Could A Green New Deal Benefit the North Bay?

There is a good bit of talk about a Green New Deal (GND), a plan to address climate change by directing federal dollars to restructure the economy, protect us from further disasters, create high paying jobs and reduce social inequities.

Among the goals of the GND are to move America to 100% clean and renewable energy.  We are already leaders in this arena with Sonoma Clean Power and Marin Clean Energy providing much of the region’s energy.  But there is still much to be done.  Think for a moment about the thousands of gasoline-powered vehicles clogging our freeways each day. Nearly 60% of North Bay emissions are from the transportation sector. Think also about the possibility of placing solar panels on thousands of roofs and using the energy to power our cars. Consider the opportunities that might be provided by electric and autonomous vehicles as well as technologies to reduce commuting. Consider how solar and wind energy, designing and building smart cities and smart roads could reduce the threat of fire and flood and improve the quality of our lives.

As the economy tools up for the GND, high paying jobs will be created and more workers will be needed in technology firms like West Coast Solar and construction. Some will say, well that is fine—but we have a shortage of construction workers right now.   New investments will be needed in education.  The GND calls for prioritizing investment and training directed toward community resiliency.  According to government researchers, the two top fastest-growing jobs in the US are wind turbine techs and solar panel installers/techs.

Fortunately, the North Bay region is a national leader in resiliency and well placed to benefit from our knowledge base. Many North Bay companies are creating new business models and clean-tech products.  We are home to over 1000 California certified green businesses. 

Many will question whether such an ambitious program is realistic?

When FDR called on America to build 185,000 planes to fight the Nazi juggernaut, nearly every business leader, CEO, and general laughed at him. At the time, the U.S. had only managed to produce a paltry 3,000 planes in a year. Yet by the end of the war, we produced 300,000 planes. This was done to stop the enemies of the Axis in faraway lands; imagine how we might mobilize to stop the threat of climate change which has already destroyed the homes and upended the lives of millions at home in addition to the billions of dollars in costs.

The benefits from a Green New Deal will be forthcoming; consider that President Eisenhower’s interstate highway system returned more than $6 in economic productivity for every $1 cost.

There is no time to waste.

The latest report by the International Panel on Climate Change said global emissions of carbon must be cut by 40-60% by 2030. We can be the leader in addressing climate change and develop and share our technology, expertise and products with the rest of the world.

So how will we pay for it?

The same way we paid for the New Deal and the 2008 bank bailout. The same way we paid for World War II and all our current wars. The Federal Reserve can extend credit to power a Green New Deal as it did to finance recent wars and new public banks can be created to extend credit.

So the question isn’t how will we pay for it, but what would we do with our new shared prosperity.

To learn about The Green New Deal come to the Sustainable Enterprise Conference at Sonoma State University on April 5 where you’ll hear from State Senator Bill DoddSupervisor Jim Gore and many experts including Dr. Richard Heinberg and join with others who believe in the power of our local community to create a thriving environment and a higher quality of life for all living things.

 

Could A Green New Deal Benefit the North Bay?, Robert Girling, Ph.D & Chris Yalonis, Sonoma County Gazette, March 17, 2019.

SVCE Receives Clean Financial Audit

Pisenti & Brinker, LLP performed an independent financial audit for SVCE to evaluate the agency’s financial statements and risks. SVCE’s financial performance is strong, and the results of the audit were completely clean. 
 
“We did not propose any adjustments to the financial statements,” said Brett Bradford of Pisenti & Brinker, LLP at SVCE’s February Board of Directors meeting. “That’s fairly unusual in my experience, but that means we didn’t come across any errors that we needed to propose an adjustment for.” 
 
According to SVCE’s accounting policy, an independent firm performs an audit of the agency’s finances each year. Pisenti & Brinker has worked with five Community Choice Energy Agencies, including SVCE, as well as other governmental entities. 
 
“It gives great confidence to the public that we’re doing their business transparently and well,” says Director Rod Sinks, councilmember of the City of Cupertino. 
 
