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Tom Dalzell

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Why Is San Francisco Trying to Outsource Green Investment to the "Dirtiest" Texas Corporation?

Posted: 09/18/2012 12:35 pm

The San Francisco Board of Supervisors is scheduled to vote today on a contract with Shell Energy of Houston, Texas that would nearly double electricity costs for San Franciscans.

Say what?

Why would a city that prides itself on being on the forefront of energy policy sign a contract with a company that has been called one of the "dirtiest" in the world?

The answer is that Shell Energy is falsely promising that the energy delivered to San Franciscans will be "100 percent green." Some city supervisors seem to believe that raising rates an average of nearly $200 per year on San Francisco's working families is a price worth paying for this green promise.

Here's the problem -- the fundamental promise is false. The "green" power is not new renewable power from local wind, solar or other renewables -- it is power purchased almost exclusively from out-of-state sources that is then "firmed and shaped" with existing grid power. In fact, the contract with Shell Energy states explicitly that no new renewable resources need to be built.

In other words, the so so-called "green" power will include power from coal, natural gas and nuclear. That's not what most people think of when they imagine "100 percent green."

Because almost all the power will come from sources out of state, the economic impact report released by the San Francisco Controller's Office showed that this investment from San Francisco will actually mean a reduction in local jobs. The economics are simple -- sending millions of dollars per year to Shell Oil in Houston, Texas will help their economy and hurt ours.

As a leader in a California labor union that has been deeply involved in the debate over green jobs, this last point is particularly troubling to me.

We have fought hard to establish a precedent that local investments in green energy should mean an increase in California green jobs and the build-out of California-based renewable energy infrastructure.

It is bad policy in our view to ask Californians to pay more for their energy in order to transition to renewable sources and then not reap the many economic benefits associated with these investments. We shouldn't have to pay more only to see the green jobs being generated outsourced to Texas, Utah, the Dakotas and other states.

But that's exactly what San Francisco is proposing to do. They are outsourcing jobs to Texas-based Shell Oil.

John Sauven, the executive director of Greenpeace UK, has said that Shell had "rejoined the ranks of the dirtiest, most regressive corporations in the world." One of the many proofs of this clear point -- Shell is actually suing the Sierra Club and other environmental groups to stop their advocacy against Shell's plan to drill in environmentally-sensitive parts of the artic.

Shell also has a very troubling record in terms of treatment of their employees, with dangerous working conditions and ongoing hostility to the rights of workers to speak out on safety and other concerns.

There are many reasons to reject the Shell contract -- from the incredible cost increases to the false green promises.

Our union finds that any of these issues would be sufficient to reject this contract with Shell. But the fact that this proposal came out of San Francisco, a progressive city often counted on to set the precedent for environmental justice, is a set-back for those of us working establish energy policies that makes sense for our environment and for our families.

 
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