PG&E union spreads lies about CleanPowerSF

Dirty, dirty lies.

San Francisco’s municipal power agency is gearing up to launch one of the most climate-friendly alternative energy programs in the country, but the forces behind a misleading opposition campaign seek to torpedo that effort.

This past weekend, glossy ads depicting seashells and spilled oil blanketed the doorknobs of Noe Valley residences. Paid for by IBEW 1245, the union that represents employees of Pacific Gas & Electric Co., the door hangers conveyed the fear-mongering message that CleanPowerSF “isn’t clean. It’s dirtier than our current power.”

To put it bluntly, that's bullshit.

Taking them at face value, you might conclude that Shell was about to begin drilling offshore in the San Francisco Bay and that city officials were planning to meet the city’s energy needs with a polluting power plant run solely off tar sands oil. They might even club some baby seals while they were at it.

What’s really happening is that the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission is gearing up for a hearing on Tue/13 to discuss rate setting for CleanPowerSF, a municipal green energy program that's been in the works for years. As the power agency inches closer to a full program launch, PG&E and its employees are worried they’ll lose business when San Francisco customers are automatically enrolled in the CleanPowerSF program.

The new power program will continue to use PG&E infrastructure and its existing billing system, but customers’ homes will be powered with a greener electricity mix procured through the city-run program, which is contracting with Shell Energy North America to purchase electricity on the open market from a variety of green power sources.

Naturally, San Francisco is teeming with savvy environmentalists who aren’t buying the slick oppositional blitzkrieg. On Aug. 13, some will band together to set the record straight when a host of representatives from the Sierra Club and others rally at City Hall at noon to express support for immediate implementation of CleanPowerSF.

“Clean energy aggregation is on the rise across the country, making an immediate and direct impact on climate emissions,” said Shawn Marshall, Director of LEAN Energy US. LEAN works with organizations that use the municipal power-purchasing model that CleanPower SF is based on. “The only thing blocking progress in San Francisco is corporate politics, and we encourage the city to deliver on its environmental promises by pressing ahead with CleanPowerSF.”

In a letter to San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee, former EPA administrator and World Wildlife Fund Chairman Emeritus William K. Reilly emphasized that CleanPowerSF “is a crucial step for achieving California’s 2020 greenhouse gas goals. It’s also an essential model for California and the rest of the country as cities and communities are compelled to address the problems fueled by climate change.”

Back to those misleading ads. While it is true that Shell is an oil company with a shoddy track record of human rights abuses, it is not true that the energy supplied by CleanPowerSF will be dirtier than electricity provided by PG&E.

To the contrary, only 20 percent of PG&E’s energy mix is derived from green power sources, while the majority of its electricity is generated by nuclear facilities or natural gas power plants. PG&E is also the company responsible for the hexavalent chromium groundwater contamination in the California town of Hinkley, in the Mojave Desert, which provided the basis for the movie Erin Brockovich.

And more recently, PG&E was responsible for the deadly pipeline explosion in San Bruno, which leveled an entire neighborhood. In comparison, CleanPower SF will offer a 100 percent renewable energy mix out of the starting gate.

Some of that mix will initially be derived from renewable energy credits. Called RECs, they're cheaper because they are “credits” accounting for green power generated somewhere, as opposed to actual green power coming straight over the power lines.

But it's important to note that the initial use of RECs is a pricing strategy designed to put the agency in a financial position to support green power projects here in San Francisco a little further down the road.

The long-term plan of constructing green power facilities locally would create permanent, decent-paying jobs. It would also supply San Franciscans with electricity generated with technology that can harness the unlimited power potential of the California sun, or the wind that blows in off the Pacific Ocean. This is the outcome that PG&E affiliates seek to thwart, because they fear profit loss.

A few months ago, in an interview with the Guardian, SFPUC spokesperson Charles Sheehan emphasized that it had taken many conversations to get to the point that the agency has finally reached.

“We’ve lowered the rate, we’re now more competitive with PG&E’s baseline offering, and we’re on parity with their potential green tariff program,” he explained. Speaking of a dedicated revenue stream that would go toward funding local clean-power projects, he said, “That line item is really critical to get us to the build-out that we’ve all collectively envisioned as a staff, and as a community.”


Does. Not. Compute.

Posted by Lucretia Snapples on Aug. 12, 2013 @ 7:46 pm

Another important fact that people need to understand is that the service Shell is contracted to provide to CleanPowerSF is a tiny 20 megawatt start-up purchase of market based clean energy. This is necessary because before local clean energy and efficiency installations are built (and generating and saving electricity) the clean power that customers will be shifted to has to come from the grid outside of the city.

To put this in perspective, once it is fully built out, the CleanPowerSF program will provide over 400 megawatts of real locally generated electricity to San Franciscans. So Shell's tiny start-up contract amounts to less than 5% of the program.

Hence, IBEW 1245's claims that Shell will somehow be running and controlling the CleanPowerSF program are simply false.

