October 21, 2014

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Clean-energy advocates demand mayor restore CleanpowerSF language to San Francisco Climate Action Strategy

Supervisor John Avalos at CleanPowerSF rally in 2013.

Supervisor John Avalos at CleanPowerSF rally in 2013.

On March 31, community clean-energy and green-jobs advocates spoke at a hearing convened by San Francisco Supervisor John Avalos to demand answers on why Mayor Ed Lee is both blocking the launch of CleanPowerSF and stripping the city’s Climate Action Strategy of its only actionable strategy for a just transition to clean energy.

The San Francisco Department of Environment staff have repeatedly stated that a robust clean-energy program is essential to the city for meeting its climate-action goals on schedule, and every draft version of the city’s Climate Action Strategy has included CleanPowerSF as the cornerstone of that transition. However, when Mayor Lee unveiled the final Climate Action Strategy on Feb. 12, all references to CleanPowerSF were discovered to have been deleted from the document.

The Sierra Club, 350 San Francisco, San Francisco Green Party, Haight Ashbury Neighborhood Council, Our City, San Francisco Gray Panthers, and other concerned community members spoke at the hearing demanding an end to political favors trumping the need for strong action on climate in the mayor’s office. Over the past week, San Francisco elected leaders have received hundreds of emails from the public insisting that the city move CleanPowerSF toward launch and that the program be written back into the Climate Action Strategy.

The Sierra Club’s San Francisco Group chair Sue Vaughan said, “The people of San Francisco and our planet cannot wait any longer while politicians influenced by fossil-fuel energy corporations delay the just transition to clean energy. Thousands of scientists working on the global climate crisis are now sounding the alarm that we must act immediately and dramatically to curb catastrophic climate disruption.”

Eric Brooks, campaign coordinator for Our City, said “It is time for San Franciscans to stop tolerating the impunity of a mayor who is controlled by PG&E corporation. We will not stand to be a city whose elected leaders prioritize favors to campaign donors over the will and need of our people.”

Jed Holtzman, co-coordinator of 350 San Francisco, remarked, “The failure of this mayoral administration to recognize and act on the extremely alarming climate data is shockingly irresponsible. We live in a coastal city dependent on winter snowpack for drinking water.  Mayor Lee needs to stop acting on behalf of fossil-fuel corporations and start acting to protect his community.”

Haight Ashbury Neighborhood Council boardmember and representative Bruce Wolfe said, “With Chevron announcing 1,000 new jobs for fossil-fuel modernization that is a direct contributor to climate change, the CleanPowerSF program is crucial to generating thousands of new green jobs in San Francisco, and yet our so called ‘Jobs Mayor’ is blocking the program and even deleting it from the city’s environmental documents. This has an obvious appearance of outright corruption to all of us.”

CleanPowerSF deleted from San Francisco Climate Action Strategy

Supervisor John Avalos at CleanPowerSF rally.

Supervisor John Avalos at CleanPowerSF rally.

All references to CleanPowerSF, the program to offer residents 100%-renewable electricity, mysteriously disappeared between two versions of San Francisco’s new Climate Action Strategy. In one draft, it was there. Two days later, all mention of the program had been deleted from the final version.

The problem is that without CleanPowerSF, there is no way the city can meet its new target of moving to 100%-renewable electricity by 2030. The Strategy still says, “Moving to 100% renewable electricity is the single biggest step the City can take to reduce Greenhouse Gas Emissions.” But it no longer lists any possible way to make that step. All that is left is a list of small programs, such as, “Expand SFPark meter demand pricing program,” most of which have nothing to do with renewable electricity. The Climate Action Plan has been reduced to a glossy brochure on the dangers of climate change.

On March 11 Supervisor John Avalos said, “Unless we quickly implement 100% renewable electricity, we will fail to meet our legislated Greenhouse Gas Emission reduction requirements in the next few years.”

San Francisco has already missed its 2012 greenhouse-gas-reduction targets by a wide margin, because Mayor Edwin Lee gutted the programs created by former Mayor Newsom that would have enabled the targets to be met (see Feb., page 4). Now his administration’s hastily edited new plan advances little further.

When asked about the deletions at a Board of Supervisors meeting on March 11, Mayor Lee dodged the question, talking only about his opposition to CleanPowerSF, which he has stalled, but lacks the authority to kill.

What Mayor Lee has succeeded in doing is to rip the guts out of the new Climate Action Strategy, rendering it as meaningless as the missed greenhouse-gas reduction targets from 2012.