SVCE is proud to have strong accounting practices that help make us a financially stable agency. 

 

SVCE Receives Clean Financial Audit, by Silicon Valley Clean Energy Staff, Silicon Valley Clean Energy, March 15, 2019.

City adds electric vehicle charging stations

Looking to be environmentally competitive by adding infrastructure for electric vehicles, the city of Half Moon Bay is creating more charge stations within its downtown corridor.

Last month a third electric vehicle charging station was installed near It’s Italia restaurant on Mill Street and a fourth station is on deck. They join existing stations on Kelly Avenue near City Hall and another by the Half Moon Bay Library. New Leaf Community Market and the Ritz-Carlton, Half Moon Bay, also operate privately owned stations.

“If you are a tourist and you want to spend the day here, one of the things you are looking at it is, ‘Can I charge my car here?’” said Director of Public Works John Doughty. The city first installed an electric vehicle charge station in the fall of 2014 and since then, according to Doughty, there’s been enough activity to justify more.

Having charge stations available in areas of the city where they are highly visible provides confidence to drivers of electric vehicles, according to Doughty.

The cost to charge a vehicle is based on rates by kilowatt-hour, but the city likely won’t realize a profit from the stations. “Our interest was never to try and make money off this,” Doughty said. The majority of the money earned from the stations will go toward paying off the original investment of the stations.

Grants from the Bay Area Air Quality Management District were used to partially pay for the two new charge stations, and, according to Doughty, the city is keeping a close eye on other sources of funding.

In 2018, Peninsula Clean Energy launched a series of “Go Electric” programs to promote the transition from gasoline to electric transportation. PCE hosted its first free electric test drive event for San Mateo County residents in Menlo Park.

Half Moon Bay Mayor Harvey Rarback mentioned to City Council last week he would like to partner with PCE to host a “Ride and Drive” event in Half Moon Bay where people can test drive electric vehicles. “Owning an electric vehicle saves about $1,000 a year on fuel and maintenance. It also has an environmental value, creating, on average, 80 percent fewer greenhouse gases than other vehicles,” said Director of Energy Programs for Peninsula Clean Energy Rafael Reyes.

As for adding any more charge stations, Doughty said the city is going to wait a few months and survey the usage before discussing that possibility. However additional stations are planned as part of developments already approved, including putting one by the Ted Adcock Community Center.

 

City adds electric vehicle charging stations, By Libby Leyden, Half Moon Bay Review, March 13, 2019.

San Francisco’s Version of a Green New Deal Is Taking Over Its Power Company

What happens when a famously left-leaning city dives into the buttoned-down business of electric utilities? San Francisco may soon find out.

City officials are studying the possibility of creating their own utility out of the wreckage of PG&E Corp., the energy giant that filed for bankruptcy in January. The city would buy the company’s local wires—or possibly seize them through eminent domain—to create a utility that would be, well, very San Francisco.

If all goes according to plan, PG&E’s system would serve as the backbone of a full-service municipal utility that San Francisco’s politicians could use to make an all-out push for 100 percent renewable power.

“We need to take advantage of this opportunity, because the crisis of climate change is a crisis,” San Francisco Supervisor Hillary Ronen said during a hearing. “We really need to take it to the next level, and that next level is a complete build out so that we are providing 100 percent renewable energy to all of our customers.”

Click here to read full article.

San Francisco’s Version of a Green New Deal Is Taking Over Its Power Company, by David R. Baker, Bloomberg, March 12, 2019.

Local Power Agency Makes $4.7 Million Repayment to Alameda County

After a short eight months in operation, East Bay Community Energy repays Alameda County for initial start-up costs to establish a Community Choice Energy program that brings cleaner energy, lower rates, local business development, and greater choice to residents and businesses.

