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Saturday, October 16, 2021

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News + PoliticsClean Power program starts signup campaign

Clean Power program starts signup campaign

Residents and businesses can sign up now for 100 percent renewable power

You like nuclear power? No? well, there's now an alternative
You like nuclear power? No? well, there’s now an alternative

By Tim Redmond

There hasn’t been a lot of news media attention to it, but the city’s clean power agency is up and running, and you can sign up today to get 100 percent green energy to replace PG&E, starting next spring.

Jason Fried, director of the city’s Local Agency Formation Commission, which has spearheaded CleanPowerSF, told me that the first renewable power will probably be delivered in February or March, depending on billing schedules.

Under the program, the city will buy renewable energy in bulk and deliver it to households and businesses using PG&E’s lines. Residents will automatically be enrolled in a program that offers between 33 and 50 percent renewable energy, at rates equal to or below those of PG&E.

PG&E and its allies will, of course, try to get customers to “opt out” (and have already tried to undermine the city’s ability to market clean power, although the sponsors of the pro-PG&E ballot measure have withdrawn their ballot argument stopped campaigning for it.)

The main program will roll out gradually, starting in the southeastern part of the city, where residents will automatically start to see lower power bills.

But there’s another option: For just a tiny bit more than what PG&E charges, San Franciscans can sign up for a fully-renewable program.

And either way, you can start getting clean energy the minute the program launches, no matter where you live, by signing up here. All you need is a copy of your last PG&E bill.

Why does it matter? Two reasons.

First, PG&E is never going to meet even the modest state standards for renewable energy. (Oh, and by the way, the company operates a nuclear power plant on an earthquake fault, which has not worked out all that well in other places.)

So while the oil companies have blocked strong climate-change legislation in Sacramento, San Francisco can do a lot on its own, and this is a centerpiece.

But this is also the beginning of a long, long overdue move to start replacing PG&E with city-owned and operated public power. You can read about the history of this scandal here; PG&E was never supposed to operate a private monopoly in this city, and the entire reason we have a water system with a dam in a national park is because environmentalists compromised with public-power advocates to allow Hetch Hetchy Valley to be flooded – as long as the dam also generated electric power to be used to prevent PG&E from getting a beachhead in Northern California.

We all know that, over time, only public-power agencies are going to be able to severely reduce not only greenhouse gases but power consumption in general. PG&E will never accept, for example, widespread rooftop solar, because that would eventually put the company out of business (or reduce it to a small grid operator).

And while the company talks a nice line about conservation, the reality is that every time electricity consumption goes down, PG&E’s revenue declines. And investor-owned companies don’t like revenue declines.

The revenue from CleanPowerSF will be used to build out local renewable-generation facilities, which the city can use to create its own power, supplementing what we get from Hetch Hetchy. Over time, there will be less and less need for PG&E except as the owner of the grid – and there’s no reason the city, with an adequate revenue stream to back it, can’t start issuing bonds to replace the private utility’s aging and unreliable lines with modern publicly owned equipment.

PG&E, in other words, has a vested interest in seeing CleanPowerSF fail. The mayor is now officially backing the project, but was very dubious at first, and I would say his support is lukewarm at best.

So the most powerful statement the residents of the city can make in favor of renewable energy (and ultimately public power) is to sign up, now.

Tim Redmond
Tim Redmond has been a political and investigative reporter in San Francisco for more than 30 years. He spent much of that time as executive editor of the Bay Guardian. He is the founder of 48hills.
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  1. I’m all for real competition. But it seems that the government is stacking the deck here to try and get everyone to switch over. If that ever happens then not only will we still have a monopoly and no competition, but it will be a monopoly run by incompetent bureaucrats

  2. Delivering gas is an inherently dangerous business. One incident is quite a good record, statistically. And we have no way of knowing how many more incidents there would have been if gas was delivered by the same empty suits who run Muni

  3. PG&E is about 2/3 sustainable already. The “clean” power folks can only deny that by claiming that nuclear isn’t clean, when in fact it is the cleanest form there is.

    I am not signing up. I do not want the city running anything. I do think it’s crappy that consumers have to opt out rather than opt in. That provision was put into state law only because the government was scared that people would not be taken in by the propaganda.

  4. No.
    I am saying that power companies and developers both benefit from highrises.
    I am saying that solar farms inevitably create a sprawl of their own, which is going to get much bigger, though it’ll have less of an effect than everyone living in one-unit buildings.

  5. So let me get this straight–you want more suburban sprawl, in order to have more rooftop space for solar panels? You must work in the solar power industry.

