S.F. seeks partner for solar power program 

The City is ready to partner with a private company to develop large-scale solar power facilities — and has $100 million of bondrevenue to bring to the table — Mayor Gavin Newsom announced at a gathering of green technology entrepreneurs and investors Wednesday.

Although voters approved a $100 million revenue bond measure in 2001 to pay for solar equipment on city-owned buildings, that money has gone unspent because of a restriction that required each solar project to generate power that would cost the same or less than using electricity from the traditional power grid, according to Tony Winnicker, a spokesman for the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission.

A state measure that went into effect Jan. 1, authored by Assemblyman Mark Leno, now allows The City to use the bond measure money to build large-scale solar projects at large and remote sites, such as at reservoirs, and divert that power to other locations.

"We can move that energy around and get credit for power somewhere else in The City," Winnicker said.

Call for submissions

Jesse Blout, Newsom’s deputy chief of staff for economic and development affairs, told The Examiner that San Francisco has issued a formal call for submissions, called a request for information, from private businesses and organizations interested in helping to finance and develop the solar projects with San Francisco.

Blout compared the process to one The City launched to find a private partner to develop a citywide wireless network — a deal that went to Google and Earthlink, working in partnership, but that is being challenged by several city supervisors as insufficient and having the potential to lock The City into an obsolete technology.

San Francisco owns and operates the nation’s largest city-owned solar project, atop the Moscone Convention Center, as well as a solar system on the Southeast Wastewater Treatment Plant, which combined produce less than two megawatts of solar power — only enough power for 2,000 homes.

With the new private-public partnership, The City envisions getting up to nearly 35 megawatts in the future, enough to power up to 35,000 homes and businesses, Winnicker said.

Newsom told The Examiner that although he’s proud of the progress The City has made to advance solar power, "we’re still playing in the margins."

"That’s the spirit of this new initiative, to get to the next level," he added.

Tom Tanton, a senior fellow at the Institute for Energy Research, said San Francisco was smart to seek outside partnerships to help develop its solar program, but said city officials should exercise caution when making The City’s deals.

"PV [photovoltaic] cells are advancing pretty rapidly; if too much is bought up front of one technology then when another technology comes up next year everything you bought is obsolete," Tanton said.


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