Mayor Lee distorts reality in defending CleanPowerSF obstruction by his appointees

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Mayor Ed Lee and his appointees are essentially claiming the authority to override board decisions made on a veto-proof 8-3 vote
Tim Daw

Mayor Ed Lee yesterday answered a series of five questions from the Board of Supervisors about CleanPowerSF, the renewable energy program it approved last year on a veto-proof 8-3 vote, but which three of Lee’s appointees on the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission are now blocking.

Lee reaffirmed his opposition to the program and support for the three commissioners who are refusing to approve a maximum rate for the program, while making a series of statements that were misleading, contradictory, and, according to Sup. John Avalos, some outright falsehoods.

CleanPowerSF would group tens of thousands of city residents into a renewable energy buying pool, a system called Community Choice Aggregation authorized by state legislation, which would compete against Pacific Gas & Electric’s illegal local monopoly. Initally, the energy would be purchased under a contract with Shell Energy, but the main goal of the program is to build city-owned renewable energy facilities by issuing revenue bonds supported by the program’s ratepayers.

Yet the program Lee described has little resemblance to CleanPowerSF -- and his statements of support for the concept belie his longstanding opposition to the program and support for PG&E, whose union is leading the campaign to kill CleanPowerSF.

“I know that many members of the Board of Supervisors are upset,” Lee began in his first answer to similar questions posed by Sups. Eric Mar, David Chiu, London Breed, David Campos, and John Avalos, who all represent the odd-numbered districts whose turn it was to submit questions to the mayor for this month’s appearance.

Lee then explained that one of the duties of  the SFPUC is to protect ratepayers, which he called “the overriding concern they have when faced with any issue,” adding that, “The commission ultimately decided that the rate wasn’t a fair rate.”

Ironically, the top rate that the commission is being asked to approve in order to finally launch CleanPowerSF was just 11.5 cents per kilowatt-hour, only slightly more than current PG&E rates and a substantial reduction from the rate that was discussed last year when supervisors approved the program.

PG&E, Lee, and other critics of the program had attacked its high cost, so SFPUC staffers tweaked the program to allow the initial use of Renewable Energy Credits, which support the creation of renewable energy projects, rather than being purely juice directly from solar, wind, and other renewable sources, which is more expensive.

So Lee criticized that change as a departure from what the board approved last year, telling the supervisors that the program should be at least “95 percent renewable on day one,” saying that, “This is what a green power program should look like.”

Yet when it did look like that, Lee opposed it, something he didn’t mention yesterday. And yet he still made the argument that the SFPUC was simply exercising its fiduciary responsibility in blocking a program that has gotten cheaper than when the board approved it.

“The San Francisco Public Utilities Commission did its job in protecting ratepayers,” Lee said. “I agree with the majority of the PUC.”

So, on one hand, Lee said that CleanPowerSF has “gotten progressively more expensive as time goes on,” citing statements made years ago about the goal of trying to meet-or-beat PG&E’s rates, which have been subsidized by taxpayers over the years.

And when the program then got close to matching those rates, he criticized the use of RECs to get there, saying the climate change benefits “need to be real and tangible and not based on vague promises.”

Yet even city-commissioned studies have shown that San Francisco won’t meet its own greenhouse gas reduction goals without substantially changing the energy portfolio of city residents, and CleanPowerSF is the only plan on the table to get there, except for PG&E’s vague promises to offer more renewable energy in the future.

While Lee touted city efforts to improve the energy efficiency of commercial buildings and the recent launch of a regional bike share program -- neither of which will come close to meeting city climate change goals -- even he acknowledged the “need to expand our in-city renewable energy generation,” citing the $4 million SolarSF as an example.

But Lee never made reference to CleanPowerSF’s plan to build up to $1 billion in renewable energy projects whose impacts would be far more impactful. Instead, he said the program “creates no local jobs,” which wouldn’t be true during the buildout phase.

While praising PG&E, Lee also glossed over the fact that a majority of supervisors still support CleanPowerSF, and that the SFPUC vote was supposed to be on the rate and not these ancillary issues, raising fundamental democratic issues when three mayoral appointees can override the decision of elected supervisors who represent all city residents.

