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Clean Energy Act Campaigns Present to Ethnic Media

New America Media, News Report, Ngoc Nguyen Posted: Oct 23, 2008

Editors note: This November, the issue of public power is on the San Francisco ballot. New America Media invited campaigns on both sides of the issue to address its ethnic media editorial board to make the case for or against city-controlled power and explain whats at stake for Asian American, African American and Latino residents. Ngoc Nguyen is an editor for New America Media.

This November, a San Francisco ballot measure, if approved by voters, could pave the way for public power in the city.

Measure H, the Clean Energy Act, mandates deadlines for higher renewable energy standards, and requires the San Francisco Public Utility Commission (PUC) to study options of how the city could provide clean and affordable electricity. It also allows the Board of Supervisors to issue revenue bonds to fund needed infrastructure, without voter approval. Supervisors voted 7-4 to put the measure on the ballot.

Travis Kiyota, PG&Es government and public affairs director for the Bay Area, said the proposition amounts to a hostile takeover of PG&E that carries a price tag of $4 billion for taxpayers what the utility estimates as the value of its power plants and transmission lines.

No on H speakersSpeakers: PG&E's Travis Kiyota, Ronald Wong, Asianweek's Ted Fang.

The city controller estimates the feasibility study could cost between $825,000 to $1.75 million, funded through rates and charges to PUC customers. Long term costs are unknown, but could be in the billions.

John Rizzo, political chair of the Bay Area chapter of the Sierra Club, said the measure sets clean energy mandates in the city charter. Rizzo helped to write the measure.

John RizzoSpeaker: Sierra Club's John Rizzo.

"We've had statements on goals in the past, but they didn't have any teeth," he said.

Measure H would require the city get half of its energy from renewable power sources by 2017, and three-fourths by 2030. By 2040, all of the city's energy would come from renewable electric power sources.

The proposition also creates an independent ratepayer advocate and directs the city to create a green jobs workforce development plan, including green jobs training programs at community colleges and organizations.

Measure Hs clean energy mandates are more ambitious than current state standards.

State law mandates investor owned utilities generate more and more energy from renewable sources such as biomass, geothermal, small hydro (less than 30 megawatts), wind and solar. Private utilities such as PG&E are required to get a fifth of its power from clean energy sources by 2010.

In 2007, PG&E derived 11.4 percent of its energy from state-qualified renewable resources, according to its 2007 filing with the CPUC. A breakdown of the energy from renewable sources includes 34 percent from biomass/waste, 30 percent from geothermal, 21 percent from small hydro, 15 percent from wind and less than one percent from solar.

Environmentalists like Rizzo argue locally-operated and consumer-owned municipal utilities have a better track record of switching to cleaner electric power sources at a faster rate than that of the investor owned utilities.

Generally, municipal utilities have lower rates than the private power utilities and more clean energy, Rizzo said. PG&E has some of the highest utility rates in the state.

Alameda Power and Telecom, the municipal utility of the city of Alameda, Calif., bills itself as the greenest little utility in America, deriving 80 percent of its power from renewable sources -- 55 percent from state-eligible renewable resources and 25 percent from large hydro. About 40 percent of the utility's power comes from geothermal energy from Middletown, Calif., near Calistoga, an area known for abundant steam fields.

In 2006, Sacramento Municipal Utility District (SMUD) derived 12 percent of its energy from renewable sources, and projects it will derive about twice as much from renewable sources by 2011.

According to the American Public Power Association, 14 percent of consumers get their electricity from a community-owned electric utility. Residents of Seattle, Austin, Sacramento, and Palo Alto to name a few enjoy public power. In San Francisco, the SFPUC already runs the water system and delivers electricity (from hydropower) to power the citys schools, municipal buildings and buses.

Kiyota said, to date, PG&E derives14 percent of its energy from renewable resources, and has already procured 20 percent. The utility recently alerted state regulators of a 4.5 percent increase in consumer electricity bills, starting this month, because of the rising cost of natural gas. The utility projects an additional 2 percent rate increase in 2009.

According to the University of San Francisco's Transparency in Government Project, PG&E has contributed more than $4 million to defeat the measure. The utility has formed a broad coalition, drawing support from community leaders and small business owners in the Asian American, African American and Latino community.

Ted Fang, editor and publisher, AsianWeek, whose weekly has endorsed No on H, said PG&E is recognized in the Asian American community as a corporate citizen. It employs a diverse workforce, Fang added, and sponsors community organizations and events. (PG&E is a supporter of New America Media as a sponsor).

What has the yes camp done? The No on H campaign targets communities of color as an important base, Fang said. The environmental movement passed communities of color by. They need to be working with communities of color.

ethnic mediaEthnic media journalists question what's at stake for them.

Rizzo of the Sierra Club said its fair to criticize the environmental movement of not being inclusive of communities of color. He said the Sierra Club is diversifying its national board and local chapters.

Julian Davis, chair of SF Clean Energy and Yes on H campaign, pointed to PG&Es history of resisting environmental justice actions to shut down pollution-spewing power plants located in communities of color; for example, in Bayview Hunters Point or the Mirant power plant.

Julian DavisSpeaker: SF Clean Energy campaign's Julian Davis.

Davis described PG&Es corporate giving as a few peanuts, and said it pales in comparison to the profits that go to shareholders and executive pay.

The city of San Francisco does a lot more to support nonprofit groups than PG&E, he said, adding the city needs to do more to create more opportunities for residents.

Measure H could help create that opportunity by jumpstarting the citys green economy.

California is ahead of the nation, but its behind other countries, Rizzo said. China has the largest solar manufacturing company, Germany has the largest wind companythats where the manufacturing and installation jobs are going.

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