Some facts behind SF's Measure H

October 27, 2008 7:08:34 PM PDT
Should the city of San Francisco give PG&E the boot and take over the city's power supply? That's one of the questions being asked of city voters next week. If this sounds familiar -- it is.

This is, in fact, the twelfth time since the 1920's that the issue has gone to the voters. Only this time, it comes with a green twist.

PG&E has been the city's power provider for a more than 100 years. One measure on the San Francisco ballot wants to change that.

"Our ability really to jump start the clean energy economy really puts us on a pathway towards energy independence," said Julian Davis from Yes on H Campaign.

Davis is with the Yes on H campaign. Proposition H directs the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission to study the best way to provide clean, sustainable, reasonably priced energy to residents.

It also sets targets for renewable energy, including mandating that 51 percent of the city's electrical needs are met by clean energy suppliers by 2017 and 100 percent by 2040.

"San Francisco has the opportunity, I think a unique and profound with proposition H to become the first city in the world to require 100 percent clean energy for its energy supply," said Davis.

The measure was put on the ballot by eight of the 11 supervisors including Supervisor Bevan Dufty.

"This isn't an anti PG&E effort. What this is saying is as we go down the road we really want to address climate change, we really want to insure that they are renewable, that having greater control over our energy destiny makes sense," said Dufty.

The city does have some experience generating clean electricity. An aggressive solar initiative supplies power to some civic buildings. And, the Hetch Hetchy project in Yosemite National Park not only supplies the city with water, but also generates power for Muni buses and street lights.

Eric Jaye represents both the mayor and PG&E -- the chief opponents of Proposition H. He says the Hetch Hetchy project is the perfect example of why the city can't handle running a utility.

"It's a pretty good model if you want to see what happens when you put politicians incharge of such an important utility," said Jaye.

Jaye points out that voters saved the aging Hetch Hetchy with a $1.6 billion bond measure six years ago.

"The water system needed to be rebuilt for years and years and years the city neglected that. It actually diverted money away from maintaining that system. And they spent it on political priorities not on maintaining the water system," said Jaye.

The No on H Campaign has been running ads discouraging people from voting for the measure. They call it a "blank check" because it includes a provision that allows the Board of Supervisors to issue bonds to cover the cost of assuming control of San Francisco's power needs to meet its 100 percent green power goal.

"We've got a small group of politicians saying that it's a good idea for the politicians to have more power to issue revenue bonds without our authority," said Jaye.

"This is not a blank check. You cannot issue revenue bonds without getting the approval of the Board of Supervisors, the mayor, the city controller," said Dufty.

Both sides argue over just how much it could cost to replace PG&E in San Francisco, but the one thing they can agree on is that the final tab will be in the billions of dollars.

Written and produced by Ken Miguel.

Last time San Francisco voted on an energy takeover was in 2001. It was defeated by just 500 votes.


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