“When a final project is so vastly different than the original intent, the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission has to intervene,” Lee said.

Avalos called many of Lee’s statements “lies,” so I followed Mayor Lee back to his office after the hearing and we had the following conversation as several reporters from other media outlets listened in:   

SFBG: Supervisor Avalos just said that you’ve made a number of statements that are not factually accurate, and certainly misleading, including saying that the program has changed substantially. Given that you opposed the program initially, and you seem to make statements that criticize those changes, and clearly the majority still supports it, how can you make the argument that the PUC is acting against it because the program has changed?

Mayor Lee: Well, you know, I know that elements of this are somewhat complicated cause you have to actually read a lot of volumes of materials to understand the choice aggregation program, cause it has those three aspects and I would….

SFBG: As guidelines, not as rates….

Mayor Lee: I would point to those numbers that were discussed at the board and presented to the [SF] Public Utilities Commission, because that’s what I’m quoting from. I’m taking it, not from even verbiage, I’m taking it exactly from facts that were presented at the commission at the Board of Supervisors and I specifically lifted quotes from the board about their comments about local jobs and all the other things, so, I don’t think I’m inaccurate at all. I think I’m actually quite on point.

SFBG: But the rates have come down from when they approved it and you made it sound like the rates have gone up.

Mayor Lee: The rates were up and they came down in trade off with less green.

SFBG: Right…

Mayor Lee: That’s about the point I was trying to make is that we wanted these other goals to happen and they couldn’t happen cause people were trading off things in order to set the rates and that was going to become a bigger and bigger gap as to what the original goals were. That’s the way…

SFBG: But the board clearly wants this program. Why, as a matter of policy, as a matter of city procedure, why isn’t the elected body the one to make this decision, instead of your appointees?

Mayor Lee: Well, I think that’s the whole reason why they presented it to the Public Utilities Commission. They’re charter mandated to set these rates. It’s not just an automatic acceptance of what the board says. They also independently review what the board has said. And in their independent review, they said they had gone well beyond what they stated their goals were and so they couldn’t set the rates and still honor all the goals that the board was suggesting.

SFBG: But those rates are less than what the Board has approved. How can they be exercising fiscal oversight… I mean, it doesn’t make any sense.

Mayor Lee: I think we have a big disagreement there. They’re mandated by the charter to set those rates responsibly, not just to follow what the board has stated and so, in their independent review, they went and reviewed all the goals that the board has said and said ‘This is not the program that they have stated should be fulfilled.’

SFBG: Even though the majority of the Board of Supervisors disagree with that statement that you just made?

Mayor Lee: Well, you know, then again, are we not respecting peoples’ right to disagree over what is being done here?

SFBG: But your argument that the program changed from what they approved, a  majority is saying ‘that’s not true,’ that you’re misrepresenting that.

Mayor Lee: No, I don’t think that I’m misrepresenting that. I disagree with that.

SFBG: A majority of the Board of Supervisors who approved it says you are.

Mayor: Well, I disagree with that assessment.

 

 

 

Comments

This will cost ratepayers more, so they are correct to demure.

Posted by Guest on Sep. 11, 2013 @ 2:14 pm

also suffered from the "bait and switch" that Lee noted. And with one elss vote, this wouldn't be happening anyway.

Since SFPUC voted this down, I think we need to go back to the drawing board, preferably asking the voters whether they want to pay more for this.

Posted by anon on Sep. 11, 2013 @ 3:04 pm

panel of subject-matter experts to ensure that this scheme is in the interests of the voters and ratepayers, rather than just trying to take a cheap ideological shot at PG&E for some reason that is long lost in time.

Posted by Guest on Sep. 11, 2013 @ 3:24 pm

Here's an excellent SF Guardian article from a couple of years ago, which shows why it is legitimate to call Ed Lee, PG&E and Willie Brown to the carpet, in one breath.

http://www.sfbg.com/bruce/2011/09/06/editorial-mayor-ed-lee-keeping-city...

