SF Board of Supervisors and PG&E debate definition of “clean energy”

Repost from SFGate.com
[Editor:  Defining an everyday common usage phrase like “clean energy” doesn’t sound very exciting, but it’s a serious prelude to San Francisco’s plan to bring in a local alternative supplier of clean energy.  Corporate energy interests and their lobbyists and a certain PGE-friendly labor organization are lobbing early grenades at Mayor Ed Lee and the Board (the likes of which we have also seen here in Benicia).  – RS]

Voters may decide in November what clean energy really means

By Emily Green, June 16, 2015 9:04 pm

You know there’s more at stake than science when a debate over the definition of clean energy goes before voters.

That’s what’s likely to be on the agenda in November, when competing measures — by city officials on one side and Pacific Gas & Electric Co. on the other — may go on the ballot. The Board of Supervisors took up the issue Tuesday afternoon.

The issue is what clean energy actually entails, and what’s at stake are thousands of potential customers.

The dispute stems from San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee’s decision in January to develop a city-run renewable energy program by the end of the year that would compete directly with PG&E. The state requires that such locally run renewable energy programs are designed to enroll customers automatically.

Now, the union that represents PG&E employees is seeking a ballot measure that would prohibit the city from advertising its electricity as clean or green unless the electricity provided is “greenhouse gas-free electricity.”

The proposed measure, by IBEW 1245, “will ensure that the power San Franciscans are sold is what it says it is — truly green, local power,” according to the union’s press release. The union is currently in the process of collecting signatures to put it on the ballot.

No surprise, city officials are none too happy about it. The city’s proposed program would rely extensively on renewable energy, but would not be 100 percent greenhouse gas-free.

With that in mind, Board of Supervisors’ President London Breed introduced on Tuesday a competing ballot measure. The measure says that for all city programs, renewable greenhouse gas-free energy means energy that is pulled from a wide spectrum of sources, but not nuclear power.

The measure would define clean energy to mirror the standards set by state law, she said Tuesday in comments to the Board of Supervisors. “Terms like clean and green are not just PG&E marketing terms,” she said.

Supervisors John Avalos, Julie Christensen and Scott Wiener co-sponsored the legislation, meaning it has the necessary signatures to go on the ballot.

Also on Tuesday, the board unanimously passed legislation by Wiener that would require many large new buildings in San Francisco to use gray water — waste water from baths, sinks and other kitchen appliances — for toilet flushing and in their irrigation systems.

Wiener and other conservation advocates believe the legislation is a first in the country. Because the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission sells only drinking water, it will fall to developers to create water treatment systems to capture and clean the recycled water.

Initially, Wiener made the legislation apply only to yet-to-be constructed buildings 250,000 square feet and larger located in the city’s “purple-pipe” district. That’s land on the east and west slivers of the city and includes the development-rich South of Market area.

But during the committee process, Wiener amended the legislation to apply citywide.

“We have a lot of work to do to address our water crisis,” Wiener said Tuesday. “We need structural changes to how we use this precious resource.”

The board also unanimously passed legislation by Supervisor Mark Farrell to preserve the city’s entertainment economy. The legislation will extend the city’s film rebate program for an additional four years, and raise the cap from $3 million to $4 million.