This blog is designed to highlight the diversity of views and news stories on urban energy topics that appear daily in the media. They are intended to provoke discussions on how cultural, geographic, political, and institutional influences shape the way energy markets operate and energy policies are made in cities around the world.
Monday, September 10, 2012
A dirty plan for San Francisco
Steven B. Falk
Sunday, September 9, 2012
This November, San Francisco residents and businesses will be asked to tax themselves to pay for education, housing, parks, economic development, and other programs and services the city and state no longer have the financial ability to fully support. Yet at the same time our city leaders are asking us to make these important investments, they are quietly moving forward with a $13.5 million public power plan.
The city plans to contract with Shell Energy to bring what it is falsely labeling as "100 percent renewable energy" to a subset of city households for less than five years. By any standard, this is a dirty plan for San Francisco.
The CleanPowerSF program will increase costs on customers by 77 percent just to break even. This amounts to $216 per year for the average customer, according to a city controller's report. City agencies will also have to pay more for power, potentially resulting in even further cuts to programs and services.
The true cost of starting the program will be even higher. The state of California requires customers leaving an existing utility to pay a portion of long-term energy contracts. This "power choice indifference" payment is nearly another penny on every kilowatt-hour used, or about $36 per year, in addition to the $216 increase customers will already be paying. The city's public power plan will cause money to flow out of our local economy and cost jobs.
Because Shell Energy does not produce electricity within San Francisco, increased electric payments made to the company - to the tune of $13.2 million - will leave San Francisco's economy. Overall, the city controller estimates the program will result in the loss of nearly 100 local jobs.
Perhaps the dirtiest secret of the CleanPowerSF program is that absolutely no new green power would be created in San Francisco or even in California. In fact, the contract stipulates that no new green generation is required anywhere. The 100 percent renewable energy promised in the plan will come from a combination of green energy bundled with other sources - many potentially nonrenewable - and renewable energy credits purchased from existing out-of-state supplies.
Finally, the program is not entirely voluntary. Residents will be enrolled automatically in the program and, if they don't remember to "opt out," they could be charged exit fees. This feels a lot more like "pulling a fast one" on city residents than providing options to reduce our carbon footprint.
As San Franciscans are being asked to pony up more for critical public services, this hardly seems like the time to nearly double the cost of our energy without any guarantee of a greener future. It's time to pull the plug on the city's dirty public power program.
Steven B. Falk is the president and CEO of the San Francisco Chamber of Commerce. To read the controller's report, go to sfg.ly/NR4Tca.