Community Engagement

San Francisco launches campaign tied to public power effort

The City and County of San Francisco recently launched a new campaign highlighting San Francisco’s ongoing plans to acquire the local Pacific Gas and Electric power grid and shift to a cleaner, more reliable, locally controlled power system. 

City leaders are united behind the effort led by San Francisco Mayor London Breed, City Attorney Dennis Herrera, the Board of Supervisors and the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission (SFPUC).

The new campaign, called “Our City, Our Power,” will make it “very clear that San Francisco is incurring millions of dollars each year in unnecessary costs as a result of PG&E’s control of our local power grid,” said Harlan Kelly, General Manager of the SFPUC. “We are going to show San Francisco where and how we can modernize our system, and we’re going to demonstrate that public power is a better option than maintaining the status quo with PG&E.”

“Local control of the entire San Francisco electric system will provide increased affordability, safety, reliability and accountability,” said Breed. “Public power is aligned with the city’s aggressive clean energy and resiliency goals. Our offer benefits all parties involved and is consistent with San Franciscan’s desire to move our city in a new direction through public power.”

City made offer to buy PG&E’s local electric infrastructure

The City of San Francisco in September 2019 made a $2.5 billion offer to purchase substantially all of PG&E’s distribution and transmission assets needed to provide retail electric service to all electricity customers in the city. PG&E subsequently turned aside the offer in October, but Breed and Herrera said at the time that they were not giving up.

In January 2020, the Board of Supervisors and the SFPUC gave conditional approval to take the next step, authorizing up to $3.1 billion in revenue bonds to fund the both the acquisition of local electric assets and cover related costs, including expanding personnel capacity and establishing operating reserves.

The offer remains an attractive financing option for PG&E “as it struggles to exit bankruptcy -- especially as [California] Governor [Gavin] Newsom raises new questions about the amount of debt the utility has taken on to satisfy its creditors,” a SFPUC news release related to the campaign’s launch said.

San Francisco’s offer “would provide a major cash infusion that PG&E could use to help pay wildfire victims and other creditors. It will also relieve PG&E of the cost of maintaining San Francisco’s aging local electric system—one of the oldest in PG&E’s system—allowing the utility to make much-needed statewide investments in safety and reliability,” the SFPUC said.  

The Our City, Our Power public information campaign will expand on this message -- raising awareness among local residents and businesses, as well as policymakers outside San Francisco, about the improved service that will result from local public power -- including lower costs, cleaner energy, and a safer and more reliable electric system, along with significantly improved local accountability from a locally-elected Board of Supervisors and mayor. 

Through its local public power system, the city already meets more than 70 percent of the electricity demand in San Francisco. A recent poll found 70 percent of San Franciscans support switching to public power, along with the mayor and every member of the Board of Supervisors.

Campaign website highlights benefits

The Our City, Our Power website highlights the significant benefits to customers in and out of San Francisco if the City were to operate its own electric utility.

The website also catalogues 64 recent cases of local projects experiencing interconnection delays and increased project costs as a result of ongoing PG&E disputes, the SFPUC said.

Bill calls for turning PG&E into a public power utility

California State Senator Scott Wiener recently introduced legislation that would transform Pacific Gas and Electric into a public power utility.

The legislation, S.B. 917, would turn PG&E into a publicly owned entity, creating the Northern California Energy Utility District. The structure of the utility district would be modeled on the Long Island Power Authority in New York, which operates as a public power utility that contracts with a public benefit corporation to staff a variety of jobs, such as tree trimmers, line workers, and truck drivers.

Governor said California was scoping plan for PG&E

In early November, Newsom called on various stakeholders to meet in order to accelerate a consensual resolution to PG&E’s bankruptcy cases that could lead to the creation of a new entity.

At the same time, Newsom warned on Nov. 1 that if the parties failed to reach an agreement quickly “to begin this process of transformation, the state will not hesitate to step in and restructure the utility” and said that “all options are on the table.”

Newsom’s call for action came against the backdrop of a series of major power shutoffs implemented by PG&E aimed at mitigating the risk of wildfires.