Oakland, CA (February 26, 2019) – East Bay Community Energy (EBCE) is the new electricity provider for most of Alameda County, including Albany, Berkeley, Dublin, Emeryville, Fremont, Hayward, Livermore, Piedmont, Oakland, San Leandro, and Union City as well as unincorporated areas of the county. EBCE began serving commercial customers in June 2018 and serving residential customers in November 2018 with cleaner energy and lower rates. After only eight months of operation, EBCE is fully repaying its advance of start-up funding from Alameda County in the amount of $4.7 million. County Supervisor and EBCE Board Chair, Scott Haggerty, a champion of EBCE since its inception, says “We’ve worked for many years on this effort to provide cleaner power to our local communities. This milestone shows the effectiveness of EBCE’s management and marks the start of an exciting transition to clean power.”

EBCE needed start-up resources in order to begin operations, and the County provided both start-up funding and staff support. The County Board of Supervisors originally approved the Community Choice Energy program in November 2016 and entered an agreement with EBCE in April 2017 to lend up to $5.5 million to the new agency. EBCE is now operational, has a staff of 20, and is supplying power to over 550,000 residential and commercial customers throughout the County. To date, EBCE estimates it has saved customers over $3 million in electricity costs by offering lower rates for cleaner power. EBCE operates through revenue it receives from sales of electricity; it does not rely on any taxpayer funding.

At a meeting on February 26th, several members of the EBCE Board of Directors and Chief Executive Officer, Nick Chaset, presented the repayment and thanked the Board of Supervisors, the County Administrator, the Community Development Agency, and the Auditor’s office for their coordinated efforts and forward thinking in making community choice a reality in Alameda County. Also in attendance were EBCE Directors Dianne Martinez (Emeryville Council Member), Lily Mei (Mayor of Fremont), Ed Hernandez (San Leandro Council Member), and Anne Olivia Eldred (EBCE Community Advisory Committee Chair).

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About EBCE

EBCE is the local electricity provider created by the votes of 11 City Councils and the County of Alameda Board of Supervisors to provide low cost, cleaner power to our community. Launching to residential customers in November 2018, EBCE joined 19 other Community Choice Energy programs operating across California.

For more information about East Bay Community Energy, please visit ebce.org.

 

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: February 26, 2019
Press Contact: Annie Henderson

(510) 640-9681 | ahenderson@ebce.org 

Alameda Municipal Power, Island share common goals

In 1887, a group of Alamedans who viewed electricity as an essential public service came together to create what would become the oldest public electric utility west of the Mississippi. Now, 132 years later, a new generation of Alamedans has come together to ensure that Alameda Municipal Power (AMP) meets the community’s evolving energy needs.

Over the past year, I’ve joined with residents, business leaders, developers, environmental advocates and AMP staff to build a strong framework for how our community-owned utility will serve our island in the future. This work was summarized in our long-term strategic plan, which was formally adopted by the Public Utilities Board in January.

Through this collaborative effort, we formed common goals — to help protect our community from the effects of climate change, to maintain competitive energy rates and to ensure that AMP continues to attract a talented workforce. The recent news about PG&E’s bankruptcy underscores the importance of a robust strategic plan to keep AMP financially stable in the rapidly changing energy industry.

A critical element of the new strategic plan is maintaining AMP’s long commitment to the environment. For decades, AMP has demonstrated leadership in the fight against climate change. In the 1980s, AMP was one of the first utilities to invest heavily in renewable power through large-scale development of geothermal resources. This was followed by years of early investment in other clean energy sources including wind, landfill gas and hydropower.

I am very proud that our diligent planning over the last few decades will result in a zero-carbon energy supply for Alameda to serve our needs beginning in 2020 and throughout our future. AMP’s commitment to maintaining zero-carbon energy resources is outlined in the strategic plan and also aligns with the important goals outlined in the city of Alameda’s Climate Action and Resiliency Plan.

In addition to detailing goals related to our clean energy supply, the strategic plan also emphasizes how the utility’s green programs can protect our environment and provide Alamedans important tools to reduce their carbon footprint. With transportation contributing half of our community’s greenhouse gas emissions, AMP will continue to offer incentives and create new programs to encourage electric car adoption. Alameda electric vehicle owners can be especially proud that they are charging their cars with 100 percent carbon-free power.

