The Agenda, June 11-17: A chance to move beyond PG&E

With the passage of Prop. A, the city can start to chart its own clean-energy future

No matter who wins the mayor’s race, there’s a lot of good news from the San Francisco election – and one of the sleeper issues is the passage of Prop. A, which allows the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission to sell revenue bonds for clean-energy projects.

If we have a PUC that’s willing to defy Pacific Gas and Electric Company – and a Board of Supes that’s willing to go along – the city now has the potential to start building out its own environmentally sound energy infrastructure.

That could save ratepayers billions of dollars and improve the creaky infrastructure of an aging and failing private utility that might be out of business soon anyway.

And, by the way, enforcing federal law and breaking up PG&E’s illegal monopolyin the process.

Since the 1920s, the city has tried repeatedly to do what the Raker Act of 1913 requires: Use the Hetch Hetchy power project to create a municipal electric utility. Munis historically have lower rates, better service, and more clear power than private companies.

But to deliver the city’s own clean hydropower to residential and commercial customers, the city would need to buy out the lines and poles that carry that power to end users. And in every case, the bond measure to buy out PG&E’s facilities had to go on the ballot, and the company spend whatever was necessary to shoot down those bond acts.

Sup. Hillary Ronen wants to know why PG&E is such an obstruction to public projects

Now PG&E is reeling from the North Bay firesand the potential of billions of dollars in legal liability. The company has no credibility left in San Francisco. CleanPowerSF is taking off, and will soon have nearly every residential and business customer in the city buying power from a public co-op. (You can sign up here.)

And nobody in their right mind would buy PG&E ancient, crumbling local infrastructure today.

Now, the city has the right to build clean-power projects (like major solar installations or wind turbines), and build out modern power lines to deliver that energy to customers – and pay for it with the revenues from sales. No risk to the city’s General Fund or property owners.

At the same time, the city could (with just a little bit of money) run fiber-optic cable next to the power lines, and build out a municipal broadband system.

A lot of city services are expensive; Muni will always lose money. So will SF General Hospital. You don’t bring in revenue hiring cops and firefighters.

But selling power and broadband are lucrative operations. Santa Clara used some of the money it makes from its public-power system to lure the 49ers south. Other cities with public power use the profits to keep taxes lower and pay for services.

So this is a winner for everyone –except PG&E (and Comcast and AT&T, if we are willing to get into the muni broadband business).

And this is all happening in the wake of PG&E’s decision to make it harder for city projects and agencies to get access to the grid.

Sup. Hillary Ronen has asked for a hearing at the Public Safety and Neighborhood Services Committee Wednesday/13to look at how the company is blocking city projects from access to city-owned clean power. We shall see if PG&E even shows up.

But the larger issue that the supes can now start to address is: Why are we still relying on PG&E to deliver the city’s own power through its unreliable grid? Now that Prop. A has passed, the city can start running its own wires, and bypass the corrupt, dying, private monopoly entirely.

The meeting’s at 10 am in Committee Room 263.