Yesterday, by an 8-3 vote, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors approved CleanPowerSF, a municipal energy plan that would force about half the city’s ratepayers into using electricity that was generated entirely from renewable sources, like wind and solar power.
The cost? According to the San Francisco Chronicle, the measure would increase utility bills about 23 percent*.
And I thought renewable energy was supposed to be competitive! California already has the 13th most expensive electricity rates in the country, so this 23 percent green energy premium is on top of relatively high utility bills. [updated 10:23 AM, 9/20/2012: I completely forgot to mention that this renewable energy is 23 percent more expensive than conventional energy (in a market, California, whereby a state law forbids the consumption of coal, the most conventional electricity source) after accounting for federal, state, and municipal subsidies. Moreover, I don't know the extent to which this "100 percent" renewable power is "real" rather than an artificial construct. The grid requires a reliable flow of power, but renewable energy is intermittent, and there's no technology to store utility-scale electricity. Therefore, I presume CleanPowerSF entails a reliance on imported hydropower (the "real" source of power) while the city purchases renewable energy credits (which are basically the environmental attributes of renewable energy produced elsewhere) equal to the amount of hydropower consumed. This is necessary because Californians don't consider hydropower to be "green" due to the fact that it harms some kinds of fish. Again, this is reasoned speculation on my part--I can't imagine how CleanPowerSF would work otherwise. I'll post again when I find out.]
In addition to being expensive, CleanPowerSF is also coercive. On the basis of already-conducted public surveys that purport to have identified those neighborhoods that are willing to pay more for green energy, the city has chosen 375,000 customers who will be automatically enrolled into CleanPowerSF. That’s about half the ratepayer base. It is incumbent upon these unfortunate residents to opt out of the program. By making participation a default option, the city is trying to take advantage of humankind’s innate aversion to dealing with minutiae, and thereby compel (dupe) as many citizens as possible into using 100 percent green, expensive energy. It’s an old sales trick.
Evidently, San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee’s support for CleanPowerSF is tepid. There’s no guarantee he’ll lend his approval, which is necessary for the project to move forward. I appreciate his reservations.
As I’ve argued here, here, and here: San Francisco could have achieved its green dreams, at zero cost, by freeing the city’s electricity market from the shackles of socialism. Instead, municipal leaders have opted to trade one government granted monopoly (PG&E) for another (Shell, the sole provider of electricity for CleanPowerSF).
*The Chronicle reports that the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission estimated that lower income customers, with utility bills of $40 per month, would see an increase of $9.55. For the average monthly utility bill, which the Energy Information Administration pegs at $81 in California, the San Francisco PUC estimated that the increase would be $18.53.