AMP also looks forward to efforts to make Alameda’s buildings cleaner and more efficient. We will continue to offer home energy audits and numerous energy efficiency rebate programs and will further develop incentive programs to encourage the reduction of natural gas use by switching to clean electric alternatives.

As we map out AMP’s environmental sustainability goals, we also understand that affordability and business sustainability must continue to be a high priority. AMP’s rates currently average 17 percent less than those in neighboring communities, and our utility remains financially strong. Reflecting the values of our community, one of AMP’s key business goals in the strategic plan is to keep Alameda’s energy rates significantly lower than those in nearby cities.

The strategic plan also includes our goal to leverage technology to keep our systems and business processes up to date, ensuring that we can maintain low rates, contribute to the community and remain financially strong in the years ahead.

As we plan AMP’s strategic and business goals, we are mindful that attracting and retaining a highly skilled workforce is key to the utility’s long-term success. Like many other agencies and companies in Alameda, AMP faces challenges with hiring and retaining employees due to the high cost of living in the Bay Area and the unique skillset required to run an electric utility.

Addressing this challenge, AMP’s strategic plan includes goals for maintaining a talented workforce in the years to come. As we develop a succession plan to prepare for upcoming retirements, we will also aim to increase the number of qualified applicants for key positions.

I invite you to learn more about the goals for AMP’s future that arose from a year’s worth of discussions with residents, local business leaders, community groups and AMP staff. You can read the strategic plan at alamedamp.com. The long tradition of civic engagement that started with AMP’s founding in 1887 continues today, as we all work together to ensure a strong future for our community-owned utility.

Ann McCormick is president of the city of Alameda’s Public Utilities Board.

Alameda Municipal Power, Island share common goals, by Ann McCormick, East Bay Times, February 21, 2019.

River City Bank Opens Second Office in San Francisco Bay Area

River City Bank is expanding its presence in the Bay Area with the establishment of a new office in the Financial District of San Francisco. This new location provides commercial banking and project finance services, and houses the Bank’s Clean Energy Division focused on servicing Community Choice Aggregation (CCA) clients, expanding relationships with other players in the clean energy space, and supporting California’s climate action goals. This addition marks the second Bay Area location for River City Bank, which opened a commercial banking office in Walnut Creek in 2015.

“After hitting a record number in assets and creating our new Clean Energy Division, we’re excited to open a second commercial banking office in the Bay Area,” said Steve Fleming, President and CEO of River City Bank. “The new office is a key component of our strategy to expand our focus and presence throughout California.”

The expansion is a natural progression of the bank’s shift from being primarily a Sacramento-centric consumer oriented bank to focusing on commercial banking throughout California, and it comes after a series of significant milestones. In 2018, River City Bank grew to more than $2.2 billion in assets and launched the new Clean Energy Division under the leadership of Rosa Hilmarsdottir Cucicea, Vice President & Clean Energy Division Manager.

The Bank has taken a bold lead in the clean energy space, supporting CCA clients throughout California with their depository, cash management, and lending needs. Notable clients include Valley Clean Energy in Yolo County, Clean Power Alliance of Southern California, Marin Clean Energy, Silicon Valley Clean Energy, Monterey Bay Community Power and East Bay Community Energy. River City Bank provides CCA clients with custom-tailored solutions spanning start-up capital, lines of credit, renewable energy project financing and custodian “lockbox” accounts.

The new office is located at 201 Mission Rd. Suite 1300 in San Francisco, and can be reached at 415-293-4200. For more information on River City Bank, visit http://www.rivercitybank.com.

