City Attorney Wants PG&E Muzzled On Government-Run Clean Energy Plan

City Attorney Dennis Herrera is asking state energy regulators to shut PG&E up when it comes to a controversial overhaul of San Francisco's power system that proponents say would provide greener electricity.

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A city brochure for CleanPowerSF
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In a petition filed today with the California Public Utilities Commission, Herrera asks for a sweeping prohibition on any communications from the company directed at its San Francisco customers on the subject of the city's plan, called CleanPowerSF. "There's a difference between First Amendment rights and using your market monopoly for an anti-competitive end," said Matt Dorsey, Herrera's spokesman.

The petition was provoked in part by a December mailer sent out by a PG&E-affiliated political action committee that attacked CleanPowerSF, citing predictions by economists in the City Controller's Office that it would raise customers' rates. (Disclosure: the mailer also quoted a January 2009 SF Weekly cover story on the potential pitfalls of the program.) Dorsey said that such mailers would be illegal if the state Public Utilities Commission grants Herrera's request.

CleanPowerSF is known as a community choice aggregation, or CCA, program. Under the plan, San Francisco would lump all its electricity ratepayers together, withdraw them from the incumbent power provider (in this case, PG&E) and enroll them with a new provider chosen by city officials. Customers would automatically be switched over from their current service, unless they take proactive steps to "opt out" of CCA.

Even if the state Public Utilities Commission accedes to Herrera's gag order, PG&E would still be allowed to communicate with government officials regarding CCA, Dorsey said. But the company's inability to try to dissuade ratepayers to opt out of the program would put the utility at a serious disadvantage in its efforts to retain customers.

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