John Rizzo, chair, Sierra Club Bay Chapter Political Committee

Clean energy advocates applaud reduced electricity rates for CleanPowerSF

300x225_cleanpowersfOn July 9 San Francisco’s Local Area Formation Commission, in joint meeting with the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission, voted to reduce the proposed maximum electricity rate for the CleanPowerSF program, which is scheduled to launch early next year. The Sierra Club applauds this change.

Until recently SFPUC staff planned to set the cap at almost double PG&E power rates, but after more than a year of work between advocates and the SFPUC, the rate cap is now set to be much lower. The new cap will ensure that tier-one customers, who are expected to make up the bulk of the program’s participants, will receive the benefit of a much higher renewable-electricity mix than that of PG&E, for an average monthly increase of less than six dollars.

CleanPowerSF is being planned to install hundreds of megawatts of clean, renewable energy and efficiency measures throughout San Francisco, and to generate thousands of local jobs. But advocates had warned that if the CleanPowerSF rate were set too high, too many customers would opt out of the program. This would have made the program too small in scale to achieve its main objective of providing at least half its clean electricity from such local installations by the end of the decade.

Arthur Feinstein, chair of the San Francisco Bay Chapter of the Sierra Club, said, “This lower rate cap for the CleanPowerSF program is a big victory for our community and the environment. These lower rates mean more San Franciscans will take part in the program. This will result in more local clean-energy generation, and that means more local jobs. It also means a lot less greenhouse gas will be going into the atmosphere, a major success in our battle with the world’s greatest threat, climate change.”

Al Weinrub, director of Local Clean Energy Alliance, said, “Now that a reasonable and more competitive cap is being set for CleanPowerSF electricity, we can get on to the important business: putting thousands of San Franciscans to work building hundreds of megawatts of local clean energy installations over the next decade. A large local installation program is vital to recovering a vibrant San Francisco economy, and to ensuring that we are truly replacing fossil fuel with verifiable renewable sources.”

Eric Brooks, campaign coordinator for Our City, said, “These lower rates will ensure that everyone in San Francisco, no matter what their income level, will be able to take part in CleanPowerSF. This will mean that the program will be large enough in scale to ensure strong local hiring of thousands of union workers to build out the infrastructure.”

Producing local renewable energy through CleanPowerSF

Photo: Flickr / Mass Am Sam (cc)

Photo: Flickr / Mass Am Sam (cc)

CleanPowerSF is San Francisco’s opportunity to invest hundreds of millions of dollars and bring thousands of local clean-energy jobs to San Francisco, while transitioning from reliance on dirty fossil-fuel energy to clean renewable electricity. However, a strong program will only take place through continued public advocacy.

Unfortunately, the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission (SFPUC) is not currently prioritizing the investment in local renewable energy generation or energy efficiency. The SFPUC needs to make this commitment.

A strong local build-out plan is also needed for CleanPowerSF to be a popular and economically viable program, one that can compete with PG&E. To make sure that CleanPowerSF is an effective vehicle for addressing the climate and economic development issues facing San Francisco, write to the SFPUC.

Ask the commissioners to support the Sierra Club’s position to establish a solid plan for local production of renewable energy before launching CleanPowerSF, and to make sure that the program charges affordable rates from the beginning.

Supervisors pass CleanPowerSF!

On Tue., Sep. 18, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors voted 8 – 3 for legislation that will finally allow start-up of CleanPowerSF (see August-September Yodeler, page 4).

Supervisor David Campos, who has been working with community advocates and the San Francisco Public Utility Commission to shape the program, said “This program will provide a clean-energy choice to up to 90,000 San Franciscans at a third of the cost of all of the city’s previous and much-smaller renewable-electricity programs.”

Supervisors Campos, Chiu, Cohen, Mar, Kim, Olague, Weiner, and Avalos voted to support CleanPowerSF. Supervisors Farrell, Chu, and Elsbernd voted against the legislation.

For over a decade this program has been among the Sierra Club Bay Chapter’s top priorities. San Francisco Group ExComm member John Rizzo recalls lobbying for it in then-Supervisor Tom Ammiano’s office in 2002. Volunteers and staff have been working continually for it ever since. We will continue weighing in to improve implementation.

On Sep. 25 the Supervisors will hold a second reading on the ordinance. After that, Mayor Ed Lee will have 30 days to approve or veto it. Eight votes would be enough to override a mayoral veto. Then will begin the process of rolling out the program, hopefully providing power to customers by spring, and of developing local sources of green power.

WhatYouCanDo

Contact Mayor Ed Lee at:

City Hall
1 Dr. Carlton B. Goodlett Place
San Francisco, CA 94102
(415)554-6141
fax: (415)554-6160
mayoredwinlee@sfgov.org

Urge him to sign the legislation for CleanPowerSF and to give his full support to its fullest successful implementation and to local generation of clean power, so that San Francisco can take its rightful role as a national leader towards clean energy and stopping global climate change.