About River City Bank
Named one of Sacramento Business Journal’s “50 Fastest Growing Companies” for each of the past two years, River City Bank has grown its assets to over $2.2 billion as it pursues its mission to be the premier business bank in California. River City Bank offers a comprehensive suite of banking services, including loans, deposits and cash management tools to the business, consumer and commercial real estate sectors. With tailored, executive-level service and a Five Star “Superior” financial rating from the nation’s leading independent bank-rating firm, Bauer Financial, River City Bank redefines the banking experience and every touch point that surrounds it. River City Bank is the largest, independent, locally-owned bank in the Sacramento region with offices in the San Francisco Bay Area and a presence in Southern California. For additional information, please visit http://www.rivercitybank.com or call (916) 567-2600. Member FDIC. Equal Housing Lender.

 

 

River City Bank Opens Second Office in San Francisco Bay Area, Press Release, PR Web, February 19, 2019.

Pioneer California solar company Sun Light & Power installs 905-kW system for San Francisco International Airport

California’s pioneer solar company Sun Light & Power has successfully completed the installation of a 905-kWp solar array atop the new long-term parking garage at San Francisco International Airport.

Sun Light & Power worked with SFO, Nibbi Brothers General Contractors and solar panel manufacturer REC for the system.

The solar array is one of several at San Francisco Airport which will help the organization move toward a more sustainable future. The purpose of the array is to offset the airport’s carbon footprint and to save the airport money by reducing demand electricity charges during peak usage times.

Sun Light & Power built a strong team including MLB Energy and Liberty Electric of San Mateo to promote the utilization and participation of local businesses on this San Francisco Airport contract.

Sun Light & Power’s COO Troy Tyler said, “We are happy to help San Francisco International Airport save electricity, create well-paying jobs and reduce the carbon impact of one of the busiest airports in the world. You can see the array from the freeway when you drive by. So, we’ll have a sense of pride when seeing it for many years to come.”

From initial contract signing to substantial completion, the project took 14 months to complete, in parallel with construction of the parking garage.

News item from Sun Light & Power

 

Pioneer California solar company Sun Light & Power installs 905-kW system for San Francisco International Airport, by Kelly Pickerel, Solar Power World, February 19, 2019.

CleanPowerSF tripling households served with municipal electricity

More than 250,000 San Francisco homes and businesses are about to become customers of CleanPowerSF, the municipal electricity program operated by the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission.

In preparation for what will be the largest enrollment effort in the program’s history, the SFPUC began notifying residents and merchants this week that, by the spring, they’ll be receiving city-sourced electricity.

The SFPUC has been automatically switching portions of the city into CleanPowerSF since 2016, and the agency has about 111,000 customers. In the coming months, the SFPUC expects to more than triple that number, with a projected enrollment of 360,000 dwellings by the end of April. Just over 3 percent of customers opt out of the program, according to the SFPUC, electing to keep Pacific Gas & Electric Co. as their power provider.

Combined with the SFPUC’s Hetch Hetchy Power program, which uses greenhouse-gas-free energy primarily to power Muni vehicles and all the city-owned government buildings, the agency will be serving roughly 80 percent of San Francisco’s electricity demand by the end of April.

“This is a big deal,” said Barbara Hale, SFPUC assistant general manager in charge of power. “We’re in every neighborhood, every block of the city, serving CleanPowerSF power.”

In the coming months, CleanPowerSF’s expansion will overlap with deliberations that could shape the direction of the city’s energy future.

After PG&E’s bankruptcy seemed inevitable because of liabilities related to wildfires, Mayor London Breed instructed the SFPUC to start planning the city’s response to the utility’s insolvency and ensure that electricity flowed uninterrupted. One major part of that was determining whether the city could afford to buy PG&E’s infrastructure, which would allow San Francisco to have greater control over its energy needs.

“The success of our CleanPowerSF program shows the city knows how to deliver renewable energy for San Franciscans, and acquiring more assets to deliver that clean energy is a priority,” Breed said. “If there is an opportunity, we will take it.”

While CleanPowerSF procures the electricity, the program still relies on PG&E to distribute it, handle billing and address outages.

