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How green is my city: “Blue-Green Alliance” or “Solar Uber Alles”?

One might think building a gigantic solar energy farm atop a gigantic Sunset District water reservoir — the largest photovoltaic solar farm in California, an “historic” effort that would nearly triple the amount of energy the city creates for itself, thereby slimming even more the city’s own power bill — would be a slam dunk here in San Francisco.

If so, one would think wrong: a decision on the deal, a power-purchase agreement between the city and solar firm Recurrent Energy, who would build the photovoltaic panels, assume the risk for the facility and then sell the energy back to the city at a fixed rate, $235 per kilowatt hour over 25 years, after which point the city could option to buy the solar farm for about $30 million — was delayed for one week at the full Board of Supervisors on Tuesday, after it had already lingered in committee for nearly a month.

And the chief beefs came from the Board’s Green Party member: Supervisor Ross Mirkarimi. Mirkarimi raised the point that the year 2009 is solar energy’s infancy, and that solar energy could and should be much cheaper down the road, making it foolhardy indeed for the city to lock in its power rate at a premium. Moreover, the current language of the deal allows the city to buy outright the project in years 7 and 15 at no less than $32 million, rather than outright fair market value (it was Mirkarimi who provided the above Dead Kennedyesque epithet, wondering if this project isn’t where “political correctness and eco-chic are meeting”).

“The cost [of energy] in year one is not going to be the same as in year 15,” he said. “This could be a rip off… that would be very hard to justify to the citizenry.”

The project does have the backing of the Sierra Club as well as the Mayor and legislation sponsor Supervisor Carmen Chu, who pointed out that a land-lease agreement must be finalized by May for the project to ever happen. More urgency came from Public Utilities Commission head Ed Harrington, who said that if the current terms of the lease agreement — in which the Board waives its annual review of the contract, ensuring that Recurrent receives its $42 million over 25 years no matter what — are altered, it would be “a show-stopper.” But, the city is not sitting helplessly while its coffers are pillaged by evil corporations — the agreement states that if power is not generated, power is not purchased.

As previously mentioned, any solar showdown was delayed for a week while all involved peruse the language and haggle over the details, but the questions remain: would we the people like to have been locked into, say, a software agreement, 25 years ago, in the computer age’s infancy?

“Is this a good a deal as we can possibly have?” asked Supervisor David Campos, who put on his lawyer face when questioning the wisdom of the Board’s administrative review waiver. “This (project) may get us brownie points around the state and the country (wonder who he was talking about?), but we owe it to ourselves to create as good a deal as possible.”

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  • Jamison Wieser

    While it does sound like the City is getting the short end of it, I don’t agree with Supervisor Mirkarimi’s sentiment about waiting because the cost will be lower in the future.

    Well… yeah, that’s kind of how thing work. Being on the cutting edge means taking some risks and some failures and setback should be expected. I could have waited 15 years for a much more powerful computer than the one I bought this year, probably with a much better battery life thanks to genetically engineered unicorn tears, but then I’d be without a computer for the next 15 years.

  • Jamison Wieser

    While it does sound like the City is getting the short end of it, I don’t agree with Supervisor Mirkarimi’s sentiment about waiting because the cost will be lower in the future.

    Well… yeah, that’s kind of how thing work. Being on the cutting edge means taking some risks and some failures and setback should be expected. I could have waited 15 years for a much more powerful computer than the one I bought this year, probably with a much better battery life thanks to genetically engineered unicorn tears, but then I’d be without a computer for the next 15 years.

  • Seven

    $235 per kilowatt hour? I think the decimal point is off a few places. Either that, or I may be forced to agree with Mirkarimi for the first time in my life.

  • Seven

    $235 per kilowatt hour? I think the decimal point is off a few places. Either that, or I may be forced to agree with Mirkarimi for the first time in my life.

  • Seven

    Only in San Francisco does “progressive” mean killing a major solar project after celebrating Earth Day.

  • Seven

    Only in San Francisco does “progressive” mean killing a major solar project after celebrating Earth Day.

  • Chris Roberts

    Oi, yes, way way off with that figure for the cost of energy — by several decimal points.
    It is $235 per MEGAWATT hour, not kilowatt hour.
    My former employer chuckles gleefully at the error.

  • Chris Roberts

    Oi, yes, way way off with that figure for the cost of energy — by several decimal points.
    It is $235 per MEGAWATT hour, not kilowatt hour.
    My former employer chuckles gleefully at the error.