PG&E attacks CCA

PG&E attacks CCA

Utility letter slamming city program is debunked by public power advocates

By Amanda Witherell

Editor’s note: PG&E sent this statement via email to a local community group, which passed it along to the Guardian. We’ve taken the liberty of adding some crucial facts, in italics. [PDF]

Despite all the chummy faux-green advertising and energy partnerships with the city that Pacific Gas and Electric Co. has engaged in recently, the $12 billion utility has made its first vocal criticism of San Francisco’s proposal to provide more renewable energy to its citizens.

Community Choice Aggregation allows the city to build and purchase its own energy, which PG&E then has to carry through its wires. Legislation to enact the plan was introduced to the Board of Supervisors on April 17 and calls for more efficiency and conservation measures in addition to sourcing from solar and wind to make 51 percent of the city’s energy renewable by 2017.

Jimi Harris of PG&E’s governmental relations department has responded with a letter criticizing CCA that was sent to local community organizations, which then passed it along to the Guardian. The letter included a press release–like statement (which isn’t posted on PG&E’s Web site among other press releases) lauding PG&E’s greenness but going on to criticize the city’s attempts to reduce its carbon burning.

“The proposed plan announced by Supervisors [Ross] Mirkarimi and [Tom] Ammiano appears to be only slightly revised from the version presented over two years ago, which has languished largely because it’s unworkable, and poses huge risks to customers, taxpayers, and the City,” the letter reads.

“It hasn’t languished because it’s unworkable,” Tony Winnicker of the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission told us. “We wanted to make sure we were doing it right. As a city family, we’ve pursued it responsibly. This is coming from a company that’s tried to pass off its nuclear power as renewable.”

Winnicker says the plan has been thoroughly vetted by a bevy of outside experts. Local CCA advocates think this is just the beginning of a long battle.

“I’m surprised that they’re telegraphing their moves so early,” Mirkarimi told us. “But I’m not surprised they’re doing it. They will do anything they can to assassinate any effort that presents public power as an alternative option.”

John Rizzo, chair of the SF Bay Chapter of the Sierra Club, and noted energy consultant Paul Fenn, who helped draft the plan, think PG&E’s attack not only is full of false claims, but may also be illegal. CCA was allowed by Assembly Bill 117, which also mandates that utilities cooperate and not interfere with communities undertaking this kind of power plan. According to Fenn, the California Public Utilities Commission “was very strict in its interpretation of the statute and said that if utilities didn’t fully cooperate, the CPUC would move to punish its shareholders.”

Originally published May 9, 2007 in the San Francisco Bay Guardian