Like the blob, beware the rollout of CleanPowerSF (CPSF)! It’s coming to your neighborhood soon. Recently service was rolled out to 7,400 commercial customers in the Bayview, Haight, and Castro neighborhoods, and they just added in residents in districts 5 and 8. There is another major rollout planned for this spring.
The history of this not insignificant change in service providers actually goes back to 2002 when state legislators passed Assembly Bill 117, which was ironically heralded by its proponents as the Community Choice Law. Otherwise known as a CCA (Community Choice Aggregation program), the law allowed any city or county to supply its own power to its residents, businesses, and municipal facilities in a “community wide electricity buyers’ program.” In 2007 San Francisco formed CPSF’s 2007 Implementation Plan with the ambitious goals of building 210 megawatts of in-city energy efficiency and new renewable generation capacity and a 150 megawatt regional wind facility, as well as reaching a 51% renewable energy portfolio within 10 years. Two factions of government bureaucrats have been battling each other for a decade on how to accomplish these goals. CPSF is administered by the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission (SFPUC) and monitored by the San Francisco Local Agency Formation Committee (LAFCo), which was most recently chaired by former Supervisor John Avalos. The SFPUC—hardly an ensemble of liberty-leaning officials—at least seems to have been more cautious about what is basically a government takeover of PG&E’s electricity grid, while San Francisco LAFCo officials are 100% gung-ho for the rollout—no matter what the cost is. While of course climate change, the carbon footprint, and “clean” energy are all part of the implicit motivation for getting CPSF off the ground, there’s more at work here: the evil “P” word must be removed from the mix. Paul Fern, the Grand Poobah of the clean power movement in California who was instrumental in getting AB117 passed, has advised the San Francisco LAFCo, “It’s about moving away from a 19th century model—the Rockefeller model to maximize profits. It’s about managing demands, not profits, because the program is owned by customers. It’s about democratization, not just clean power.”
What really irks us about CPSF more than anything is the way the bureaucrats are implementing it with their opting-in shenanigan. Otherwise known as “slamming” when companies in the voluntary sector do it, but somehow when government officials do it, it becomes part of a Community “Choice” Aggregation program and it is now government-blessed. When a community signs on to a CCA, all of the customers are automatically enrolled in the new program. No one asks you if you prefer CPSF or PG&E—the default is the government-owned and run utility. On the Sonoma Clean Power website (similar arrangement CCA with everyone opted in) in FAQ, to the question why have I been opted in without my consent, the smug answer is that the state mandated that everyone be opted in, plus PG&E is a monopoly anyway and they never asked you if you wanted to be their customer. Of course AB117 was specifically designed by those who are foisting government electricity on us, and they knew that slamming everyone in would give the CCA’s an expected advantage over staying with PG&E. The “Choice” part of a CCA is complete hypocrisy. Yes, all customers do have the option of opting out of CPSF, and CPSF claims that it will mail you four paper notices—knowing very well that most folks toss most, if not all, of their junk mail out without opening it. You can bet that most customers will have no idea that they’ve been slammed and scammed since their bills will still be from PG&E, even after the changeover. Since most consumers don’t review their bills that closely these days—if they even look at them at all—and with online bill paying and automatic debit payments, it’s likely the switch will be the opposite of transparent. Again we say this is all by design.
As to the reliability of whether the “new and improved” energy will actually be that much cleaner than PG&E energy, that remains to be seen. Originally The City contracted with Shell Energy North America in 2010 to create a program that achieved The City’s goals, and the SFPUC staff reported that the power purchased from Shell would be 100% greenhouse gas-free. However, it turned out that the Renewable Energy Certificates (REC’s) included a mix of “unbundled” credits (dirty energy from fossil fuels or other non-certified green sources). In the end, the contract with Shell was dissolved, and CPSF is now providing a base “green” package of energy that’s anywhere from 33%-50% renewable sources. At least that’s what CPSF claims. Mind you, let’s not forget that PG&E currently gets 22% of their power from nuclear sources, which is considered pretty “clean” energy, but that doesn’t count towards their 29.5% renewable score because the state doesn’t allow nuclear power to count as renewable.
Finally, what will all this cost? CPSF claims that the basic “green” package will not cost more than PG&E’s energy. But that’s only using PG&E’s transmission and distribution system. CPSF has a much more ambitious plan in store for us, which is to “build local.” It wants to start funding the construction of local renewable energy projects to “create jobs” and also boost the renewable energy supply. Even SFPUC commissioners are concerned that starting to build out could easily make CPSF’s costs—and rates—a lot higher. The City has a pretty poor track record, to say the least, of cost containment of anything it has delved into, and we see nothing but trouble ahead once CPSF has pushed out PG&E completely. That will leave San Francisco energy users with only the most expensive “choice” of all. While we’re no fan of PG&E—a government-protected monopoly—in this case, the lesser of two evils might be the better choice.