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Tuesday, August 13, 2013

SF PUC caves to PG&E on Clean Power

Pacific Gas and Electric Co. and its union, IBEW Local 1245, have launched a classic misleading campaign against Clean Power SF, and for good reason: PG&E knows that once the city gets into the power business, it's a first step toward a world where the private utility is no longer needed. It's gone so far that Randy Shaw at BeyondChron even bought into it, arguing that since Shell Oil is evil, we should scrap the entire effort. (Shell is evil. So is PG&E. See: Erin Brockovitch. See: Gas explosions. But that's not the point -- Shell is a short-term fix to get us to the point where we as a city can generate our own green power. You can't sell bonds to build power facilities without a revenue stream. You can't get a revenue stream without a business and customers.)

And now the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission has signed on with PG&E and its allies.

In a startling vote, the panel refused today (Aug. 13) to take the housekeeping step of approving a rate package -- essentially sending Clean Power SF back to the drawing board. It's not clear if the action was even consistent with the City Charter -- Jeremy Pollock, an aide to Sup. John Avalos, pointed out at the hearing that the supervisors approved the plan on a veto-prof 8-3 vote, and it's not the job of the PUC to change that policy. He also pointed out the obvious politics: "The Board of Supervisors and all the environmental groups support this. The mayor, PG&E, and its union oppose it."

Everyone agrees that this program isn't perfect. It's an imperfect world for renewable energy right now, and PG&E and its allies have made things very difficult for anyone trying to get into the public-power business. But as Commissioner (and former PUC General Manager) Anson Moran pointed out, "not all of the things we want to do [right now] are possible. Is this good enough? Yes."

And yet, Chair Art Torres (a Gavin Newsom appointee and former chair of the state Democratic Party who is no stranger to backroom politics) and members Anne Moeller Caen (who has been both dumb and oppositional on public power for her entire tenure), and Vince Courtney, who ought to know better, all voted not to approve the rate structure that's needed for this to move forward.

"It's very disappointing," Sup. David Campos, a leader in the Clean Power SF fight, told me. "This is just one step in a longterm process. I don't know what they want."

It wasn't clear from watching the hearing what the PUC members want, either. The staff explained that all of the other elements of Clean Power, including the buildout of city renewables, have to wait until the rates are approved. Courtney said that the "labor issues aren't resolved," although he also acknowledged that the only labor union opposed to Clean Power SF is IBEW 1245. Torres said the project wasn't as good as it should be and that there are other options --but that fight, on a policy level, is over: The Board of Supervisors has decided the city is going to establish a Clean Power system.

It's going to take a while to figure out what happens next, but it's clear that PG&E's efforts won this round.


  1. Tim, great article and very timely, but there is one correction. IBEW Local 1245 was not the only union that opposed CleanPowerSF. My union UNITE-HERE Local 2 strongly opposes CCA and the Shell contract and communicated this to the Board of Supervisors. Our President Mike Casey ensured that the SF Labor Council supported the Shell Shock campaign so we can have real green jobs for our working families.


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