Furthermore, most of the local community organizers working to get CleanPowerSF successfully off the ground, have made clear to the SFPUC that we are -very- uncomfortable that Shell has been given even this small role in the program, and we have won assurances from SFPUC staff that the Shell contract will be kept to this minimal 20 megawatts and no larger and that the next round of purchasing for the program can and will be managed by the SFPUC itself, thereby ending Shell's involvement in the program completely after the start-up.

Posted by Eric Brooks on Aug. 13, 2013 @ 8:09 am

You think you found a contradiction and that's very exciting and fun for you!
That's nice.

Posted by Guest on Aug. 22, 2013 @ 9:56 am

They even had a go at the licensed can business the other day, evidently forgetting that they are supposed to support vast vested bureaucracies and oppose the shareable economy.

Posted by anon on Aug. 22, 2013 @ 10:03 am
Posted by Guest on Aug. 22, 2013 @ 10:25 am
Posted by Guest on Aug. 22, 2013 @ 10:37 am

Oil's "clean" power. That has been known for a long time - nothing new or false about it.

Posted by anon on Aug. 12, 2013 @ 11:20 pm

Well that's the difference really. 60% ghg-free mix (about 20-25% of which is nuclear though) vs 100% ghg-free mix for a higher rate. Not really sure which I favor, but I'd certainly like to give customers the option of buying from someone besides PG&E if they want. Competition is good. Challenges PG&E to do better from an environmental and cost perspective.

Posted by Guest on Aug. 14, 2013 @ 9:31 am

So PG&E is bad because of Hinkley, but no mention of Shell's astounding environmental crimes?

Posted by Guest on Aug. 13, 2013 @ 6:50 am

Bringing up Shell's record on its oil business is like bringing up PG&E's gas record. The power purchased by the city would be renewables with a Shell subsidiary as the marketer.

Posted by Guest on Aug. 14, 2013 @ 9:28 am

Whatever you think of PG&E, they haven't murdered people

Posted by Guest on Aug. 14, 2013 @ 12:24 pm

Where has all this outrage been when PG&E has been buying their renewable energy via Shell over the past decade then? They have had tons of contracts for power from Shell, and still do.

Posted by Guest on Aug. 14, 2013 @ 12:33 pm

Most recently in San Bruno. And for years throughout the state, uncovered because of the heroism and persistence of Erin Brockavich (and the families of the victims.)

I'm surprised she hasn't been branded a traitor a la Edward Snowden or Bradley Manning.

Posted by Guest on Aug. 14, 2013 @ 12:56 pm

So PG&E is bad because of Hinkley, but no mention of Shell's astounding and appalling environmental crimes in Nigeria and elsewhere?

Posted by Guest on Aug. 13, 2013 @ 6:52 am

"While it is true that Shell is an oil company with a shoddy track record of human rights abuses: ...

Posted by rebecca on Aug. 13, 2013 @ 9:26 am

"Shoddy" doesn't begin to cover it.

They are worse than PG&E and it's not even close

Posted by Guest on Aug. 13, 2013 @ 10:43 am

In terms of impacts on the Bay Area, PG&E is far worse, with a long record of deadly negligence (including the eight dead in San Bruno because it wouldn't fix an old gas pipeline that it got a rate increase specifically to address), corrupting our political system (to, among other things, maintain an illegal monopoly in violation of the Raker Act), some of the highest rates in the country for some of the dirtiest power, and gaming the economic system (including transfering millions of dollars to its parent corporation on Wall Street before the utility declared bankruptcy due to the electricity deregulation debacle that PG&E engineered)  to extract ever-more money from customers and taxpayers.

Posted by steven on Aug. 14, 2013 @ 1:22 pm

If you believe there is, look up Ken Saro-Wiwa.

Shell laughs at PG&E's pathetic attempts to corrupt the political system. Shell doesn't corrupt the system, it is the system, and if you oppose it you die.

And gaming the system? Ha! What PG&E does is child's play compared to what Shell's done in Africa. Seriously. Child's play. Read up on their actions in Nigeria, the money that flows to the Swiss bank accounts while people die. And you want to talk about pollution? Want to guess about the effects of drilling in the Niger delta?

Posted by Guest on Aug. 14, 2013 @ 9:58 pm

Take the word of Ed Harrington, former head of the San Francisco Public Utility Commission, who said that RECs are not "real green power." When asked why the City originally chose not to include RECs, Harrington said, "We thought people here wanted real green power." It was only after Harrington left that Avalos and Vietor seemed to have persuaded the new GM to reverse policy and use the dirty RECs.

According to UC Santa Cruz environmental professor Daniel Press, RECs "don't do much beyond paying the salaries -- of people selling certificates."

You can also take the word of Greenpeace UK, who called Shell one of the "dirtiest, most regressive corporations in the world" after Shell walked away from true renewables like wind and solar. Or the word of City Attorney Dennis Herrera, who rightly took PG&E to task when they tried to sell RECs as green.