  6. Every day 100,000 SF residents commute to jobs outside SF, and 500,000 residents of elsewhere commute to jobs in SF.

    So the suburbs have too much housing and the city has too little

  7. We need both. Unfortunately SF has no control over the terrible housing policy of the Peninsula and the South Bay.

  8. I would like to see more highrise buildings in SF. That said, wouldn’t we achieve maximum environmental benefits by building highrises or more housing of any type near people’s jobs in the Silicon Valley area?

  9. Yes, I think it is fine to oppose greater heights and densities. I just don’t think that the capacity for solar power is one of them.

  10. Anyway, my main point is that there’s an alignment between developers and power companies. Both benefit from taller buildings, and both are supported by the same political forces. Willie Brown supports PG&E and supports the big developers. I don’t support PG&E and I don’t support big developers. Both Brown and I have the luxury of not having to pick and choose.

  11. I still disagree. The environmental benefits of increased urban density outweigh the foregone opportunity to build large solar farms within city limits. Completely decentralized independent power generation is not likely without some kind of revolution in renewable and battery tech. I’m not saying we shouldn’t be investing in this, but we shouldn’t limit density/height based on the idea that every building should support itself.

  12. OK, sure, but then it seems to me that your real objection is to greater densities and heights in the city.

    The city, the state, the nation and the planet are all growing in terms of population. So energy demands will increase regardless of what we do or do not do.

    Paradoxically nuclear is potentially the solution but nobody wants nuclear in their back yard. As cute and adorable as alternative clean energy is, we are going to need every energy source there is, and not just the politically correct ones.

  13. You still have not demonstrated how the square footage of roof space available for solar depends in any way on the height of the building.

    Common sense indicates that the horizontal square footage of an area is not changed by the scale of vertical development

  14. You can have rooftop solar on a skinny 100 unit building, but if it provides only 1% of its energy use, it might as well go fully 100% grid power.
    Tall buildings are not going away, but if solar panels are going to be the main source of energy in the future (which they may well be), then we are trading square miles of housing developments for square miles of solar farms. I think a square mile of solar farms has less of an environmental impact than one of housing, but it’s still significant.

    Some people love living in suburbs, some people love skyscrapers, some people like 3-flat victorians. If I wanted a highrise-dominated city, I wouldn’t have moved to SF. Yes, it doesn’t have that many, but many more are being built, and some people think that anything less than highrises everywhere is some kind of a fundamental fault in a city, and they are having some success making their vision come true.

  15. I meant, “can’t have rooftop solar providing all their energy,” or for a very tall building, not even a significant part of it.

  16. Yes, Y is demonstrating a fairly fundamental misunderstanding of the law of physics. As I also noted above, the roofspace square footage does not diminish with the height of the building. It stays the same, at least assuming a rectangular design.

    I think Y’s confusion comes because what he is really thinking of here is that a tall building will shade adjacent buildings, thereby reducing their solar capacity.

    But that is nothing to do with the absolute height of the building, but rather the difference in height between the new building and the adjacent buildings. A 1,000 foot high building will shade a 900 foot high building the same as a 200 foot building will shade a 100 foot building.

    So the argument is not to avoid high buildings but rather to ensure consistency in the heights of all buildings in a block. And given that you cannot easily demolish the higher buildings, the answer is surely to up-zone the shorter buildings.

    It also argues for taller buildings to be permitted to the north rather than the south. But of course solar capacity isn’t the only consideration.

  17. Completely decentralized power generation is likely not feasible in dense urban areas without the general trend of increasing urbanization is reversed, or solar panels become much more efficient. Likewise, the height of buildings does not preclude them from having roof-top panels.

    I’ll never understand why people hate high rises and skyscrapers so much… SF barely has any; like less than 25 actual skyscrapers.

  18. The opportunity for solar panels is determined by the square footage of the rooftop, and that is not affected or diminished by the height of the building.

  19. Real competition to PG&E seems so far fetched, and far away. I hope it finally happens.

    I’m still stuck on PG& E auto enrolling commercial accounts into a program that allows them to overcharge so they can build up credits for what they’re saying are State mandated surcharge days.

  20. I mean, in a future where a single-unit or two-unit house could be supplied by its own rooftop solar, an apartment building will have to rely on power coming from elsewhere.
    Not that I’m against apartment buildings. I’m just saying that grid suppliers will benefit from less housing that can be theoretically independent of the grid.

  21. Rooftop solar is a 5% contributor at best.

    How is 5% less draw from the grid worth suburban sprawl, sprawl which almost certainly takes back those 5% and more?

  22. They don’t. But dense urban apartments can’t have rooftop solar. Their solar power (in the future) will have to sprawl elsewhere.

  23. Wait.. what? When did dense, urban apartments start drawing more from the grid per capita than the suburbs, and just how did that puzzle occur?

  24. The more you build tall buildings, the less rooftop solar, and the more business grid suppliers will have in the future. Conveniently, the same people lobbying for PG&E are also lobbying for tall buildings.

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