The PG&E/Raker Act Scandal: the biggest urban scandal in U.S. history just got a lot bigger!


By Bruce B. Brugmann

Sup. Ross Mirkarimi, the veteran public power advocate, flashed the word from City Hall by email at ll:42 a.m. Tuesday, June l9.

"I just learned," Mirkarimi wrote, "that the mayor is announcing a deal on tidal power today. I view this as a direct launch to derail or at least distract from community choice power. (PG@E has another poll in the filed on cca as of Sunday.) I'm going to try to blunt his move with the introduction of a tidal power ordinance so that we can hopefully
control the design protocol."

Then, at ll:35 a.m. Tuesday, PG@E sent out a press release even before the press conference ended. It went out via the PR Newswire for Journalists and was titled "PG@E, San Francisco and Golden Gate Energy Combine efforts to explore Tidal Power Options in SF Bay."

The head, lead, and text made the key point loud and clear: San Francisco, despite the public power mandates of the federal Raker Act, had once again caved in to PG&E and was allowing PG&E to fund and control a crucial study of tidal power for the city. PG&E was also calling the shots on the press announcement and doing it as a timely and telling part of its campaign to undermine the passage of community choice aggregation. The city, as Guardian readers know, is in violation of the Raker Act because it allows PG&E to control the city's supply of cheap clean public power from its Hetch Hetchy dam in Yosemite National Park.

PG&E's lead: "In support of ongoing efforts to increase California's renewable power supplies and adress climate change, Pacific Gas and Electric today signed an agreement with the City and County of San Francisco and Golden Gate Energy Company to conduct the most comprehensive study undertaken to assess the possibilities for harnessing the tides in San Francisco Bay to create a new s ource of zero=emissions, renewable electric power for California energy customers."

Then PG&E, in language that read as if it came from its public relations department, described Mayor Newsom as having made "alternative energy a priority for his administration." It quoted Newsom, who had previously stated he supported cca and public power, reversing course and calling the partnership with PG&E "an historic day for San Francisco Bay." PG&E continued to quote Newsom's ignominious flip flop:
"With our own >Climate Action Plan that exceeds the Kyoto Protocols, San Francisco is among the most environmentally progressive cities in the country, if not the world. The partnership that we' re announcing today significantly advances our goal to be a global environmental leader and innovator. I am proud to be working with PG&E and Golden Gate Energy. We all agree that it is imperative that we develop new alternative energy sources like tidal energy."

More on this most unholy of unholy PG&E/SF alliances: "The study effort will bring together and draw on the combined resources and expertise of PG@E, CCSF and Golden Gate Energy. Specifically, PG@E is committing to provide up to $l.5 million to fund research by third-party experts, dovetailing with up to $346,000 contributed by CCSF for feasibility studies and stakeholder research."

Marvelous. Simply marvelous. Note the delicious details. The place: the press conference was held in the Warming Hut Cafe and Bookstore of the Presidio which, as attentive Guardian readers know, was privatized with the help of PG&E and its allies. The nifty public subsidy: $345,000. The timing: PG@E and the mayor orchestrated the press conference at ll a.m. on the morning of the supervisors' vote on the cca bill of Mirkarimi and Sup.Tom Ammiano at the board meeting that afternoon. Fortunately, the cca legislation passed ll-0 on the governance of the plan and 9-2 on the plan itself, with Michela Alioto-Pier and Ed Jew dissenting. .

The Guardian as usual was neither notified nor invited to the press conference (and neither were other real public power or cca people.) If we had been there, we would have tried at minimum to ask questions like the ones below. We invite the citizens and businesses who are forced to take PG&E's expensive power to pound Newsom with their own questions from now on.

Mayor Newsom: How in the world can you say that a sellout contract like this one marks a "historic" day for San Francisco? Why did you allow this partnership to proceed so secretly and why did you then take this suspicious time and moment and place to announce this "historic" day? Where, given the budget controversy, can you find $346,000? Do you still stand by your previous public support for public power and cca? If so, why did you flip flop and let PG@E call all the shots and use you as a centerpiece for its greenwashing campaign? (Only the PG@E press release was out at blogtime and we could not find any other press release or formal statement from the mayor's office or any other City Hall office. We will keep trying.)

PUC: Why did you once again let PG@E beat you up in public? What is the advantage of this PG&E- funded and PG&E-controlled partnership that can only benefit PG&E short and long term? Does this mean you are backpedaling on public power and cca?

City Attorney: Why did you not publicly question the secrecy, legality, and desirability of the city once again getting in bed with PG&E? How does this partnership square with the public power mandates of the Raker Act? Who negotiated yet another sellout contract with PG&E and under whose authority? Why should this sordid partnership proceed when PG&E is costing the city millions of dollars in expensive litigation against the city? Can you total up the cases and expenses in a press release for the public?

PG&E: How in the world did you manage once again to sucker the mayor, the PUC, the city attorney, the Department of the Environment, and the rest of City Hall? How do you do this, year after year, decade after decade?

And now a most relevant question for Matt Gonzales, the almost successful mayoral candidate last time around. He was the politician who raised and dramatized the issue of tidal power as a major public power plank in his campaign. The main reason that PG&E and Newsom can get away with this dangerous nonsense in the middle of a mayoral election campaign is that no strong progressive candidate has come forward to challenge Newsom. Will PG&E's theft and subversion of Gonzalez's issue make him mad enough to finally decide to take on Newsom and confront him and his PG&E allies on PG&E, tidal power, and the other tough issues in town? Let us pray. B3

P.S. 1: This is the list of "partners" who attended the press conference, as announced Tuesday by PG&E in a special media advisory: Newsom; Tom King, PG&E CEO; George T. Frampton Jr., chairman, Golden Gate Energy Company; Ryan L. Brooks, SF PUC; Jared Blumenfeld, director, SF Department of the Environment, and Paul Polizzotto, trustee, Waaterkeeper Alliance.

To dramatize the point of who stands first and tallest at City Hall and who called the shots at the press conference, PG&E's King was quoted first in the PG&E press release (then Newsom tagged along bebind with his "historic" quotes) King said without blushing, "Exploring the potential for harnessing the tides in the Golden Gate to deliver new supplies of clean power to our customers is one of the most exciting renewable energy possibilities being explored anywhere in the world today. This effort epitomizes the kind of collaborative initiative and innovation that PG&E is committed to, and it's another important way that we are working to lead the energy industry in order to meet clean energy challenges, including climate change." Wow! What a guy! What a company! See the links to the PG&E press release and media advisory--and Mirkarimi's proposed ordinance to block PG&E's latest manipulation inside City Hall. Neither release nor advisory were posted on PG&E's website at blogtime.

Sorry, King. Sorry, Newsom. Sorry, Brooks. Sorry, Blumenfeld. No matter what you say or do, San Francisco is finally moving to public power and to kick PG&E out of City Hall and you and everybody else over there better get used to the idea.

P.S. 2: It will be most instructive to see who from the media PG&E invited to its event, who came, and how they cover this latest instalment of this incredible local scandal. Will the Chronicle continue to bungle and black out the scandal? To get the juicy background and context of this scandal, read my previous blogs and the Guardian stories and editorials since l969, many collected on our website. Enjoy! B3

Click here for the development of tidal power ordinance.

Click here for PG&E press release.

Click here for tidal power media advisory.