The San Francisco Labor Council also weighed in, issuing a Resolution condemning the deal. In addition to their humanitarian crimes, Shell is one of the worst labor violators in business. In fact, a review of 2007 data found that Shell had the highest mortality rate of any large western oil company in the United States. Shell has a reputation for brazen disregard of workers' safety, and the company's safety record continues to raise concern among government regulators

Posted by Guest on Aug. 13, 2013 @ 10:39 am

This is exactly why we are limiting RECs to less than 5% of the program.

Posted by Eric Brooks on Aug. 13, 2013 @ 5:06 pm

People should read up on RECs, because the kind of discussion above is seriously misleading. Every single renewable energy source has a REC attached to its power. There is no such thing as renewable energy bought without RECs.

There is a difference between selling the power and REC together and selling just the REC. The anti-REC argument here is that this means you're getting a REC attributed to substituted power which is actually getting to you. But this is how the grid works anyhow. The utility buys power to put on the grid while you get whatever is closest to you as determined by the flow of electricity. In other words, everyone already always gets substitute electricity. Any customer of Alameda's municipal utility is probably getting customer from PG&E sources. And a PG&E customer near the geysers is probably getting power contracted by Alameda. It's just how the grid works.

And hell, the main reason these RECs are being sold separately is because the state made out of state renewables ineligible to be sold together with the power starting in 2010. Before that, most of your renewables came from out of state. PG&E still has renewable contracts from as far away as Canada.

Posted by Guest on Aug. 14, 2013 @ 9:41 am

So the energy is clean, but the company we will be giving millions of dollars to isn't as clean as PG&E? Hey, it's more expensive, and doesn't build new infrastructure, and it goes to a non-local company, at the expense of a company that has it's HQ here in SF, and hires thousands more in the Bay Area than Dutch Shell Oil Company. And is not supported by Union Labor, nor most residents of the City of San Francisco. Welcome to the world as envisioned by David Campos.

Posted by Richmondman on Aug. 13, 2013 @ 10:47 am

Your energy bill will go up substantially.

Posted by Guest on Aug. 13, 2013 @ 12:18 pm

$5.35/mo ?

Posted by anon on Aug. 14, 2013 @ 7:26 am

And that's 20% too much. I'll stick with what I know works.

Posted by Guest on Aug. 19, 2013 @ 6:40 am

The $5.35 figure is the increase for tier 1 customers paying an average of $40 a month. It sounds like you are paying about $25 a month, so your increase would only be about $3.35.

More importantly, SFPUC's CleanPowerSF director has said that it is now possible that we can get the rate down to as little as 9 cents per kilowatt hour which is exactly the same rate that PG&E now charges for its dirtier energy mix.

So it is looking likely that no one will have to pay anything extra to get far cleaner electricity than PG&E.

Posted by Eric Brooks on Aug. 19, 2013 @ 11:28 am

Be ready to pay more for electricity!!!

Posted by Guest on Aug. 14, 2013 @ 6:40 am

The awarding of the energy procurement to Shell should have been a nonstarter. The glaring question is, why was Shell initially awarded this contract? What alternative procurement sources could possibly have been a greater betrayal of finding a path compatible with real climate solutions.
Shell is a major criminal oil/gas criminal global corporation. It owns the major holdings in Aera Energy, the major fracking corporation in California, and is taking the lead in oil exploration in the Artic. Its murderous oil drilling activities in Nigeria are astounding.
The major arguments for CleanPowerSF is not that it brings significantly more clean renewable energy electric power to the grid now. The only immediately feasible way to bring the best clean democratically controlled electric energy supply to any municipality or county government is by government support for building energy efficiency in transportation and buildings, installing roof top photovoltaic panels, and local wind power, and developing democratically locally controlled power grids. This will not happen through the present structure and SFPUC control of CleanPowerSF.

Posted by Larry Rose M.D.,Guest on Aug. 15, 2013 @ 5:03 pm

Dr. Rose you are falsely assuming, as most do, that the SFPUC Shell contract is the basis of the program. It isn't. The actual outline of the program plan, written by Paul Fenn of Local Power (the originator of Community Choice energy) can be seen at:

Posted by Eric Brooks on Aug. 18, 2013 @ 11:02 pm

It should be a law that if you put power into the grid then you get the same market price PG&E gets in return for actively supporting it period, then there would be no need for yet more commissioned utilities! Let's get the facts straight, PG&E was sold contracts that were bid up by banks artificially (Enron) then when the time came to pay PG&E claimed broke, that's when California should have taken the keys way from the entire scamming system. Perhaps it's not to late, or should we just wait around for another explosion from a well under maintained infrastructure, or yet another bonds scam by the banks... Really almost every major power company is just a extension of yet another bank contract or insurance default scam on creditors. AIG knew the banks were going to default, and here we are again looking at yet another set of hands in till up to their shoulders grabbing all they can grab...

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The purpose of the program is to significantly increase the amount of energy supplied to the San Francisco electrical grid from local renewable sources, decrease San Francisco’s greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, and help combat global climate change.

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