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Green Is...Not PG&E: Behind the Green Ink of This Nor Cal Utilities Company
Walking around San Francisco, you might have noticed bright green ads featuring cutesy witticisms about what “green is,” sponsored by the local utility monopoly PG&E. My favorite ad prominently displays a piece of cow dung with the quote “Green isn’t always pretty.” Here, PG&E isn’t too far off; for them, green is… a lie.
Walking around San Francisco, you might have noticed bright green ads featuring cutesy witticisms about what "green is", sponsored by the local utility monopoly, PG&E. My favorite ad prominently displays a piece of cow dung with the quote "Green isn't always pretty." Here, PG&E isn't too far off; for them, green is… a lie.
Although recently heralded by the environmental advocates for their support of the state-wide clean energy bill, PG&E itself will admit that this bill does little to disrupt their energy buying habits, which rely heavily on natural gas, big hydro and nuclear. The combined total makes up for 84 percent of PG&E's energy consumption, and each carries with it a large environmental toll. But taking credit where none is due is par for the course in this energy giant's game.
PG&E praises itself for "interconnecting more than 12,000 solar customers - more than any other utility in the country," but here they are taking credit for individuals installing solar panels. To make this self-congratulatory statement even more aggravating, PG&E actually lobbied against incentives for individuals to install solar.
Another great example of this company's duplicity is the "ClimateSmart" program. This program gives customers the option to offset their emissions by paying PG&E to plant trees. Besides the fact that planting trees is a highly consumptive and disputed 'solution' to global warming, PG&E's stated goal for the program is a mere 4 to 5 percent of their customers. Meanwhile, they are spending $17 million dollars to promote "ClimateSmart", a fee that will be passed onto customers whether they like it or not.
So what is behind all of this green ink?
PG&E is certainly spending a lot of money to promote a green image, and what's behind it is anyone's guess. Some venture that they are trying to make up for dragging their feet in closing down the Bayview Hunter's Point power plant, which had polluted San Francisco for 77 years and was linked to very high asthma and cancer rates. However, recent actions by the company suggest that this PR campaign is part of a larger offensive against public power and other green legislation in San Francisco.
According the San Francisco Bay Guardian, PG&E has recently been polling SF residents to see if they would support voter-approved measures limiting the SF Public Utilities Commission's ability to supply public power. Meanwhile, President Bush has recently pushed for the restoration of Hetch Hetchy valley, a process that involves destroying a dam that is a source of fresh water for 3 million Bay Area residents and is also a huge source of cheap electricity that is earmarked for public power in San Francisco. Without the dam, San Francisco's dreams of a municipally-owned utility don't have a chance.
While the dam closure seems unlikely given Congress' response to Bush's scheme, a PG&E-sponsored ballot measure is probable.
Last November, PG&E won an electoral battle that determined whether Davis, Woodland and West Sacramento could drop PG&E and join Sacramento's Municipal Utilities District (SMUD), a celebrated publicly-owned utility whose rates are 30 percent lower than PG&E's. The ballot measure in Sacramento was sponsored by PG&E, who attempted to scare current SMUD customers by saying that the expansion could hurt their rates. In this dirty campaign, PG&E spent over $10 million dollars (around $50 per vote) to promote mis-information about the annexation, saying that it would cost $500 million for SMUD to buy the power infrastructure, about five times more than SMUD's estimates. A PG&E employee also sued SMUD over the wording of the Sacramento ballot measure, forcing them to take out the wording that guaranteed that Yolo County would pay for the annexation.
What's at stake?
Beyond pushing public power further from possibility, PG&E's campaign is detrimental to the already-voted-on Community Choice Energy plan. CCE is a well-researched policy to run San Francisco on 50 percent local, renewable energy within the decade – without raising the rates. It's based on city-sponsored reports confirming that the Bay Area has enough wind & solar capacity to meet half of our energy needs. It's designed to break PG&E's monopoly on our energy supply and support market competition for green energy providers that can meet or beat PG&E's rates. This would make San Francisco the largest renewable network in the country.
However, three years after the San Francisco Board of Supervisors voted for energy independence, CCE is still wading through red tape. It seems that PG&E is gearing up for a fight that could undermine this fledgling green policy, with arsenal of PR and a battle-tested stock of dirty tricks. While mainstream environmental groups suck up to PG&E's political prowess and economic might, an all-volunteer group of concerned San Francisco residents has emerged out of disgust for PG&E's "Greening the City" campaign. Their website, letsGREENWASHthiscity.org, publishes the clear facts unspoken in PG&E's ad campaign and urges a push for Community Choice as a concrete alternative, while the group itself organizes actions designed to shame and expose PG&E. Hopefully, once presented with the facts, San Francisco residents will figure out that a company that owns a mere two percent wind and zero percent solar facilities is not vested in our green energy future. PG&E might pay to paint the city, but that doesn't mean that people will buy it.