San Francisco Mayor Unveils 100 Percent Renewable Power Plan for City’s Downtown

April 24, 2019 by Dan McCue
Downtown San Francisco. (Image via Pixabay)

San Francisco could become the first city in the United States in which large commercial property owners use only renewable energy under a plan unveiled by Mayor London Breed earlier this week.

She and city supervisors Vallie Brown and Ahsha Safaí are co-sponsoring legislation that would require all commercial buildings at least 50,000 square feet in size in San Francisco’s downtown to be 100 percent reliant on renewable energy by 2030.

If the plan lives up to the lawmakers’ intentions, it will go a long way toward the municipality’s goal of only using energy from renewable sources like wind and solar by 2030 and becoming carbon neutral by 2050.

“San Francisco has always been a national leader when it comes to sustainability, but we know that the reality of climate change requires us to go further,” Mayor Breed said in a written statement.

“Transitioning our large buildings to 100 percent renewable energy is an important step to continuing the progress we have made with CleanPowerSF towards making San Francisco an even more sustainable city,” she said.

CleanPowerSF, the program Breed referenced in her statement, is an earlier program through which the city has sought to significantly increase the proportion of renewable energy supplied to San Francisco’s electrical grid.

Since it was launched in early 2016, CleanPowerSF has helped the city cut its greenhouse gas emissions by 30 percent below 1990 levels, the equivalent of taking more than 400,000 cars off the road, the San Francisco Department of the Environment says.

The new initiative will be rolled out in phases, starting with the city’s largest structures. Buildings in the city that are 500,000 square feet or larger in size must move to 100 percent renewable energy by 2022.

Buildings between 250,000 and 499,000 square feet in size have to switch by 2024, and anything 50,000 square feet or larger has to switch by 2030.

While that might sound like a tall order, in most cases building owners will be able to make the transition with as little as a phone call and by changing a few account settings online.

In fact, Breed said, the main reason the city is phasing in the program is to make sure there’s enough renewable energy available on the grid to keep up with the demand the initiative will create.

The other reason the bill’s sponsors expect the transition to go smoothly is that all of the city’s major electricity providers already offer their customers renewable energy-based options.

The San Francisco Public Utilities Commission, which operates CleanPowerSF, offers a so-called SuperGreen option to its customers, while Pacific Gas and Electric Co. has a Solar Choice option.

Then there’s Hetch Hetchy, the city’s oldest provider of clean electricity, which electrifies all municipal buildings in San Francisco.

The city has estimated that commercial customers might be able to actually lower their bills with the latter option in the long run, but it would also likely require them to invest in some infrastructure upgrades to gain access to the program’s power.

“Our growing public power programs have laid the foundation for the city’s commercial facilities to easily embrace a 100% renewable energy future,” said Harlan Kelly, a general manager at the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission, which oversees the Hetch Hetchy program.

So far, at least, the city’s building owners are on board.

John Bozeman, director of government and industry affairs for the Building Owners and Managers Association of San Francisco, told the Well News on Wednesday that his organization’s members “have long been leaders in sustainable building operating practices and look forward to sharing their knowledge and experience in the policy development process.

“We look forward to working on the proposal to ensure that it is well vetted, realistic and cost-efficient,” Bozeman continued. “The particulars, including the cost of 100 percent renewable electricity, how our members procure the energy, and the dates required to comply will need to be reviewed thoroughly with all stakeholders to make sure this measure is truly sustainable.”

Environmental officials in San Francisco estimate that about 44 percent of the city’s greenhouse gas emissions come from commercial and residential buildings, while about 46 percent come from transportation.

“Every generation is defined by how they tackled a seemingly-insurmountable obstacle, and climate degradation is our generational marker,” Supervisor Safaí said in a written statement.

“Climate change is here and its effects are only intensifying. Our plan to transition large, private buildings to 100 percent renewable energy underscores the urgency of now and showcases the innovative thinking that will be required of all nations to curtail the destructive effects of global-warming.”

“To reach our climate goals, we need to use less energy and we need it to be cleaner,” said Supervisor Brown, who noted that the legislation phases in the mandated use of renewable energy to ensure an adequate supply is available for purchase.

To accelerate San Francisco’s transition to an all-renewables city, Mayor Breed directed the city’s Department of the Environment to convene a public-private task force to examine how best to electrify San Francisco’s buildings. The task force is expected to produce a decarbonization roadmap for buildings in early 2020.

“A renewable electricity supply is more than just a checkbox in San Francisco’s climate action strategy, it’s a bridge to even greater emission reductions,” said Department Director Debbie Raphael. “An all-electric city for buildings, residences and transportation is how San Francisco leads the way towards an emissions-free future.”

An ordinance with the terms of the program will shortly be introduced at the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, though a date for its consideration has not been announced.

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