Posted by Eric Brooks on Sep. 11, 2013 @ 8:07 pm

One key point that the article above missed, is that, over the last year, community advocates have done such an excellent job of hammering on the SFPUC staff to get those customer rates down that:

1) the proposed CleanPowerSF not-to-exceed rate cap now matches PG&E's own proposed '100% green' rate (and the CleanPowerSF clean energy mix will be -less- dependent on credits than PG&E's planned 'green' mix),

and more importantly,

2) SFPUC CleanPowerSF director Kim Malcolm has said in public hearings that the actual rate for the program could be as low as 9 cents per kilowatt hour, which will outright meet or beat PG&E's current -dirty- power rate.

So the program is now no longer more expensive than PG&E, and is fulfilling the "meet or beat" rate requirements originally set by the Board of Supervisors.

Hence, Mayor Lee was flat out not speaking truthfully in his responses.

Posted by Eric Brooks on Sep. 11, 2013 @ 3:31 pm

rate at at least $5 more each month for the average home.

Posted by Guest on Sep. 11, 2013 @ 3:38 pm

The numbers you saw are old. The SFPUC is now reporting a potential 9 cent rate for CleanPowerSF which would match PG&E's rate.

Posted by Eric Brooks on Sep. 11, 2013 @ 3:52 pm

believe the numbers that have been thrown at them.

And that is them doing their job.

Posted by Guest on Sep. 11, 2013 @ 4:01 pm

That's how it got to a vote in the first place.

The SFPUC staff came up with that number itself (no one threw it at them). And that number is now competitive with PG&E rates.

Posted by Eric Brooks on Sep. 11, 2013 @ 4:38 pm

Ask the voters something like this"

"Should the city offer a more expensive energy program that is only slightly more renewable than that of PG&E, and which will be run by a multi-national oil giant?"

I'm guessing that it would not pass.

Posted by anon on Sep. 11, 2013 @ 2:16 pm

And by "slightly," you mean 100 percent versus 20 percent. You must share a logic and semantics coach with the mayor. 

Posted by steven on Sep. 11, 2013 @ 3:01 pm

That's less than Shell's alleged 100% but nowhere near as much as you claim.

And PG&E's percentage will increase while Shell's can only decline.

Posted by Guest on Sep. 11, 2013 @ 3:13 pm

I've never seen the 60% renewable figure myself for PG&E. But Lee's point was that the CleanPowerSF figure of 100% was smoke and mirrors, relying on credits that had been traded around for awhile with an undetermined impact on an actual reduction of greenhouse gas.

Yes...if CleanpowerSF is able to start from scratch and do a successful build out their goal is to get to 100%, but I think that you have to discount that in terms of a time horizon and infrastructure questions. PG&E will not be at 20% when and if Cleanpower gets to 100%.

Posted by Troll on Sep. 11, 2013 @ 3:38 pm

practical purposes. And yes, PG&E will gradually move up towards 100% over time while the Shell plan may never achieve 100% as you note.

Posted by Guest on Sep. 11, 2013 @ 3:49 pm

A nuke plant produces a third to one half of the greenhouse gas emissions of a similar capacity natural gas plant.

So nuclear is not a clean energy solution.

Posted by Eric Brooks on Sep. 11, 2013 @ 4:03 pm

Why don't you ask me what I regard as clean rather than trying to tell me?

That's the problem with activists and ideologs. they always talk and never listen to the people.

Posted by anon on Sep. 11, 2013 @ 4:13 pm

The newest climate crisis projections are that we are hitting runaway greenhouse gas tipping points much faster than previously assumed.

So we must now zero out and -reverse- our emissions not just reduce them. So any energy source that produces as high a greenhouse gas output as nuclear, is a path to failure, and needs to be thrown out of the picture.

Posted by Eric Brooks on Sep. 11, 2013 @ 4:26 pm

I'm OK with weaning off coal and oil, but nuclear has to be part of the mix. Nuclear is clean enough for me.

Posted by Guest on Sep. 11, 2013 @ 4:33 pm

A large nuclear component would be just as bad as natural gas because uranium ore is reaching its peak and depleting. If we were to ramp up nuclear plant production to any significant capacity, the rising greenhouse gas emissions from the increased energy needed to process the less energetic ore would make nuke plants quickly catch up with and surpass natural gas plant emissions over the next decade.

