The Ass Appears on Stage. Its Name: Public Power.

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If only it were collectivized...
The big news out of yesterday's five-hour Board of Supervisors meeting was the adoption of a last-minute compromise on the Municipal Transportation Agency budget despite plenty of complaints from a cadre of left-leaning supes concerned about fare increases and other issues. But that wasn't the only bitching and moaning that went on at City Hall yesterday afternoon. In fact, some of the same supervisors angry over the MTA budget were downright apoplectic -- again -- over a new solar-power project.

You heard that right. Politicians who typically trip over each other to support any energy endeavor that is "clean," "renewable," or some combination thereof -- even when the proposed projects involve a big hit to ratepayers' wallets -- have been decrying a new city contract with Recurrent Energy, a private company that plans to build a five-megawatt solar-panel array atop the Sunset District reservoir at 24th Ave. and Ortega. Despite the fact that the contract was approved 7 to 4 by supervisors last week, its opponents mounted a last-ditch effort yesterday to send it back into committee.

You know what? They're right. We happen to agree that this is a bad deal for the city, since it locks in an overly expensive rate for solar power 25 years down the road. However, we speculated here last week that, despite some noises about the project making bad business sense, the supervisors avidly opposing the deal were doing so for the wrong reasons. Yesterday, it was more apparent than ever that's the case.

In a series of desperate and ultimately unsuccessful pleas to their colleagues -- the motion to send the contract to be reworked in committee failed, 6 to 5 -- supervisors made clear that their problem with the Recurrent deal isn't its cost. What's wrong with the project is that it doesn't fit their vision of so-called "public power" for San Francisco. Public power, for those lucky enough to be ignorant of the city's ongoing energy debates, is a catch-all term for various schemes to carry out a government takeover of the city's electricity grid, which is currently owned and run by Pacific Gas & Electric Co.

Never mind that voters have rejected these proposals not one, not two -- and not three -- but four times over the past eight years when they showed up on the ballot. Public power continues to be ne plus ultra political cause of the San Francisco Bay Guardian, which has concocted an edifice of paranoia, delusion, and outright lies around the subject that rivals anything dreamed up in the hotboxed basement of an X-Files fan.

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Will you be his friend? The Bay Guardian will
Here are a few snippets from supervisors yesterday on how this particular solar-power project doesn't mesh with their idea of electricity Venezuelan-style:   

Supervisor Ross Mirkarimi: "I think it does undercut our efforts on community choice aggregation and on public power... and that's something that's hard for us to take."

Supervisor David Campos: "Yes, there can be a difference of opinion, but I think if you really do believe in public power, you should let this process [of sending the contract back into committee] play itself out."

Supervisor John Avalos: "This is not truly public power, which is something I campaigned for."

Nietzsche famously referred to that time when the often irrational convictions behind an argument become clear as the moment when the ass appears on the stage. As it happened, yesterday's meeting offered a dramatic illustration of this conceit. As he began swearing his own allegiance to public power, Supervisor Chris Daly gave a shout-out to "our friends over at the Bay Guardian. Welcome, Steve Jones, city editor, here today." Jones, who was sitting in the press box, smiled broadly and waved.

Such scenes should give the willies to anyone who cares about journalism that holds the powerful to account, rather than inviting them to reciprocal ego-stroke fests. And whatever faces, names, or publications you associate with the ass of public power, one thing is certain: It's time for the curtains to drop on this act.

Solar-panel photo by david.nikonvscanon.

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