Hale said the SFPUC is crunching the numbers on whether it makes financial sense over the long-term to buy PG&E’s equipment — like underground transformers, and transmission lines and substations — and take over billing customers. The agency is also considering what kind of workforce it might need to hire if it became a fully independent electrical utility.

“We think about it as scaling up the services we already provide,” Hale said. “The meta-question we’re asking ourselves is: Can we provide reliable, safe, affordable electricity services … and meet our financial metrics?”

San Franciscans pay an estimated $300 million annually for electricity services like transmission and distribution. That’s money that, if the SFPUC became fully independent, the city could invest in improving and building out its electrical system and toward meeting its clean-energy goals.

In addition to determining how much of the utility’s assets it could acquire, the SFPUC is also putting a price tag on repair and upkeep costs, as well as the costs of physically separating the assets it buys from the rest of PG&E’s distribution network.

“It’s a giant math equation,” Hale said.

Acquiring assets from PG&E would likely cost billions of dollars. But San Francisco voters approved a potential funding source in June when they passed Proposition A, a measure that allows the SFPUC to sell bonds to pay for clean-energy infrastructure, with the approval of the Board of Supervisors. Several board members, including Supervisors Hillary Ronen and Sandra Lee Fewer, have expressed interest in exploring what Ronen has called a “complete divorce” from PG&E.

For the SFPUC, fleshing out its role as an electrical utility provider would also mean maintaining infrastructure it wasn’t previously responsible for, said Frank Wolak, a Stanford economics professor who directs the university’s Program on Energy and Sustainable Development. The city would also likely be responsible for responding to power outages and other customer-service tasks it currently doesn’t address.

“You would literally have to hire trucks, workers, all of that, to be responsive when there are outages or repairs that have to be done — everything,” Wolak said. “More likely what would happen is … the city would contract with PG&E to do those sorts of things.”

And just because the city might be prepared to buy the assets doesn’t mean PG&E will be ready to sell. Much of PG&E’s financial future is now in the hands of the bankruptcy court, which makes it hard to say whether the company would be in a position to shed assets.

“PG&E regularly evaluates the way the company is structured — strategically, operationally and financially — so that we are best positioned to operate efficiently and to provide safe and reliable service to our customers,” a PG&E spokesman said in an email.

Hale said the utility has signaled a willingness to hear offers, “and I think it’s fair to say that if SFPUC brings a credible offer to PG&E and their shareholders and their board, they’ll give it careful consideration.”

Dominic Fracassa is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer. Email: dfracassa@sfchronicle.com Twitter: @dominicfracassa

 

CleanPowerSF tripling households served with municipal electricity, by Dominic Fracassa, The San Francisco Chronicle, February 14, 2019.

San Francisco Explores Taking Over PG&E’s Local Electricity Assets

Almost as soon as Pacific Gas & Electric announced that it was saddled with liability from several deadly wildfires and would be filing for bankruptcy, San Francisco Mayor London Breed directed the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission to look at taking local control of power distribution.

On January 29, PG&E, California’s largest utility, officially filed for bankruptcy. The next day, in Breed’s State of the City address, she was bullish about public power in San Francisco.

“San Francisco knows how to run a clean power system, and we are going to get to 100 percent renewable energy by 2030,” she said. “And if this bankruptcy provides an opportunity for public power, we will take it. I will be working with City Attorney Dennis Herrera to make sure that whatever happens with PG&E, that we are prepared.”

In recent weeks, local leaders have started to explore how the SFPUC could purchase — or wrest — control of power distribution from PG&E using a revenue bond or a windfall cash reserve. PG&E has said it might sell off assets during its bankruptcy.

“We’re looking at how can we protect our ratepayers in San Francisco,” said Harlan Kelly, general manager of the SFPUC, during a Board of Supervisors meeting on January 14. “One way is to actually purchase the distribution system in San Francisco so that we can maintain it and not have the burden of paying for all the distribution of electricity in the country where the fires occur.”