No matter how you slice it, nuclear fails the greenhouse gas emissions test.

Posted by Eric Brooks on Sep. 11, 2013 @ 4:49 pm

polluting the world so much that we're doomed anyway.

Heck, the US didn't even sign the Kyoto Accord.

Posted by Guest on Sep. 12, 2013 @ 5:48 am

Actually China is accelerating its clean energy programs far more rapidly than the west.

See http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2013-03-08/china-drives-record-solar-growt...

The Chinese -were- falling prey to highly accelerating emissions when their economy first took off in the late 20th century. But massive pollution in their major cities taught them an object lesson and turned them around to wiser ways.

It is the U.S. that most needs to clean up its act on carbon emissions.

Posted by Eric Brooks on Sep. 12, 2013 @ 10:48 am

But what about the rest of Asia, which includes some poor but very populous nations like Indonesia, Pakistan, Vietnam, India etc?

It doesn't matter how clean SF is if most of the rest of the planet doesn't play ball.

Posted by Guest on Sep. 12, 2013 @ 10:53 am

Because their per capita emissions are microscopic compared to wealthy nations and up-and-comers like China.

And even the rapidly growing India is now turning against coal.

See an astounding map showing over 40 canceled or sidelined coal plants in India at:

http://preview.tinyurl.com/kgwvkyw

And here is a report about a canceled plant in Borneo

http://350.org/about/blogs/victory-borneo-coal-plant-canceled-0

Again, the country that needs to clean up its act is the U.S.

Posted by Eric Brooks on Sep. 12, 2013 @ 11:37 am

rapidly. And of course all those new middle-class people want cars. China's high-speed trains get a lot of publicity but they've also built a fabulous inter-State highway system

Posted by Guest on Sep. 12, 2013 @ 11:49 am

to watch progressives on these blogs post cogent arguments usually backed up by citations to actual proof

while the reactionaries continue to prattle on with tangential deceptive nonsense that they never back up with evidence at all

Posted by racer x on Sep. 12, 2013 @ 11:59 am

He has provided some facts, but rather it is what he breezes over that is the problem.

The world is clearly getting dirtier, else we would not have a crisis. but to listen to Eric here, he thinks SF is the big problem, and the rest of the world is squeaky clean.

Far from it.

Posted by anon on Sep. 12, 2013 @ 12:25 pm

this is simply a troll barrier

it is a signpost to indicate to the reader that other anonymous posters on this thread are beginning to purposely diminish the conversation with personal attacks into petty, mean spirited, irrelevant bickering

the barrier is put in place to signal that there is probably little point in reading more replies in the thread past this point

proceed at your own risk

Posted by troll barrier on Sep. 12, 2013 @ 1:29 pm

think you are Eric, in drag as it were.

But I don't think that's his style. He may be wrong but he is earnest and sincere.

Posted by Guest on Sep. 12, 2013 @ 2:19 pm

and have done the same for others

but my main objective is just to break the flow of troll bs

Posted by racer x on Sep. 12, 2013 @ 3:00 pm

to you when you are posting comments on the internet during all your waking hours?

I doubt the people displaced from vast areas of Ukraine and Japan agree that "nuclear is clean enough." Those that died prematurely can no longer express their opinions.

Have you investigated your treatment options?

Posted by Guest on Sep. 11, 2013 @ 4:29 pm
Posted by Guest on Sep. 11, 2013 @ 4:32 pm
Posted by racer x on Sep. 12, 2013 @ 3:03 pm

I'd take a break if I were you.

Posted by Guest on Sep. 12, 2013 @ 3:09 pm

PG&E counts its nuclear power plant as renewable, but it isn't, as well as the hydro facilities that taxpayers built for them. But in reality, PG&E has been fined repeatedly for failing to meet the state standard of 20 percent renewable, deriving just 19.04 percent of its power from renewable sources in 2012, according to the California Public Utilities Commission:

 http://www.cpuc.ca.gov/PUC/energy/Renewables/index.htm

Posted by steven on Sep. 11, 2013 @ 3:41 pm

I have swam in waters right next to nuclear power stations and i do not glow bright green nor have I grown extra fingers.

