09/18/2012 08:53 pm ET Updated Nov 18, 2012

CleanPowerSF Approved By The Board Of Supervisors

This article comes to us courtesy of SF Weekly's The Snitch.

By Joe Eskenazi

After decades of wrangling, a controversial $19.5 million contract with Shell was approved by the Board of Supervisors to inaugurate the city's "CleanPowerSF" program.

The final vote was 8-3, with only Supervisors Carmen Chu, Sean Eslbernd, and Mark Farrell dissenting. That, incidentally, is a veto-proof majority -- in case Mayor Ed Lee gives the program "a little more thought" and concludes he doesn't like it.

Tuesday's vote took place after unsuccessful attempts by Supervisors Chu and Farrell to, in essence, mandate an "opt-in" to the program prior to the opting-out period for those unwilling to pay higher energy rates for energy described as "100 percent renewable." Those amendments failed, as did a motion to push the vote to next week while tweaking the language.

An August analysis by the controller's office warned that CleanPowerSF would require a significant spike in consumer's electric bills, could cost the city millions if too few residents opt to participate in the program, and could result in a net loss of jobs. The program would also require city departments to pay more for power -- and, thus, less for whatever it is city departments do.

The term "100 percent renewable energy" is also more malleable than many might think. As we wrote last month:

"Bundled power" is the closest thing to what most people would consider "renewable energy." It could be derived from wind or solar sources -- but could also hail from burning the methane spewing from landfills, sewage treatment plants, or feedlots.

"Firmed and shaped renewable resources" are, essentially, renewable power sources accentuated with potentially non-renewables in order to meet supply and demand.

Renewable Energy Credits (RECs) work a bit like carbon offsets. If a California utility provider purchases the power generated by, say, a wind farm in West Texas or solar installation in Florida, it wouldn't be practical to ship that energy all the way back here. So, instead, providers buy the power as a credit, which counts toward the amount of renewable energy the state mandates California providers must generate. That means San Franciscans paying a premium for "100 percent renewable energy" could actually still be using coal- or gas-generated electricity in lieu of the renewable stuff that will never get within thousands of miles from here, but Shell is being credited for.

If the mayor vetoes today's vote -- and if the eight supervisors stick together in the event that occurs -- CleanPowerSF still has to pass muster with the Public Utility Commission's Rate Fairness Board. And if you've never before heard of this somewhat obscure body -- you'll likely hear plenty soon.

Following today's vote the Board of Supervisors feted PUC Director Ed Harrington, who retires from a lengthy city career this week. Aggressively pushing through CleanPowerSF was his driving passion in the waning days of his term, and the supes certainly allowed him to spike the ball after one last touchdown.

"Public power" has more than one meaning, when you think about it.

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