Many questions remain around exactly how San Francisco plans to separate from PG&E. The SFPUC will examine the issue for the next three months. If and when a plan emerges, it is likely to meet resistance. The union that represents about 17,000 PG&E employees, the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 1245, came out in opposition to selling off the utility.

Calls for a local Green New Deal

Still, frustrated with delays in clean energy and energy efficiency projects, city officials are calling for aggressively building renewable generation projects in San Francisco, which they say could create jobs for low-income residents. They’re billing the initiative as a local version of a Green New Deal.

“In providing energy clean energy to the residents of San Francisco, we need to really think about a local version of a Green New Deal,” said Supervisor Sandra Lee Fewer, during last month’s board meeting. “And that is really about building our own resources for renewable energy on our own land or publicly owned land outside of San Francisco.”

On January 29, Supervisor Hillary Ronen called for a separation from PG&E and introduced legislation to create a $15.6 million fund that could only be used as part of a city-owned utility. “This state is waking up to the way that PG&E has been operating as a company and is no longer going to allow this corporation to run roughshod over our communities,” Ronen said.

Calls to split from the utility come as San Francisco officials grapple with the possibility that the bankruptcy could disrupt the flow of cash from PG&E to CleanPowerSF, the city’s community choice program. Localities like San Francisco generate and purchase power on behalf of customers through community-choice aggregation programs, or CCAs, and then pay utilities to distribute the power.

While PG&E’s bankruptcy could present an opportunity to expand public power in San Francisco, local leaders say it could threaten the CCA just as the city is expanding its enrollment to 360,000 accounts by April, nearly all of the city’s power customers.

San Francisco’s State Senator Scott Wiener said that he’ll be looking to protect the interests of CleanPowerSF in Sacramento. In the past, he has criticized PG&E for fighting the community choice model.

“There’s really a lot of uncertainty right now, and we will be probably be playing some defense,” Wiener said, in an interview. “There’s a potential for some contentious fighting in the legislature this year around energy. PG&E and others will try to protect the centralized model, and some could take this as an opportunity to try to undermine CCAs and distributed energy resources…by arguing that the utilities are fragile and we shouldn’t be doing anything that could potentially undermine them.”

That said, Wiener sees real opportunity for expanding the SFPUC, which runs CleanPowerSF, even if the details will be clear only over the course of the next few months. “I would like for us to be in a position to move in that direction if the opportunity presents itself and it makes sense,” he said. “The benefits are local decision-making about energy mix, and pursuing an aggressive clean energy approach.”

“One of the critiques of PG&E is that its geography is so massive that it becomes very challenging for it to safely maintain all of that all that unending infrastructure and that having a smaller utility can allow more focus on infrastructure safety and reinvestment,” Wiener said. “There are publicly owned utilities around the state that have been quite successful. It is a model that we know can work, and San Francisco already has a publicly owned utility.”

Paying for distribution assets

San Francisco voters passed Proposition A last June, which allows the SFPUC to issue a revenue bond to pay for power equipment, so long as it has a two-thirds approval from the Board of Supervisors. The goal of the proposition was to spur the development of renewable energy generation and prohibit San Francisco from funding any more plants that generate power from fossil fuels or nuclear energy.

But now, leaders in San Francisco might use the bond authority to fund the initial cost of purchasing distribution equipment from PG&E and have ratepayers recoup the cost over several years. If San Francisco owned its own distribution assets, they expect the cost of power to be much lower than it is right now.

“That delta will help us actually pay for the upfront money,” SFPUC’s Kelly said. “We can build our own facility and then have a ratepayers pay us, and it will be cheaper for the ratepayer.”

If the city doesn’t use its new bond authority, there is another pot of money available for city leaders to pay the acquisition cost. San Francisco has a $415 million windfall from extra revenue in a county education fund, the Educational Revenue Augmentation Fund, that could be used as part of a down payment to PG&E. Supervisor Aaron Peskin floated the idea during the board meeting. However, that move would likely be controversial as competing interest groups want to use the funds to pay for increasing services to San Francisco’s homeless population, while others want to use it in the schools.

