Lawmaker Introduces San Francisco's Green New Deal Fund
San Francisco Supervisor Hillary Ronen introduced legislation today to launch San Francisco’s Green New Deal Fund. It would jumpstart the process of creating a public utility to replace PG&E, which filed for bankruptcy on the same day Ronen announced the fund.
San Francisco Supervisor Hillary Ronen isn’t just taking on Pacific Gas and Electric—she’s taking over. Or trying to. Her legislation for a Green New Deal Fund, would secure over $15 million from excess property taxes returned from the state last year to create a blueprint for building a publicly owned electricity grid in the city.
The move comes after PG&E—a San Francisco-based company—was found liable in at least 17 major wildfires that occurred in 2017, and as investigations into PG&E’s liability for the Camp Fire, which killed 86 people, continue. Ronen says PG&E’s failure to prioritize public safety over profits pushed her to act.
Hillary Ronen: Their safety record is abysmal, and ultimately the reason for that is because 25 percent of the ratepayers’ funds, they don’t go towards reliability of the system, they don’t go towards reinvesting and creating clean energy sources. They go to bloated CEO salaries and shareholder profits.
We won’t have to worry about that if San Francisco takes over this duty. We can reinvest that 25 percent ratepayer of funds in creating clean energy for our customers, and in creating good, well-paid jobs and benefits for the communities.
Jody Strait: Some of the institutions needed to create a publicly owned utility in San Francisco already exist. In 2016, San Francisco created CleanPowerSF to provide renewable energy to consumers, but the program still relies on PG&E’s existing grid.
Tyler gamble is the communications director at the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission or SFPUC. He says, under Mayor Breed’s request, the SFPUC already started researching the transition and expects to have a report out by May.
Tyler Gamble: The important thing for customers right now to know is that they’re not going to see any interruption in their electricity service.
The SFPUC, as I mentioned, is already operating successful community power programs that are delivering cleaner, greener electricity to San Francisco every day. For example, the city just celebrated 100 years of the Hetch-Hetchy hydro power generation, which powers city services like muni, SF General Hospital, SFO, and schools.
Jody Strait: Gamble says the SFPUC expects over 360,000 customer accounts to participate in CleanPowerSF later this year. CleanPowerSF claims to deliver clean electricity to San Francisco residents at lower costs than PG&E.
Ronen’s announcement pleases environmental activists. Isaac silk is an organizer with the Bay Area chapter of the Sunrise Movement, a youth organization that made national headlines in December by staging congressional sit-ins for a green new deal in Washington D.C., including at San Francisco Representative Democrat Nancy Pelosi’s office.
Silk says he’s excited to see the city moving ahead to create a cleaner and publicly-owned energy system, but he wants to see more specifics.
Isaac Silk: There’s obviously a lot of buzz around the green new deal right now. So, what people actually consider, you know, the mandates of such a deal is really what we’re focusing on right now, in terms of what the tenets are of what people are proposing when they talk about a green new deal. So, that for us is looking like a 10 to 12 year timeline for a complete decarbonization of the economy.
Can a city do that on its own? No. But San Francisco is a hugely important city and we’re excited to see how this bill moves forward.
Jody Strait: The San Francisco Green New Deal Fund is just the first of many steps the city must take to transition to a truly green system that has zero reliance on PG&E. For instance, the SFPUC can issue revenue bonds for infrastructure development after Proposition A passed in June 2018.
Many of the specifics of San Francisco’s Green New Deal are still uncertain, such as where new parts of the energy grid will go, how much existing infrastructure will be purchased from PG&E, if any, and what energy sources will qualify as “green.”
For KPFA Radio in Berkeley, this is Jody Strait.