San Francisco is one step closer to offering residents the option to switch to 100 percent renewable energy after the city's Board of Supervisors voted 8-3 in favor of the program that would lead to significant cuts in carbon emissions.
CleanPowerSF, a $19.5 million program run by Shell Energy North America, will automatically opt-in half of San Francisco residents and then give them the option to opt-out. It's a roundabout way of giving people choice, but the five-year program will need 90,000 of 375,000 residents to make the switch to make the program worthwhile.
If the city is successful at getting residents to buy into the program (and stick with it) CleanPowerSF could do more than previous efforts to reduce carbon emissions. According to the city, it would see a cut 10 times greater than the amount the city has already cut.
The program will also provide competition to Pacific Gas and Electric Company, which currently operates utilities in San Francisco. The city is able to do this because of a 2002 state law that allows municipalities to choose their electricity provider. A community-choice aggregation system, as it's called, is also available in Marin County, California.
But choice and carbon emissions reductions will come at a price. Residents who stay in the program will see their utility bill rise by $9 a month while the commercial increase will be about $18 a month. If customers decide that's too much then San Francisco could owe Shell as much as $15 million. If residents are willing to pay more for green power, the city will profit and use the money to build city-owned renewable energy facilities.
It's a risk the city seems willing to take. Although The San Francisco Chronicle is skeptical in an editorial:
There's nothing wrong with offering renewable power in a city that prides itself on its environmental record. Were it offered alongside PG&E's electrons, the renewable alternative probably would create a stampede.
But the details of this deal - a single bidder, city subsidies and automatic sign-up - aren't fair or sensible. There's the added factor of the road ahead. The renewable backers plainly want more than the green label. If the plan gets rolling, San Francisco residents should prepare for an even bigger challenge: taking over PG&E operations.
The plan now goes to the city's Board for a vote. If approved, it will go into place next spring. Then it will be up to residents to decide if it's a good idea or not.