Nuclear is sustainable for millenia. Cigar Lake in Canada alone has enough uranium to power all of North America for 10,000 years:

http://www.cameco.com/usa/

Posted by Guest on Sep. 11, 2013 @ 3:55 pm

Dr. Helen Caldicott: The Medical Implications of Fukushima, Nuclear Power and Nuclear Proliferation

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8hTuqy6RpFQ

Posted by racer x on Sep. 12, 2013 @ 4:46 pm

Hardly representative.

Posted by Guest on Sep. 12, 2013 @ 5:05 pm

Chernobyl killed 1 million

Fukushima will kill many millions

and Caldicott's speech is about far far more than Fukushima

Posted by racer x on Sep. 12, 2013 @ 5:54 pm

A full third of the electricity that PG&E is claiming as clean is nuclear. And nuclear is neither clean, nor carbon free. (A nuke plant creates one third to one half the greenhouse gas emissions of a natural gas plant.)

CleanPowerSF will not deliver one watt of nuclear power.

Posted by Eric Brooks on Sep. 11, 2013 @ 3:48 pm

and it is certainly sustainable - at least for thousands of years.

Posted by Guest on Sep. 11, 2013 @ 3:59 pm

Dr. Helen Caldicott: The Medical Implications of Fukushima, Nuclear Power and Nuclear Proliferation

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8hTuqy6RpFQ

Posted by racer x on Sep. 12, 2013 @ 4:51 pm

in the near 30 years since Chernobyl.

Living near a nuclear reactor is statistically safer than many other locations.

Posted by Guest on Sep. 12, 2013 @ 5:07 pm

and in any case it only takes one to wreak massive havoc

Chernobyl killed 1 million (all over the planet)

Fukushima will kill many millions (even more so also all over the planet)

and Caldicott's speech is about far far more than Fukushima

try watching it, before popping off as if you know every god damned thing in the universe

Posted by racer x on Sep. 12, 2013 @ 5:59 pm

One key point that the article above missed, is that, over the last year, community advocates have done such an excellent job of hammering on the SFPUC staff to get those customer rates down that:

1) the proposed CleanPowerSF not-to-exceed rate cap now matches PG&E's own proposed '100% green' rate (and the CleanPowerSF clean energy mix will be -less- dependent on credits than PG&E's planned 'green' mix),

and more importantly,

2) SFPUC CleanPowerSF director Kim Malcolm has said in public hearings that the actual rate for the program could be as low as 9 cents per kilowatt hour, which will outright meet or beat PG&E's current -dirty- power rate.

So the program is now no longer more expensive than PG&E, and is fulfilling the "meet or beat" rate requirements originally set by the Board of Supervisors.

Hence, Mayor Lee was flat out not speaking truthfully in his responses.

Posted by Eric Brooks on Sep. 11, 2013 @ 3:33 pm

protect us ratepayers from rate-gouging more than I trust a self-styled activist whose bias on this topic is widely known.

Posted by Guest on Sep. 11, 2013 @ 3:40 pm

Do you trust mayoral appointees -- including Commissioner Ann Moeller Caen, a society maven with no expertise in energy -- more than the professional SFPUC staff or your own elected representatives on the Board of Supervisors?

Posted by steven on Sep. 11, 2013 @ 3:47 pm
Posted by Guest on Sep. 11, 2013 @ 3:58 pm

Kim Malcolm, SFPUC CleanPowerSF Director, is the source of the 9 cent rate figure (which will match PG&E rates).

She delivered that new projection at the Environment Commission meeting on August 6, 2013.

So the public official in charge of the program, indeed has provided your answer.

Posted by Eric Brooks on Sep. 11, 2013 @ 4:00 pm

sources have it as being higher - some, much higher.

Posted by anon on Sep. 11, 2013 @ 4:14 pm

That figure is the SFPUC's newest projection, as of August 6, 2013.

Posted by Eric Brooks on Sep. 11, 2013 @ 4:27 pm

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