has worked as a reporter in San Francisco since 2008, with an emphasis on city governance and politics, The City’s neighborhoods, race, poverty and the drug war.
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