Concerns raised about CleanPowerSF

Since its passage in July 2011, San Francisco’s renewable energy program CleanPowerSF has not been without controversy, concern or questions.

One doubt in particular resurfaced at a San Francisco Public Utilities Commission meeting last week: those who subscribe to the program will have to pay rates much higher than the current option with PG&E.

CleanPowerSF, a Community Choice Aggregation program administered by the SFPUC, is the city’s energy alternative to PG&E, which has held a decades-long monopoly on San Francisco power and has a reputation of not providing the cleanest product.

The program offers clean and renewable energy, a healthy dose of competition for San Francisco’s energy business and more power of choice for consumers. Customers can either hop on with CleanPowerSF when it launches this October (about half of the city’s 375,000 residential energy customers will actually be automatically enrolled but can opt out to avoid higher rates) or choose to remain with PG&E.

Though many San Franciscans are clamoring for cleaner, locally sourced energy, they might choose to stick with PG&E if rates are too high.

When city supervisors considered the CleanPowerSF legislation last fall, the average residential utility bill was projected to rise by $9 per month, with an $18 average increase for all customers, residential and commercial. But the proposed rates still top out at 20 to 30 percent higher than PG&E’s, according to the San Francisco Examiner.

If implemented, San Francisco would become the first city to launch such a program with rates higher than the current competitor.

CleanPowerSF’s website offers a green justification for higher rates:

“While CleanPowerSF’s rates will be higher than PG&E’s, CleanPowerSF will drastically increase the amount of green energy supplied to San Francisco.”

But if these rates are unaffordable, how successful will the program be?

President and founder of Local Power Inc., Paul Fenn, who the SFPUC hired as a consultant, released a report suggesting routes the city can take to lower rates, such as creating and supporting more local renewable energy projects.

The report also underscores the benefits of incorporating hydroelectric, greenhouse gas free energy generated by the Hetch Hetchy reservoir in Yosemite National Park, which is run by the SFPUC.

In the coming weeks, the SFPUC is set to vote on a rate threshold. In the meantime, they plan to survey more customers to see how wide they would open their wallets for green energy.