The big remaining question: It’s unclear how much PG&E’s existing infrastructure would cost, and it’s unclear how much it is worth. The distribution system in San Francisco is “not in a state of good repair,” Kelly said. Just how badly it’s been neglected is unknown, and that’s one thing the SFPUC will be determining as it considers a plan for public power. They’ll need to estimate repair costs and potential operating costs before they understand how much money the SFPUC could make on the acquisition.

But one benefit of public power is that San Francisco won’t be looking to turn a profit. “Our costs of operating the system won’t include the profit component,” said Barbara Hale, assistant general manager of the SFPUC. “We anticipate we would be able to afford to repay whatever the upfront costs are for purchasing the system through the bonding authority and repay any immediate repair of that system.”

Cash flow concerns

A big fear among CCAs across California is that the bankruptcy could disrupt the flow of remittance from PG&E. San Francisco is no exception.

Executives at the SFPUC say they are preparing for the worst, and they are examining all of their financial assets. “It’s possible that a bankruptcy could interrupt the remittance of CleanPowerSF customer payments to the city,” Hale told the Board of Supervisors last month. “That’s an impact that we are highly attentive to. We are analyzing the potential financial consequences of delayed payment from PG&E due to any bankruptcy and are working with the controller’s office on potential mitigations.”

Hale does not expect that there will be any impact to power service in San Francisco, but the SFPUC is examining how it will pay all its bills in the event of a disruption. “We are well positioned in that we do have reserves,” Hale said. “We have a credit facility that has available capacity that can help us weather a situation like that. We do have tools available to us. We planned for situations like this.”

California Community Choice Association, or CalCCA, represents the state’s community choice electricity providers in Sacramento and to regulators. On the day PG&E filed bankruptcy, CalCCA released a statement saying it remains optimistic that PG&E will continue providing billing services for the state’s CCAs.

“We support PG&E’s first-day motion seeking the Bankruptcy Court’s approval to continue passing through CCA revenues in the ordinary course of business,” the group said. “We agree with PG&E that ‘the normal and uninterrupted remittance’ of customer payments to CCAs and other public-purpose programs is of the utmost importance.”

SF pushes for control

For now, Breed’s and Herrera’s offices are declining to comment further on the issue, and the SFPUC will only outline broad ending points.

One option is for the relationship between PG&E and San Francisco to be maintained as it existed before the bankruptcy. That is: San Francisco generates and acquires power and the utility distributes it. Another option is for San Francisco to increase its independence, which could be an expansion of CleanPowerSF, or the city could take control of power distribution entirely.

A push for local power seems likely, and Supervisor Peskin signaled his intention to move forward: “The option of — in a friendly way, through negotiation — acquiring assets within the city and county of San Francisco is on the table,” he said at the January board meeting. “And, of course, there’s always Plan B, which is the power of eminent domain.”

Peskin, a longtime critic of PG&E, was on the board when the utility went bankrupt in the early 2000s. For years, local leaders have wanted independence from PG&E, and the relationship between the city and the utility has grown increasingly tense in recent years. It escalated last year, when state regulators approved a proposal from PG&E and other investor-owned utilities to change how CCAs compensate the companies for long-term power-purchase contracts, a move that is expected to raise rates on local customers.

“The list of grievances between the City and County of San Francisco and PG&E is growing exponentially,” Peskin said. “Whether it is affordable housing, or recreation and parks facilities, Municipal Transit Agency facilities, PG&E — relative to our own power — has put up roadblocks at virtually every place that they can. Costly, time-consuming roadblocks. And then with the CleanPowerSF program, they are figuring out ways to screw us on community choice aggregation. This really continues to be a hostage situation.”

The solution? “I think, as a city, this is an unparalleled opportunity to move to energy independence,” he said.

 

San Francisco Explores Taking Over PG&E’s Local Electricity Assets, by Kevin Stark, Greentech Media, February 8, 2019.