President, Board of Supervisors, San Francisco
Staff Attorney, The Utility Reform Network
Assistant General Manager, San Francisco Public Utility Commission’s Power Enterprise
Business Representative, Brotherhood of Electrical Workers
CEO, Sonoma Clean Power
California State Assemblymember (D-19)
CEO, Marin Clean Energy
A growing number of Californians are opting for clean electricity to run their TVs and toasters. But how much do we know about where our power really comes from? Two California counties are leading the way in offering consumers a choice of the various shades of green power available from wind, solar and other renewable resources.
Marin Clean Energy, which launched in 2010, has a growing portfolio of power options, contracted from several dozen suppliers. “We’ve been able to reduce greenhouse gas emissions dramatically,” reports CEO Dawn Weisz. In their most recent year of counting, “our greenhouse gas emissions are 17% lower than the incumbent utility, and it’s having a very big impact. It’s also resulting in a lot of new renewables being built around the state of California.”
Sonoma Clean Power soon followed in Marin’s footsteps. “It’s a whole lot easier” to be second, says CEO Geof Syphers.
“But it’s really not how much renewables we add; it’s how much fossil we turn off. That’s the goal,” Cyphers continues. “So when we realized that, it broadened how we were thinking about things a lot. And so we have a default service that’s 36% renewable but it’s 80% carbon free.”
PG&E, the major power supplier throughout the area, declined an invitation to join the panel at The Commonwealth Club.
Matthew Freedman, an attorney with the consumer advocacy group The Utility Reform Network, is pleased that consumers have the choice to switch off their dependence on fossil-burning power companies. But in addition to a possible savings on their bills, “I think what customers really want to know is, does their choice end up being meaningful. Are there actually less carbon emissions…because you made this choice?”
Freedman says it’s possible the claims made by the community choice aggregators are inflated. “Does the grid look different because they’re there or is this just an exercise in folks taking credit for stuff that’s already happening?” he asks. “That’s the open question.”
Nevertheless, both Weisz and Syphers stand by their statistics.
Freedman calls SB-350, signed into law by Governor Brown on October 7th, “the most aggressive renewable energy requirement in the country,” requiring all state utilities and sellers of electricity to get to 50% renewable energy by 2030. “It’s a huge win for climate, it’s a huge win for clean energy,” he enthuses. “And it provides a massive new set of market opportunities for new technologies, new solar, wind, geothermal biomass technologies. It will promote innovation and it will keep prices reasonable over the long run for customers; it’s huge.”
The second half of the program addressed freedom of choice for the Bay Area. London Breed, president of the Board of Supervisors, says clean power choice for San Francisco has been a long time coming. “It’s definitely been an uphill battle,” she admits. “We started the fight in San Francisco, but Marin and Sonoma have already beat us to the punch….we are determined to make sure that Clean Power SF is implemented early next year in San Francisco.”
Barbara Hale of the Public Utility Commission is just as optimistic. “We’ll be able to bring renewable power to San Francisco, real renewable power to San Francisco, at a price that meets or beats PG&E,” she vows. Not only that – she believes that San Francisco will be able to beat the target for renewables set by SB-350. “Given the bids that we recently received, we’re confident we’ll be able to provide a 100% renewable option for San Franciscans,” she predicts. “And what are we going to do with the proceeds of the sales of electricity? We’re going to reinvest it in our community.”
Although the program is not officially up and running, Breed and Hale urge consumers to go to the Clean Power SF website and sign up early.
Currently there are two, seemingly competing, measures on November’s ballot, which has led to some voter confusion. Proposition G, introduced by the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (which contracts with PG&E) would potentially have limited the city’s Clean Power program, according to Breed. She introduced an alternative, Proposition H, which has subsequently been embraced by the IBEW as well.
“We realized that we want to work together,” says Breed about this rare example of political agreement. “We want clean power, we want local jobs. This is really about the environment…ultimately we came to a consensus.”
Hunter Stern of the IBEW concurs. “We took the best pieces of both G and H and we got a much better measure,” he says. “And we’re supporting H.”
State Assemblyman Phil Ting (D-19) says these and other clean power efforts are part of a larger, statewide push towards the goal of “100% renewable energy… built in California, managed in California. We think it’s the best way to create jobs long term. We think it’s the best way to help our environment. We think it’s the best way to reduce greenhouse gases.”
The fruits of all of these labors may be many years off. But that’s not the point, says Breed. She likens the clean power movement to the aftermath of the 1906 earthquake. Then, San Franciscans rallied to build the O’Shaunessy Dam and the Hetch Hetchy reservoir, now a source of water for the city.
“People who made the decision to do this…knew that they wouldn’t be around in order to enjoy it,” she reminded the audience. “And so I think of clean energy and protecting the environment and the kinds of things that we need to think about doing long term, the same way.
“Because this is what’s going to happen when we put together the right plan to do the right thing in order to protect the environment. We may not be here to experience the results of that, but there’ll be a lot of other people happy that we made the right decision to do this for the city.”