Politics are holding back San Francisco's best shot at reducing carbon emissions
"PG&E's proposed green option and CleanPowerSF could operate in parallel," Nutter wrote in a memo drafted a couple years ago. "CleanPowerSF is likely to have a much greater environmental benefit due to the size of the customer base that would be served, the program's objective to create a market for local renewable power, and the amount of greenhouse gas reductions achieved."
So why then were both of these efforts eliminated from the report at the last minute, after being incorporated by experts in the field? Lee Communications Director Christine Falvey did not provide an answer to this specific Guardian question about the removal decision despite being asked several times.
When the Guardian asked Mayor Lee in March why CleanPowerSF was removed from the report, Lee responded, "I don't think I have a real answer for that."
Also unanswered is the question of how the city will meet its greenhouse gas emission reductions target. A quarter of the city's greenhouse gas emissions derive from residential and commercial electricity, according to the Climate Action Strategy.
Electricity provided by PG&E is only 50 percent emission-free, with nuclear energy as the company's most significant carbon-free power source. SFPUC projections have shown that CleanPowerSF could reduce citywide greenhouse gas emissions by 25 percent by 2030.
Another quarter of our emissions come from natural gas usage, and 40 percent of total emissions are belched into the air by automobiles. Lee wants to encourage more electric vehicles, but that won't help much if they're powered by a dirty power portfolio.
Whereas CleanPowerSF represented a carefully crafted plan for hitting these long-term targets, Lee's most recent comments on how these important goals will be reached seem vague at best.
"I think we take all our deliberations on climate action seriously," Lee told the Guardian in March, "and I do think that our focus now has been on energy efficiencies. We are also trying now to beef up the GoSolar program to be sure to catch whatever the state is willing to do, because Governor [Jerry] Brown has been trying to tap where there can be more examples of that."
"The Mayor is open to exploring all avenues that might be available to achieve our energy goals," Falvey told us. "In fact, it will take a variety of strategies working in concert to achieve them, including increasing the energy efficiency of buildings to reduce the total power load, developing in-city renewables, and options for increasing the provision of renewable power at a utility-scale."
Those last two goals are precisely what CleanPowerSF would have done. Critics have decried Lee's move as harmful and politically motivated. "What Mayor Lee has succeeded in doing is to rip the guts out of the new Climate Action Strategy," John Rizzo wrote in a recent Sierra Club newsletter, "rendering it as meaningless as the missed greenhouse-gas reduction targets from 2012."
At the Board of Supervisors' mayor question time in March, Sup. John Avalos asked Lee to direct the Department of Environment to return CleanPowerSF to the Climate Action Strategy and commit to launching the program in 2014.
Lee answered that he could not, saying the program was too problematic and the SFPUC has too many infrastructure repair needs. The SFPUC has pulled its staff from the project to redirect that work into energy infrastructure improvements.