Clearing the path for renewable power in San Francisco–Turning CCA into DG and local jobs at CleanPowerSF–This alphabet-soup could determine future of clean energy

Veterans gain green-job skills.

Veterans gain green-job skills.

Updated (Sep. 6, 2012): added more-current information to the WhatYouCanDo section.

Fossil-fuel generation of electricity is one of the leading causes of global climate change, but switching a community to renewable energy is tricky.

A state law passed in 2002 (AB 117—Migden) created Community Choice Aggregation (CCA), the means under California law for communities to take control of their energy choices, offering residents an alternative to PG&E and other investor-owned utilities. But once a community does start setting up a Community Choice program, the results aren’t automatic. It takes a lot of tough decisions to determine whether Community Choice will bring local, clean, low-carbon power generation, energy-efficiency projects, and the accompanying skilled local jobs.

Local control does offer opportunities for nurturing local “distributed generation” (DG), such as solar panels and wind machines on buildings, parking lots, and other available urban spaces. Such local generation should be complemented with local energy-efficiency installations such as insulation, multi-paned windows, cogeneration units on gas boilers (using waste heat to produce steam-generated electricity), and smart grids. By building new local generation capacity, Community Choice ensures that it is directly increasing green power and not just competing with other buyers for renewable electricity that would be generated elsewhere anyway.

The city may also seek carbon-free energy from solar farms and wind farms in areas where large tracts of inexpensive land are available. In this case, we want the city to choose carefully. Such power plants can be far from the customers who use the power, requiring long transmission lines, which lose up to 15% of the power to resistive heat. These lines may be built through sensitive wild areas or agricultural lands. Many companies are trying to site facilities in precious desert wildlands or on prime farmlands. Local control gives the opportunity to set high environmental standards for choosing among providers, in particular standards higher than the state’s definition of renewable energy, which for example allows burning of wood chips.

Instituting such standards is a challenge, though. To get started, a Community Choice program may contract to buy electricity from a large-scale provider that can guarantee supply right away. This strategy can gain the community time to develop secure financing for local clean-energy sources. But once a contract is signed with a large provider, how can we make sure that the local community will develop its own clean energy?

San Francisco’s plans

This is a key problem that San Francisco is wrestling with as it sets up its new Community Choice program, CleanPowerSF (see April-May 2012, page 4). The Sierra Club Bay Chapter is working with allies such as the Local Clean Energy Alliance, Brightline Defense, and Our City to help the San Francisco Public Utility Commission, Local Area Formation Commission (LAFCO), and Board of Supervisors shape the CleanPowerSF program.

The SFPUC has negotiated a contract with Shell Energy North America to provide energy meeting state standards as renewable. Shell was one of just two energy providers to come even close to meeting the bidding requirements set forward by the SFPUC three years ago. The SFPUC has passed a resolution for adopting the Shell contract, which, due to the work of the Sierra Club and allies, has language committing the city to the concept of local build-out of clean energy and efficiency as “essential to a successful CCA program”.

Next, two committees of the Board of Supervisors will soon be discussing this resolution. The Bay Chapter and its allies have been working hard to broaden the resolution to include local and regional renewable-energy resources and energy-efficiency projects. Once the resolution clears the two committees, then the full Board will decide whether to accept it and get started, or to reject it. At the same time, the city has contracted for Local Power, the Bay Area clean-energy engineering team that created the Community Choice model and specializes in planning for such programs, to study and then design an implementation plan for installing hundreds of megawatts of local and regional distributed generation via CleanPowerSF. Preliminary study results are due by the end of August, with installation plans and construction bids set for release by October.

The city is faced with some delicate decisions in very difficult financial times. If it approves the Shell contract without a plan for local generation, local renewables could end up developing too slowly, but if the city were to reject the Shell contract on this basis, San Francisco might miss the opportunity to get Community Choice started at all. An ideal solution would be to integrate the Shell contract and the local installation plan, moving them forward as a single program. Recently the SFPUC has proposed allocating $6 million towards energy-efficiency upgrades, the GoSolarSF program, and additional scoping of local build-out. Timing, though, may block integration of Local Power’s scientific analysis of load distribution, efficiency targets, and generation potential. We are working with Supervisor Campos, LAFCO, and the SFPUC to make the commitment to build-out as strong as possible.

Meanwhile, Marin Clean Energy has remained stable despite many attempts by PG&E to attack and undermine it, and is now making progress in building renewable-energy and efficiency installations” (see page 5).

