San Francisco Set To Vote on Greener Public Power

wind power farm.jpg
Public Power Makes It's Way Onto the City's Ballot
The boxing gloves are out in San Francisco in a fight pitting Mayor Gavin Newsom and Pacific Gas and Electric against a broad base of citizens, supervisors and politicians. At the center of the fight is Proposition H, a proposal that would put the city's power grid back in the hands of San Franciscans. The proposition will enable a feasibility study of publicly owned power and will also set green mandates for the new grid system. With the switch, public power proponents plan to derive the city's electricity from 50 percent renewables by 2017 and one hundred percent by 2040. PG&E;, the for-profit power company that currently manages the grid, is not going down easily.

Public power has long been a San Francisco battle, finding its way on the city's November 4th ballot eleven times since the 1920s. Though it has also been voted down all eleven times, leaders of the movement think this time may be different.

Read more about public power in San Francisco below the fold.power line image.jpg
Public Power Then
The story of San Francisco's ongoing battle for public power goes something like this. At the start of the 20th century, the city's mayor James Phelan concluded the city would only survive if it procured its own power source. His eyes looked westward to Hetch-Hetchy, a glacial valley in Yosemite cradling the Toulumne River.

After a battle with John Muir and conservationists, Congress passed the Raker Act in 1913 that approved a dam on the river with one provision. The power it generated had to be publicly owned and sold to San Franciscans at a cheap rate to free them of PG&E;, or what Rep. John Raker called a "remorseless private monopoly." Under Roosevelt, this Act was re-affirmed in the 1940s. Though backed by the Supreme Court, PG&E;'s power over local mayors and city legislators led them to block any municipal bonds that went to public power.

Public Power Now
On the surface, it may appear not a lot has changed since the forties. Gavin Newsom, the Mayor of San Francisco, is still holding hands with PG&E;:

The company has hired Eric Jaye, Newsom's chief political strategist, to consult on its campaign to defeat Prop. H. Newsom said that has not affected his position on Prop. H. The private utility regularly donates to Newsom's pet causes, including a 2003 measure to stop aggressive panhandling and a 2007 push for citywide Wi-Fi. The mayor has appeared with PG&E; executives at several events, including one in July to tout the company for providing solar panels to Grace Cathedral. Just last week, the company co-sponsored a party the mayor hosted in Denver in conjunction with the Democratic National Convention.
via The San Francisco Chronicle

Though Newsom claims PG&E; is the greenest utility company and the public power movement is merely utilizing green washing to sway voters, PG&E;'s electricity was comprised of only 11.4% renewables in 2007. Though they are trying for green, the company is projected to miss the 20% renewable by the end of 2010 according to the California Public Utility Commission.

Unlike the forties, though, now the city's Mayor is one of the few people in San Francisco public office still holding hands with PG&E.; Eight of eleven San Francisco supervisors support a move towards public power, as does the San Francisco Democratic Party and a number of environmental groups.

In 2001, a proposition to explore public power options in San Francisco was lost by 500 votes. According to the San Francisco Chronicle, after the vote,

uncounted ballots were discovered weeks later. Ballot box lids were found floating in the bay and washing up on area beaches.

2008 holds a serious possibility that San Francisco's power may go public, or that the option will at least be explored. If the move is made, the city will show the world even more of its ecothusiasm by opting for cleaner, greener power sources.

Read More:
Top 10 Green Utilities
Austin's Mayor on Green Publicly Owned Utilities
Al Gore Would Support Prop H Move Towards Renewables
A Man Running on His Homegrown Local Power Challenges Utility Company

Tags: Clean Energy | Electricity | Energy | San Francisco


treehugger slideshows