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SF Plans to Sell 100 Percent Renewable Electricity

Solar panel installation
Solar panel installation
The city gets into the power business, but won't compete with PG&E on price

San Francisco plans to begin selling 100 percent renewable electricity--power that produces no greenhouse gas emissions--to 75,000 former Pacific Gas & Electric customers in the summer of 2012.

The plan, outlined Friday during a City Hall hearing, represents a major shift in the city’s long-running efforts to compete with PG&E using the state’s community choice aggregation laws, which promote power sector competition.

The electricity would cost more than power provided by PG&E, and it would be marketed to customers who are willing to spend money to help minimize their environmental impacts.

Under community choice aggregation laws, San Francisco could enroll the city's PG&E customers in CleanPowerSF, and customers would have the choice to “opt out” and return to PG&E.

CleanPowerSF customers would continue receiving their bills from PG&E, and their electricity would continue to be transmitted over PG&E's network of electrical wires and other infrastructure, but it would come from different sources.

A city-commissioned telephone survey of 823 San Francisco residents found that about 37 percent of electricity customers would stick with CleanPowerSF, while 31 percent would opt out and use PG&E. The other one-third of people surveyed didn’t have any opinion.

PG&E customers who consume less power than average would be more willing to stick with CleanPowerSF than more electricity-hungry customers, the survey found.

Although PG&E customers surveyed generally considered green electricity less important overall than good customer service, reliable service, steady rates and low prices, the survey revealed a strong demand for renewable power, even if it costs more, particularly in the city's affluent northeast sector.

“There is great promise in these numbers,” San Francisco Local Agency Formation Commissioner Ross Mirkarimi said during Friday’s joint hearing of the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission (SFPUC).

Two previous efforts by San Francisco to launch CleanPowerSF failed over the past year, prompting city leaders earlier this year to overhaul their approach, using a successful program in Marin as their model.

In June, talks with a startup company that wanted to run a citywide program collapsed over a dispute about financing. In response, city staff clarified financial requirements in bidding documents and put the project back out to bid, but no qualified bids were filed.

Because of those failures, San Francisco now plans to run the program itself. It has reduced to 75,000 the number of customers who could be served when CleanPowerSF launches.

That launch will involve purchasing electricity from wind farms and solar farms and building solar power plants and other renewable energy facilities in San Francisco as the program grows.

San Francisco has also abandoned its goal of selling CleanPowerSF electricity at prices that meet or beat those of PG&E. Because the city no longer aims to undercut PG&E on price, it is aiming to sell cleaner power than had previously been imagined.

“There is no program that can buy wind and solar at the same price as brown power,” SFPUC General Manager Ed Harrington said during the hearing.

If the project launches next year as planned, it would instantly become the largest such program under the state’s community choice aggregation laws.

The only successful community choice aggregation program in California is based in Marin, where nearly 9,000 customers are enrolled.

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