An additional curveball for both Clean­PowerSF and MCE has come with PG&E’s recent announcement that it will soon offer customers what it calls a 100%-green option. This program, however, would be based entirely on Renewable Energy Credits (RECs) that fail to meet even California Renewable Portfolio Standards.

Sierra Club California is a party in a proceeding with the California Public Utility Commission to force PG&E to adopt RECs that qualify under the California Renewable Portfolio Standard, and to address potential monopolistic behavior.

The Sierra Club will continue to work with our allies to ensure that San Francisco finds a clear path forward with CleanPowerSF to genuinely encourage the greatest possible installation of local and regional renewable-energy generation, and energy efficiency.

WhatYouCanDo


Contact the San Francisco Board of Supervisors now to urge them to support the CleanPowerSF Community Choice program, with extensive local generation of renewable energy and energy-efficiency improvements.

In coming weeks we expect that there will be further opportunities for readers to take action to support a strong CleanPowerSF. To be sure of receiving e-mail updates and alerts from the Bay Chapter, sign up at http://action.sierraclub.org/site/PageNavigator/CHP_SFBay_SignUp.

David Gray, chair,
Sierra Club Bay Chapter Energy Committee

CleanPowerSF coming to vote

The San Francisco Board of Supervisors will soon vote on a new implementation plan and contract for CleanPowerSF (see November-December Yodeler, page 5).

CleanPowerSF, due to start later this year, is San Francisco’s program of “Community Choice Aggregation” (CCA), which gives cities and counties the ability to purchase and develop renewable electricity. CleanPowerSF will offer San Francisco residents a choice: whether to stay with PG&E, which generates most of its electricity from dirty fossil fuels and nuclear power, or to opt for a green alternative with greatly reduced greenhouse-gas emissions.

The planning process for CleanPowerSF has been long and involved. Recently the city’s Public Utility Commission has introduced the framework of the program that will provide 100% renewable energy, at a projected cost for most customers just $6.70 more per month than PG&E’s. The Commission has also contracted for Local Power Inc., to perform a study of options for building local renewable generation (e.g. rooftop solar panels and wind turbines) and increasing energy efficiency. Such options can create local green-collar jobs.

(To our north, the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors is also actively advancing towards implementation of a Community Choice program. See the front-page article in Redwood Needles, the newsletter of the Sierra Club Redwood Chapter, February-March 2012.)

PG&E will likely do everything in its power to stop Community Choice, as it tried in 2010 with Prop 16, and in Marin with that county’s CCA effort. We need to let the San Francisco Supervisors know that the local community supports this program.

WhatYouCanDo

Contact the San Francisco Board of Supervisors at:

City Hall
1 Dr. Carlton B. Goodlett Place
San Francisco, CA 94102
board.of.supervisors@sfgov.org

and Mayor Ed Lee at same mailing address as above or mayoredwinlee@sfgov.org.

Urge them to support the CleanPowerSF Community Choice program.

We’re not yet sure when the Board will be deciding. We’ll update this article when we know.

Jeramiah Dean, conservation organizer, Sierra Club Bay Chapter

Stop bill to protect PG&E’s monopoly

Supervisor John Avalos at CleanPowerSF rally in 2013.

Supervisor John Avalos at CleanPowerSF rally in 2013.

AB 2145, a bill currently under consideration in the state legislature, would effectively prevent creation of any new Community Choice energy programs in the state.

Community Choice is the procedure under state law that enables local jurisdictions to administer energy-efficiency programs, develop new local renewable-energy resources, and buy cleaner wholesale electricity to sell to local residents and businesses. It is the most powerful tool available to local governments to rapidly reduce greenhouse-gas emissions.

A key feature of existing law is that when a Community Choice program starts up in an area, all customers are automatically enrolled unless they choose to opt out. AB 2145 would reverse this requirement to an opt-in format.

Given the extraordinary power amassed by utilities over 100 years of electricity monopolies, opt-out is the only viable way to introduce competition. About a dozen communities in the state are seriously evaluating Community Choice, but none will continue if AB 2145 is enacted. A prospective program must demonstrate that it has a critical mass of customers. Opt-in programs, even when they clearly benefit customers, obtain only single-digit participation.

For over 100 years electricity users have had no chance to opt in. Requiring opt-in now would buttress the private monopoly. Many legislators do not understand the real effects this bill would have. Three Bay Chapter legislators have already voted for AB 2145 in the Assembly Utility and Commerce Committee: Susan Bonilla, Joan Buchanan, and Bill Quirk!

