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Public Pollution?

Most Californians see San Francisco as a center of environmental activism. But the renewed fight over public power on the November ballot in San Francisco is already laying bare the fault line between environmentalists and public power advocates.

For several years, advocates of Public Power like Supervisor Aaron Peskin and Bevan Dufty have being pushing to build three polluting power plants near Potrero Hill, an inner city neighborhood that has been highly-impacted by industrial pollution.  

But a new study just released by the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission shows that their plan to build power plants would be nearly twice as polluting as a proposal supported by most environmentalists who want to retrofit the existing plants with cleaner facilities as a bridge to complete phase-out of the fossil-fuel generation in San Francisco.

So why would so-called environmentalists fight so hard to build polluting power plants?

Public power – that’s why.

The three “peaker” power plants would be owned by the city – and they would form the backbone of decades long quest of the Bay Guardian-left to create a public power system in San Francisco, whatever the cost. The Chronicle, for once, had it spot on when they wrote “Is the religion of ‘public power’ really more important to them than San Franciscans’ health and the city’s goals about reducing greenhouse gas emissions?”

So it’s going to be interesting to watch how the goal of public power collides with the green rhetoric of public power advocates.

We know the politicians like Peskin and Dufty are supporting polluting power plants – even though there is a much greener alternative. But that’s pretty typical. Dufty wants to be mayor and he needs the Guardian endorsement and Peskin just wants to get even with whoever crossed him last.

But even the hard-core enviros, like Ross Mirkarimi and Chris Daly, are also putting public power before green power. Their public power measure exempts the city from state renewable energy goals – and replaces them with local requirements. What’s the difference? The local requirements are unenforceable. And they can mean whatever the public power advocates want them to mean. Take for example large hydro generation. The state says that’s not renewable because of the devastating impact large hydro has on wildlife, fish populations and water quality. In SF – with a stroke of the pen they say they are going to call large hydro “renewable.”

Most of this same crew stalled San Francisco’s first-in-the-nation local incentive for solar. Why? They didn’t want the money to go to individuals – they wanted it to go to city-owned public power.

And don’t even start on the opportunity cost. It would cost billions to takeover PG&E – money that could be spent on actually creating renewable energy rather than on just changing ownership and changing renewable standards to make them LESS ENFORCABLE.

Public Power was once a priority of the left in San Francisco. But given what’s happening with our planet – is it still the top priority? In the next few months we are going to see what’s really more important to San Franciscans – cleaning up our environment or creating a public power system.