Is the City's Clean-Energy Master Plan Imploding?

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A brochure for CleanPowerSF
A planned overhaul of San Francisco's power grid intended to boost the city's energy independence and use of green electricity sources appears to be headed for trouble. Speaking to city officials on Friday, Mike Campbell, director of the CleanPowerSF program, said he thinks the ambitious plan's goals need to be more modest -- or they may not be achieved at all.

Current plans for CleanPowerSF -- also known as "community choice aggregation," or CCA, the program is supposed to allow the city to find a third party to provide energy as an alternative to the PG&E monopoly -- call for 51 percent of the city's energy to eventually come from renewable sources at rates at or below PG&E's, and for a significant portion of that power to be generated locally.

But Campbell expressed doubt that the city could find any companies willing to tackle such aggressive goals. "Based on my professional judgment," he said, "I believe that it's unlikely we'll be able to find a single bidder that will be able to meet all those criteria."

Campbell was speaking at a joint meeting of the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission and the Local Agency Formation Commission (LAFCo), a city commission with influence over energy policy. LAFCo's chairman, Supervisor Ross Mirkarimi, has led the charge for CleanPowerSF, which is seen as a second-best version of one of local progressives' political holy grails: a municipalized "public power" system to replace PG&E.

Campbell suggested requesting that bidders strive to meet the city's goals, rather than requiring them to do so. But Mirkarimi said this suggestion makes him "uneasy," and warned that softening the requirements now could lead to a program "almost completely unrecognizable from what the original intent of CCA is."

Campbell's suggestion also met with grumbling from public-power activist present at the meeting. One of them, Eric Brooks of the grassroots group Our City, said Campbell's modified program is viewed as "far too lax -- far, far too lax" by the community of advocates that has helped push CleanPowerSF forward.

At the end of the meeting, PUC and LAFCo commissioners voted unanimously to direct city staff to produce a program description that maintained some of the hard-and-fast requirements envisioned for CCA, while allowing flexibility in other areas.

For an in-depth look at the promises and risks of CleanPowerSF, check out our January cover story.

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