What You Can Do

Contact your state legislators in the Assembly and Senate, especially if you live in the district of one of the above who already voted for the bill in committee, at:

State Capitol
Sacramento, CA 95814,

or you can find e-mail information at:

http://assembly.ca.gov/assemblymembers
http://senate.ca.gov/senators

Urge them to vote NO on AB 2145 when it comes before them.

Supervisor John Avalos introduces ordinance to study joining Marin Clean Energy–each day that San Francisco waits to implement clean power produces an additional 149 tons of carbon dioxide

On April 22, Earth Day, San Francisco Supervisor John Avalos will introduce an ordinance to initiate a study of joining Marin Clean Energy to offer San Franciscans a greener alternative to PG&E’s electricity service.

For 10 years San Francisco has worked to establish its own Community Choice energy program called CleanPowerSF. Last year the Board of Supervisors gave final approval to CleanPowerSF, but the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission blocked its implementation.

“Mayor Lee and the Public Utilities Commission objected to CleanPowerSF, but they have offered no other solution to provide San Franciscans with 100% renewable electricity,” Avalos said. “With this ordinance, we can either join Marin, or we can implement our own program, but we can no longer afford to do nothing.”

Marin Clean Energy began serving customers in 2010, and in 2013 it expanded to include the city of Richmond. MCE currently serves approximately 125,000 customers, offering two types of service: a “deep green” service that offers 100% renewable energy and a “light green” service that is 50% renewable energy.

In 2008 San Francisco enacted ambitious greenhouse-gas emission limits. The Department of the Environment’s Climate Action Strategy states that “moving to 100% renewable electricity is the single biggest step the City can take to reduce GHG emissions.”

The tracking equipment for the South San Joaquin Irrigation District solar installation, from which Marin Clean Energy purchases power, is designed to last 100 years.

The tracking equipment for the South San Joaquin Irrigation District solar installation, from which Marin Clean Energy purchases power, is designed to last 100 years.

The Department of the Environment reports that CleanPowerSF’s initial planned rollout of a 30 MW program would have resulted in the elimination of 52,881 tons of carbon dioxide (CO2) per year. This means that every day of further delay in implementing CleanPowerSF contributes 149 metric tons of CO2.

And in the 252 days since the SFPUC declined to implement CleanPowerSF, San Francisco has needlessly generated 36,500 metric tons of CO2—that translates to 80 million pounds of CO2!

The Avalos ordinance will begin the process of evaluating San Francisco’s ability to join Marin Clean Energy. The ordinance also urges the SFPUC to compare MCE and CleanPowerSF, and to implement whichever best meets San Francisco’s goals of balancing price, renewable-energy content, and ability to fund construction of local clean-energy projects. 

SF issues Climate Action Strategy–with one hand tied behind its back

Supervisor John Avalos at CleanPowerSF rally

Supervisor John Avalos at CleanPowerSF rally

On Tue., Feb. 12, San Francisco finally released its long-completed Climate Action Strategy, calling for a transition to 100% renewable electricity. Other goals include zero waste and 50% of all trips within the city by means other than cars.

Unfortunately the city is stuck in political gridlock on implementation of CleanPowerSF, the indispensable lynchpin for any effort to reach its goals.

San Francisco had already set a goal to reduce its carbon emissions 20% by 2012–but has achieved little more than half of this. Mayor Ed Lee’s administration has blocked or gutted key carbon-reducing programs enacted when Gavin Newsom was mayor. The Lee administration has blocked the CleanPowerSF electricity program, gutted the GoSolarSF program, and eviscerated the city’s commitment to a clean-vehicle fleet. City Hall and other municipal buildings still lack solar panels.

“The Sierra Club applauds the city for its forward-thinking Climate Action Strategy, but it means nothing unless San Francisco politicians allocate actual resources. Until CleanPowerSF is implemented, the Climate Action goals will be mere words. The city is dealing with climate disruption with one hand tied behind its back,” said Michelle Myers, chair of the Sierra Club San Francisco Bay Chapter.

“The Lee administration is not going to meet its goal by ignoring previous commitments. In addition to CleanPowerSF, the administration needs to continue with already existing programs that can deliver big reductions in carbon,” said John Rizzo, political chair of the Sierra Club San Francisco Bay Chapter.

CleanPowerSF would offer San Francisco consumers electricity from 100% renewable sources. The implementing legislation for it was introduced and passed a full decade ago (Feb. 24 will be the 10th anniversary of its introduction at the Board of Supervisors), yet last August the mayoral-appointed Public Utilities Commission voted 3 – 2 to put CleanPowerSF on the equivalent of indefinite hold.

It’s time for the mayor and the city to take genuine action.